With early-day Texas swarming with walking white meat like quail and wild turkey, it took a while before the dark meat of mourning dove began to look like tasty fare. But by the early 1900s, with the lessening of the quail and turkey population due to over-hunting, dove hunting had emerged as a popular sportsman’s pursuit.
While hundreds of thousands of dove continue to be harvested in Texas each year, and millions nation wide, there’s been one big change: The equipment employed by hunters of migratory game birds. Today, men, women and teenagers clad in camouflage from their gimme caps to boots take to the sunflower fields and stock tanks armed with much more than a shotgun.
Aside from the now ubiqutus hunter’s “uniform,” no self-respecting dove hunter can be seen outdoors without a camouflaged stool or chair, a hunting vest, a camo coffee cup for use before the sun comes up and again after the hunt, an ice chest for plastic water bottles and post-hunt beer, and in recent years, even a motorized dove decoy.
Back in the day, when September 1 arrived, all a hunter needed was a scatter gun and a place to hunt.
When I first went dove hunting with my granddad in the 1950s, my “camo” consisted of a worn pair of bluejeans, a white t-shirt and black sneakers with white rubber soles. Visible as that cotton top made me, the birds did not seem to be offended by my lack of camo. Granddad, who to my knowledge never possessed a short-sleeved t-shirt (he favored the old-style ribbed undershirt with shoulder straps), did wear a khaki shirt and trousers, but that’s because most Texas men favored khaki in those days. His straw hat was sweat-stained, but dyed in various combinations of tan and green.
For sitting while waiting for the birds to fly, Granddad had a wooden Remington ammunition box he’d probably had since before World War II. He did wear a canvass hunting vest, but it wasn’t camo.
Granddad did hunt ducks with decoys, but I never saw him try to fool dove with an inanimate bird-shaped object. Dove either flew or they did not.
A fair question to consider is whether any of the modern dove hunting accouterments actually do any good. They are, however, a great boon to the sporting goods industry.
One thing that has not changed, other than passage of a state law requiring hunter education courses before a teenager can legally hunt, is the need for dove hunters to be careful with their shotguns. I went to high school with a guy who got shot in the leg while climbing a barbed wire fence and heard of much more serious accidents befalling other incautious dove hunters.
There’s nothing funny about being peppered with No. 7 1/2 bird shot. At minimum, assuming the person who pulled the trigger is standing some distance away, it stings. Worse case scenario is truly worse case.
Edwin H. Cooper, who grew up in Hays County and spent a lot of his childhood hunting and fishing in the San Marcos vicinity, included a dove hunting story in his 2002 self-published memoir, “How Life Stacks Up.”
He described how he and several of his young buddies had gone hunting one afternoon in the early 1940s. The only adult in the party was the father of one of the kids, a San Marcos butcher. Being the senior hunter, he took a seat on a nail keg beneath a tree near the stock tank the dove would hopefully be flocking to for an evening drink.
The boys scattered around, but Cooper was hanging with the butcher’s son. Suddenly a dove whizzed by low and even as Cooper warned him not to shoot, the other boy swung on it and fired. The boy’s dad, seeing he was in the line of fire, had dropped to the ground but the seat of his pants was still exposed when the blast hit him.
The wounded man was able to drive himself to the small hospital then in operation in Blanco. There, the boys watched as an old-time saw bones wearing a green eye shade extracted pellets from the adult’s posterior. Each little piece of lead made a pinging sound when the doctor dropped it into a small metal bowl before probing for the next pellet.
Back then, a person receiving medical treatment did not simply hand over a plastic insurance card or rely on Medicare. When the procedure had been completed, it was time to settle up with one’s physician the old-fashioned way, with cash or check.
The bill came to $24, a not insignificant sum back then.
When the startled patient asked how the doctor came to that figure, the GP had a simple explanation. His standard fee for treatment of shotgun wounds was $1 per pellet extracted.