By Marshall Williams.


The Order was going dove shooting.  It was a remarkable thing for them.  While they shot together at least once a week, not all were good hunters, nor even enthusiastic about it.  In fact, only The Major and Sunny regularly bought hunting licenses.  Each year The Major spent a week in Pennsylvania where he alleged that he hunted deer, but the friends with whom he hunted seemed more concerned with having an adequate supply of playing cards, cold cuts, and beer than with getting hunting licenses, and the Order half suspected that The Major bought the venison he brought home each year. 

Sunny’s situation was different.  His wife insisted that he accompany her on an annual pilgrimage to visit female in-laws in Oz or Kansas or some place near there, and Sunny hunted pheasants during the whole week.  He said that he wanted to stay out from under foot so the women folk could visit.  The Judge said he did it out a natural concern that he might be an innocent bystander when the house fell on his mother-in-law.  The Judge was not acquainted with the lady and spoke only from rumor.

Among the others, Grundoon had grown to manhood in a suburb of New York City and had simply never done it. Topper had spent his formative years in the great Southwest where hunting was as natural as raising cattle.  But when he moved to the big metropolitan area that he had called home for the past thirty years, he found the style of hunting so different from what he was used to that he had never really gotten back into it.

The Judge usually was satisfied to remember the days of his youth when hunting seemed as ordinary as grocery shopping, which, indeed it had been for many of his neighbors.  But, like Topper, many years had passed since he had moved to the big city.  There he had found it too expensive to go to the nice game preserves and too inconvenient to go back to the old fields and farms which he had known.  Indeed, on his one return trip, he found subdivisions of expensive houses where once he had found wild woods, and rabbits and quail. The experience gave him an uncomfortable feeling, like things had passed him by, and he never went again.

As a result, the Order’s hunting urges often were satisfied by drinking strong ALOOF coffee and telling stories of other times and places.  These stories might leave them feeling like they were up to their knees in feathers, but all were history and some were more or less imaginary history.

Nonetheless, the Order would go dove shooting.  The matter had been decided during the draining of a second pot of ALOOF coffee on a hot Saturday in June, and the fiat stood.

However, immediately after the decision was made, there were problems to be overcome.  In particular, no member had actually been dove shooting in something like twenty years, and those who had done so then had done it in entirely different parts of the country.  Times had changed and it was conceded that they could not simply drive country roads until they found a freshly cut silage field and get out and shoot doves.  That was the old order of things, and they were determined to adapt to the current way of doing things.

Topper was the first to come up with a scheme.  He had become the Order’s de facto Chief of Sporting Clays Activities, at least he always found where the new clubs were and made reservations for the Order’s weekend events.  Topper showed up at the round table on a Saturday morning with an advertising flyer from one of the sporting clays outfits.  In the small print, it offering dove, duck, and deer shoots in season.  The club had been a particular favorite of the Order, and certainly appeared a likely place for dove shooting.  It looked a bit pricey, especially as it was across the state line and would require out of state licenses, but three day licenses were available and the price was finally declared “not unreasonable.”  Topper had developed a relationship with the reservations clerk, so he was duly deputed to make the arrangements.  Unfortunately, it developed that a lot of other sporting clays shooters also had noticed had noticed the same small print, and there were no dove shooting reservations left!

Having exhausted Topper’s resources, the Order set about finding a place by calling the state wildlife commission.  Grundoon made the call.  “Yes, we have a place, in fact, we have two of them.  One is about 150 miles away, the other is on the opposite end of the state.  Not interested?  Sorry.”

Sunny tried the local game wardens.  “Nope.  Not in a million years.  The local dairy farmers don’t trust anybody with guns.”  It was no use arguing that cows don’t fly, a fact for which at least one member of the Order gave silent thanks.

Finally the time drew close, and the Judge felt that he would derelict in his duty to the Order if he did not show leadership.  The Judge was a minor bureaucrat in charge of a minor bureaucracy, and he felt certain that the bureaucratic approach could solve any problem.  Accordingly, he went to his office and called a staff meeting. 

The Judge’s staff consisted of four highly efficient ladies, none of whom had ever been hunting and all of whom were satisfied with such a life’s history.  Undaunted, the Judge put the question before them, “Do any of you ladies know where a bunch of old far¼, uh, a group of older gentlemen might go and shoot doves. Frankly, I don’t have a clue.” 

