Crows are the ones about which I feel that energetic empathy. Look at them. Shiny black old men and women who care about as much for you as you do for goldfish. Have you ever seen a dead crow? I didn't think so. Have you ever almost hit a crow with your shiny automobile? I didn't think so. Do you see the way they judge the speed of oncoming traffic as they pick at the mangled marsupial on the side of the road? How they slowly unfurl their large wings and make that one jump which sends them skyward long before any danger could damage them? Then they look back and give that last look over their shoulder. Was it a look of scorn for you and your wheeled machine, or was it to mark the exact coordinates of their decaying dinner?

There is only one true agony of birds. It is called buckshot.

Just as football season starts, dove season opens. The corn has been harvested and the remains lay there for the flocks of hungry aviators. Doves mate for life; did you know that? Did you know two doves in love will develop specific songs which they will use to communicate only with each other?

My dad would take me to the fields with my little .410 shotgun and I would play games with the doves while he and his friends would blow them out of the sky with their 12 gauge assault weapons. So high up and yet still so vulnerable to the patterned shot. At least we ate them. A single dove will provide a breast which, when wrapped in a strip of bacon, tastes different than any other bird. . . But they mate for life. That's the part you have to forget as you dig in.

Dove hunting is just a form of watching TV outside with guns. You sit in one spot and have the radio on, listening to the football game, and the men drink beer and eat bologna sandwiches and wait for the doves to fly over.

Quail hunting is a different sort of adventure. You must seek out the quail, usually with a dog, and this involves walking. That's actually a form of exercise, so it cuts down on the beer drinking and radio listening. Did you know that quails' eggs have a color, pattern, shape and size that is unique for each hen? It's like a fingerprint. This makes egg identification between several hens very accurate.

When hunting quail, the problem for humans (the birds have their own problem in this scenario) is that the quail will fly quickly from the ground up to that free space they own. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to knock them out of that short space of sky as they arise. This means that your buckshot will be sprayed at something approaching ground level. More than one human has died or been seriously injured by being on the other side of that bush. (Yeah, that one right there.) The good news is that a quail breast, wrapped in a piece of bacon, is also a different delicacy that you wouldn't usually be able to enjoy. . . But each little quail came from a unique egg which would help his mother identify him, like an unarmed, feathered FBI. That's the part you have to forget as you dig in.

I've never really hunted and caused agony to any other birds aside from doves and quails, so I can't tell you what it's like, for instance, to hunt ducks as a real duck hunter. I do know that you get up early in the middle of the winter and go to some place that has a lot of water and that if you kill one, you've had a good day. I never really thought that would be a lot of fun. You could kill a dozen doves or quail on a good warm fall day. But you let them drag you out into the water in the winter and the birds can kill you, too.

Here's what happened to a young man who was the son of an old guy I know. The old guy has never told me this story. I heard it from folks who know him, and he never told it to them, either. This boy was his only son.

The three young men took two boats out one very cold December night. They used the boats to float down to the duck blinds they had on the river. My friend's son took one boat and the other two young men took the other. The twosome stopped at the first blind, and the son of my old friend floated on down to the second blind, about a hundred yards further down river. So, the boats were tied and the young men laid down to sleep until dawn, when the ducks would be flying in. My friend's son woke up around 3 AM and saw that his boat had come untied and was drifting down river. He made two fatal mistakes. First, he cared that his boat was leaving. Then he failed to take off his clothes before he acted on mistake number one. He jumped in the river and waded out to retrieve the boat. When he got back, he was soaking wet and shivering. He laid back down to go to sleep.

He froze to death in that duck blind. No ducks were harmed from those two blinds the next morning. But a hole was left in my old friend's heart which never healed.


I killed a crow with buckshot once as an amateur duck hunter. We were disappointed that no ducks were flying over the marshy land we'd waded in for hours on that cold December day. So we took our frustrations out on the crows who were laughing at us. I shot one and watched him fall, so gracefully, in a spiral not unlike an Olympic diver.

There was no strip of bacon wrapped around the old soul's breast to see how it tasted. There was only a lost boy wading back to his house with something that resembled guilt wrapped around his chest as the bird, perhaps the same age as the boy, floated still in that cold, cold water.

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