We left Saturday afternoon and drove towards Socorro. In the truck we had packed an assortment of clothes, sleeping gear, plentiful water, a large cooler’s worth of sandwiches and snacks, and two shotguns.
We were ready for dove hunting.
This hunt wasn’t in the wilderness of northern New Mexico among tall pines and reassuring streams, like our previous hunts. This one was in the more desert-like terrain of the south. I had accompanied Robin Hood here to scout oryx several months ago, but hadn’t returned since. I wondered how it would go. Would the heat be tolerable? Would our dog escape and disappear into the mesquite? Would the doves fly in accommodating droves?
Only one way to find out!
We reached our destination before it was time for the evening hunt, so we drove to a spot that had a safe hillside backstop for target practice. It had been a little while since I last fired a gun, so I was thankful for the refresher. I was doubly thankful that the hottest part of the day had passed and a breeze was blowing.
As we finished target practice, another group of hunters pulled up to chat. Then we were joined by a gentleman who worked on a nearby ranch. I listened as everyone swapped hunting stories and talked about recent changes in wildlife populations and ranch management. They noted repeatedly that the rattlesnakes were bad this year.
The consensus among the other hunters was that we wouldn’t have any trouble finding doves. As soon as the conversation subsided, we went to a promising-looking tank [i.e. man-made pond] to see if they were right.
We sat near the tank and steadily scanned the horizon. All birds fell into two categories: doves and not-doves. We saw lots of not-doves, but not one dove. Robin Hood speculated that it was because of the previous night’s rain: hunters shoot doves in flight; doves fly looking for water; rain = big puddles = doves don’t need to fly as much.
We called it an evening, and enjoyed sandwiches and beer under a canopy of stars that made us temporarily forget about the doves.
The next morning we woke early. After applying sunscreen and a fresh coat of optimism, we hunted.
Nada. We saw a lone dove, but couldn’t get a shot. We took to the truck – the best way to cover such wide open ground. Still nothing, although my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw a hawk towering on a stump right next to the road.
Several sandwiches later, we decided to head home. We made one detour, to a place where Robin Hood has hunted for ducks, and came upon this:
Doves LOVE sunflowers. And sure enough, we saw doves there…then a few more…then a few more…and could not shoot a single one. They were in a no-hunting zone.
We tipped our hats to the doves’ cleverness, and headed home. The dog was dusty, we were dusty, and the earth and sky stretched all around us.
All in all, not a bad weekend.