Thursday, September 26, 2013


One of the farms where I shoot dove is owned by a friend who's not a farmer. He always has some kind of arrangement with a real farmer to plow and plant and cut hay and such. Among these guys was an old timer named Norman who must have been at least 70 and could have kicked my ass on his lunch break.

He had white hair and a nose that was long and looked like a ridgeline running down the center of his face. He was big, the kind of big that comes from farming for a long, long time. I think he could juggle hay bales.

I never could figure out if Norman was way smarter than me or had a death grip on his last few brain cells. Something about the way he'd look at you left the impression that he knew lots of things you didn't.  Then he'd start talking and you'd be forced to reconsider. Every time I saw him he'd stop mid-way through our conversation and say, "Now what was your name again?" Not that being bad with names is an early indicator of intelligence.

This is the disc harrow Norman used on our sunflower field. Norman's dead now.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Touching the past

About ten years ago I opened a Christmas gift from my parents that I thought was a picture frame. Actually it was a picture frame made of old gray barn wood with shotshell brass pressed into the four corners, holding a black and white photo of some bearded guy clutching a hammer gun and a dog in his lap, one of those theme photos that come with the frame.

And then came the head fake - it wasn't the frame that was the present, it was the picture. This stoic gentleman is my great, great grandfather, William Richard Coleman II, and for the curious we look nothing alike. I don't know much more about him other than he had seven children and died short of his 38th birthday, neither of which was abnormal for the times and both of which seem downright tragic today.  He lived in rural eastern North Carolina near the Virginia border, at least a good day's ride to Raleigh by horse. I have no idea what he chased with that gun and dog. Probably whatever could be cleaned and eaten.

Every time I looked at the picture over the years the one thing I agonized over was the fate of that gun. How cool it would have been if it survived the generations. Furniture and cufflinks are fine heirlooms, but guns are beyond sentimental to a sportsman. They're far more than a possession being passed down. In reality, I knew this particular gun was probably sold, and sold cheap, soon after his death to feed or clothe those seven kids.

My dad has been on a family genealogy kick during his retirement and he's filled in quite a few branches on the family tree. On 9/11 he and my mom were in the air over Utah when the shit hit the fan and, grounded in Salt Lake City, he spent the next three days making lemonade so to speak at the Family History Library, access point to the Mormon geneological database. Such is his commitment to getting it all on paper.

Back in the spring he was visiting a distant cousin just north of where he and mom live, taking pictures at family graveyards and filling in a few more blanks. In the course of the conversation the cousin reaches above a door and pulls down the gun, THE gun. Dad called that night to give me the news and the emotion was similar to finding a $20 bill in your pocket, x70.

Last month when I picked up the kids from their visit with Gran and Pop I made sure we scheduled a trip to see this piece of my past. The gun is in remarkably good condition considering its age and journey; a double barrel, black powder gun, lacking any distinguishing labels outside of a gold inlaid "Fine Steel Barrels" inscription on the rib.

Curious about the maker and any other relevant details, I contacted Gregg Elliott at Dogs and Doubles to see if we could put a name with the face. We hit a bit of a dead end. Gregg said it looks like a British or Belgian percussion gun, a workhorse in its day because of low cost and reliability. Thousands of these guns were made by craftsmen subcontracted by "makers", what today would be considered private labels, in Birmingham and Leige, the centers of this trade. Makes me smile to think that this gun could have come to life in anonymity overseas, between sips of scotch or ale, in someone's basement workshop.

Likely the only way I'll ever know more about this piece is through someone who owns an identical model and knows its story, so I'll toss it out there that if anyone reading this can add to Gregg's ID, by all means speak up.

The gun is at least 140 years old and likely saw its last load long before I was born. I was disappointed when I couldn't find a way to break open a breech and drop in a shell. Blackpowder spooks me. Blackpowder in 140 year old guns terrifies me. When Dad told me the gun was still in the family I imagined - queue the dream sequence - dropping a double on a covey rise while my companions marveled at the proficiency of both shooter and weapon.

Given the value I place on my eyes and the rest of my head this scene will remain in the fiction file, but I did make my intentions known regarding the future of this firearm. Hopefully it survives at least a few more generations in the family.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Why is it that the best stand in the field is always the least comfortable? During these first two weeks of our unusually slow dove season I've been taking mental notes about where the birds are coming in and out of the field and who's leaving with the heaviest bags. On opening day the only guy who shot a limit sat underneath a power line near a pole with a transformer on it. But that kid paid for his limit.

Not only does this stand lack any usable shade, it sits on the east end of the field, meaning that as the hours tick by you stare more and more directly into the sun. Ever try to shoot a dove that's using Japanese Zero fighter tactics?

Today only five of us showed up, hardly enough to cover the field effectively but few enough that nobody was stuck with a really bad stand. I'd decided before I left the house that after two weeks and only a handful of birds in the freezer I was ready to pony up, and when no one volunteered to sit under the wire I eased in that direction.

I lost about 5 lbs of water weight and still see lots of pink and purple and white when I close my eyes, but after three hours I managed to scratch out an old school limit. Worth it? Oh yeah.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Opener (sort of)

Labor Day was our dove opener this year and I can finally talk about it, all 102 degree heat index and no birds of it.  That's a bit extreme, actually.  We had a few birds.

As openers go, though, the dove were sparse. They just weren't there in the numbers we typically see in early September. This was more like a third or fourth week of September shoot, birds drifting in two or three at a time with maybe one or two flurries during the hunt. Those big flurries, the ones with birds coming from every direction, so many that you can't decide which one to shoot, having three birds down at one time and yet another flies over while you're picking the first one up? Didn't happen.

Statistically you're bound to have a slow first day once in a while and we were probably due. Whether it was the oddly damp year we've had so far - we hit our annual rainfall average in late July - or the mild summer temps, at least until Monday, something kept the birds away. At least the beer stayed cold.

And this....

...this is sixty one dove wings in a cardboard box. A friend of mine at the DNR asked me to collect these for their annual study on brood hatches or molting or something and I happily agreed, certain that I'd gather a metric ton or so of wings from the opening day bonanza. At this rate it'll take a season's worth to get him a valid sample. One thing I didn't realize about dove wings: there are these tiny little feathers that you don't notice until you're riding home with the window down and they take to the air but somehow stay inside your truck until you're choking on them and swatting at them while they're sticking to your eyeballs.  So you roll down a back window hoping it will suck them out and instead it makes more of them take flight. So you pull over and roll all the windows down and get out and cuss a few times and wait.

Eventually you get back in the truck, this time with the lid on the box closed and weighed down so it won't blow open, and then you realize that all the tiny feathers didn't blow out the window, they settled down to the floor, only to go airborne one more time. So then you do what you should have done in the first place - roll up the damn windows.