Roger Phillips: First hunt reminds me why it's special

The experience is worth more than the results.

rphillips@idahostatesman.comSeptember 4, 2013 

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Len Beck, of Grangeville, scans a hazy sunrise for doves. Smoky skies made an eerily beautiful start to the hunting season.

ROGER PHILLIPS — rphillips@idahostatesman.com

The opening bell of my hunting season sounded at 3:30 a.m. Sunday, and yes, it was painfully early. It didn’t help that I had been on a full-blown, college football bender the night before that didn’t end until the clock expired on the Broncos.

Dove hunting doesn’t usually require that early of a start, but my friend, Joe Moloney, invited me on an opening day hunt.

Moloney lives in Mountain Home, and he wanted to make sure we arrived first to his favorite field near Bruneau.

We agreed to meet in Mountain Home at 5 a.m. I would need to drive an hour, and add another half hour to get ready.

Ugh. But I wasn’t going to miss the chance to hunt with Moloney. He’s an upbeat guy and a first-rate hunter. I knew the trip would be worth missing some sleep.

We arrived at Moloney’s hunting spot well before daylight. I was wearing shorts, and we stood around a dirt parking lot dousing ourselves with sunscreen and bug dope. Not the way I typically start a hunt.

We hiked across a field and stationed ourselves around a grove of trees. Packs of coyotes broke loose in their wild serenade. It was almost like a referee blowing a whistle at the start of game.

A sliver of crescent moon glowed in the sky like a friendly wink. There was an unexpected nip in the air. I watched the dark sky pale and feint stars disappear as a bloodshot sun rose from the hazy, smoky horizon.

I stood and soaked it all in while awaiting flights of doves. I caught something in my peripheral vision as one darted between trees. My gun was leaning against a shrub.

Oh yeah, doves. Not exactly a wave of them, but I could at least have the shotgun in my hand.

“It’s shooting light isn’t it,” I asked Len Beck, who was staked out nearby.

“Yeah, definitely,” he said.

We waited. Still no flights. My mind started turning everything I saw flying into doves — a flock of ducks cruising above the river, tweety birds flittering in the brush, a noisy covey of quail in the trees (always plenty of what you’re not hunting, it seems).

Then I saw the distinct, butterfly-like flight of a dove heading in my direction.

I readied my gun, and as it passed by, I raised it, swung and touched the trigger. The bird plummeted to the ground.

Wow. Now it felt like hunting season.

Dusty exploded from my feet and quartered in the brush until she came up with a feathery grin.

About an hour after daylight with only a few other shots, Moloney decided to switch fields, and we loaded trucks and hit another one.

The birds trickled in, or by, and we got some more shooting. Slowly, the bird count grew.

Which with doves, still doesn’t make a very impressive pile. You try not to think about what it costs per pound of game meat harvested, but it’s hard not to do some rough mental calculations.

In this case, it looks more like dollars per gram than dollars per pound.

Not that we minded. We were all dusting off the cobwebs by missing a few shots, then dropping a few birds. The three dogs — Dusty, Bailey and Boomer — provided entertainment.

Depending on the moment, they were million-dollar trackers or Keystone cops. A few times, four of us stood around looking at a dead bird while the dogs excitedly milled about and were oblivious to where it was lying.

Tough to hold it against them because they’ve had a long lay off, too. And I’ve always said, I will expect my dog to be perfect the day I hit every shot, and that’s never going to happen.

We ended the afternoon hiking across a brush patch and flushing a few more birds, and when we got back to the truck, the thermometer had hit 90 and the dogs were pooped and panting.

It was a fitting time to call it a day, but I soaked it all in — the morning chill, gun shots at dawn, dogs working birds, the 40-degree temperature swing between morning and afternoon, a burger at the One Stop in Bruneau, and the good-natured camaraderie between hunters.

As I cleaned the birds that evening and looked at the diminutive breasts, my brain involuntarily calculated the cost ratio to get them.

I considered the whole experience, and it confirmed what I knew before I left home early that morning.

I got a pretty good deal.

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

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