These ladies had kept the Judge’s bureaucratic affairs in order for many years and no request ever fazed them.  They knew the most important question to ask, the one that would set the tone of their efforts, “When do you need to know?“

The Judge said, “The season starts next Saturday at noon.“ This was Wednesday. Totally and characteristically unfazed, the civil service ladies said, “We will see what we can find out.” 

That was enough to set the Judge’s mind at ease and within an hour the Judge had two places.  One nearby dairy farmer allowed hunters to shoot his land for a fee, but his place usually was crowded.  The other was a dairy farm across the state line.  This would incur the additional penalty of an out-of-state license, but, as a nearby town had encroached on his property, he usually had no hunters.  After due consideration, consensus favored the place with no competition.

On Saturday, everyone gathered at Topper’s home which was most central.  Sunny and Grundoon had not had faith in the bureaucratic method and prematurely had made other plans, so the crowd was thinned down to The Judge, The Major, Topper, and his son Eddie.  It probably was just as well, because when they started piling gear into the back of the van, it soon looked like enough for an African safari.  There were coolers and chairs, game bags and shell boxes, sun block and cigars, and finally everyone piled in a gun or two in case one went belly up for some reason.

Looking at the staggering pile of vanities, the Judge recalled a time when the sum total of his hunting gear had consisted of a single barrel shotgun and four shells bought at a country store for ten cents each.  He snorted and inquired, “Didn’t anybody bring a portable TV?”  Being young and innocent, Eddie missed the note of sarcasm, and replied, “Dad told me not to bring it, but if you want, I’ll get it.  It’s right inside the door.”  Topper and The Major smiled.  The Judge snorted again but held his peace.  Eddie awaited further instruction.  This matter was resolved when the Judge got into the driver’s seat and hollered, “Don’t get in unless you want to go.”  Everyone piled into the old passenger van, and the Judge headed it north.

Upon arrival, the farmer took them around his place in the back of a pickup truck and pointed out the property lines, and the safe directions to shoot and where the birds seemed to be busiest.  His corn had been cut early and the birds picked over his stubble fields and now favored the big weed fields instead,  “Oh, oh,” thought the Judge, “Lots of lost birds.”

As they prepared to go out into the fields, each pulled out his shotgun du jour.  All except the Judge’s were 20 gauges.  Eddie and the Major had chosen over and unders, Topper had a splendid little side by side easily worth enough to buy a mid-size sedan, and the Judge pulled out a little .410 pump.  The sight of the little .410 caused The Major to comment, “Use enough gun, Judge. Use enough gun.”

The Judge harrumphed, put on a wide brimmed straw hat, dumped a box of long skinny shells into his game vest, and opined that he had gun enough “to harvest more birds than some people.” 

Then, as the little group watched as he wandered off to a little knoll and placed his folding camp stool near a fencepost. The Major observed there was no shade to protect him from the early September sun, still as hot as August.  Once there, instead of sitting on his chair and opening something to ease his thirst, they watched the Judge pace to and fro, as if he were nervous. 

However they did not watch long and each soon hied himself off to a position around the field that he thought strategic.  The Major seemed to favor a place in the shade of some tall trees. 

It was early afternoon and a few birds flew over in ones and twos, but the heavier concentrations would come later.  Still, one could hear shooting.  One could even identify who it was.  The occasional bang-bang, bang-bang meant birds over Topper and Eddie; a more stately paced, bang - pause -  bang, meant one had flown in sight of the Major; and an occasional pop, or pop-pop came from the sunny knoll.

It was 4:00 o’clock the Major had just fired off both barrels without any noticeable effect on a particularly high bird.  As he reloaded, he suddenly noticed the Judge was standing beside him in the shade and offering him a ice cold can of tea.  The Judge looked at the pile of yellow cases near The Major’s feet and delicately inquired, “How are you doing?” 

The Major immediately complained, “I got two, but I need more gun.  These birds are flying way too high for my little improved cylinder and  modified 20.  I think I will go get the 12 gauge pump with the full choke.”  Then, remembering his manners, he asked, “How are things over on your hill?  Hot I’ll bet.”

The Judge allowed it was not too bad under his big straw hat, then he nonchalantly added, “I’m finished for the day; I limited out already.”  The Major’s jaw went slack.  “How did you do it with that little peashooter?”

The Judge smiled beatifically and observed, “Well, I didn’t handicap myself by standing under 90 foot tall shade trees.  They make all your shots way too long and block off your view of the birds until they are straight over head and going like sixty.  You want to try my hot little knoll?”



Reprinted curtesy of Shotgun Sports Magazine, P.O. Box 6810, Auburn, CA 95604.