The City Magazine Since 1975

On Target

On Target
September 2010
A Lowcountry field guide to giving dove hunts your best shot

I love Charleston, because I love hunting. Of course, all native Charlestonians love hunting. So for the benefit of those new to the area, I will selflessly share some tips on this long-standing Lowcountry  tradition, because being asked to go on a hunt is the local equivalent of being asked to be someone’s best man and saying “no” delivers the same level of insult.

Now, before you get your Red Sox jersey in a twist, let me assure you that you aren’t required to harm any of God’s creatures in order to participate. You just need to arm yourself with the following info and accept every invitation you ever receive. No one wants to hear about how you used to hunt or that your felony RICO conviction prevents you from owning a firearm. The invitee expects only awe and gratitude and an excited “Yes!” If you’re the daredevil type, “Yes” can be replaced with “You know dat, Bo!” or “I hear dat!”

There are several kinds of hunts, but I will cover the proper dove hunt as it requires many participants and, as a result, lots of invitations. Hopefully, one will come your way. For a newcomer, a dove hunt is a best-case scenario, since hardly anyone can hit the little feathered missiles anyway. In fact, it’s the only kind of hunt where missing is not only acceptable, it’s expected.

What You’ll Need: A .12- or .20-gauge automatic shotgun, with a lot of shells—bring 100 boxes to be safe. You’ll also need a dove stool and appropriately seasoned attire. First, purchase a pair of khaki pants and a khaki shirt and include them in every load of laundry you run for a year—darks, whites, dog bed, whatever. If it goes in the wash, your khakis go in, too. You’ll also want to buy a tan belt and a pair of snake boots. The belt and boots should be put in a crab trap and immersed in salt water for a year, and you’ll want to borrow the plumber’s truck to run over the aforementioned dove stool a few dozen times. When the stool resembles a useless tangle of twisted metal with a tiny piece of camo cloth clinging to it, it’s ready.

The Invitation: Dove season comes twice a year: when it’s hotter than blazing hell, and when it’s just hotter than hell. If someone asks you to go dove hunting when it’s hotter than blazing hell, you should mention, “I thought I was the only person sick enough to hunt the first season!” If someone asks you go after college football has started, you say, “You bet! And I’ll owe you forever for waiting until the second season to invite me.” Please note: both of these responses may confuse your host, because you’ll sound experienced.

The Hunt: When you arrive, you’ll be directed to some specific location in or around a field. The good news is that there will be a great deal of distance between you and the other hunters, so no one will see you reading the directions on how to load your gun. Eventually, birds will start flying around, and you’ll have absolutely no idea which ones are doves. Don’t panic. Watch the other hunters, and after one of them shoots, count to three then shoot wildly into the air. Cuss loudly. Repeat throughout the afternoon. After every third shooting spree, walk 30 yards out into the field, stop, walk in a circle, pick up a dirt clod, and walk back to your stool.

Ending the Hunt: Eventually, hunters will begin wandering back to the trucks. Wait until about half are there, then join them. Everyone you encounter will ask, “How’dyadoo?” Caution: Don’t screw this part up. Respond by saying, “How many’d I kill? Or how many’d I pick up??!!” Then you will laugh, shake your head, and say, “I gotta git me a damn dawg.” Don’t worry what this exchange actually means; it will secure passage until you reach the tailgate of someone’s pickup, where you will open a beer and achieve “safe” status. A man on the tailgate of a pickup drinking a beer becomes, in a way, a Southern Buddha, and none may question him.

Post-hunt: There’s something magical about post-hunt beers, and the stories will be flying fast and loose. Here’s what you should add—nothing. Laugh at everything and resist the temptation to comment. If you in any way draw attention to yourself, your cover could be blown. If you speak up, the next thing you know someone will be asking, “Whatchoo shootin’?” You might say something horrifying, like spouting off the description from the box (“Why, I’m shooting a Remington .12-gauge Special Purpose with a 30-inch barrel with an improved cylinder.”) Trust me, it’ll get real quiet…until the banjo music starts.

Departing: As the sun begins to drop, most of the hunters will begrudgingly begin leaving, and you will no doubt be asked by several, “You want some birds?” If you are brave, this is the moment when you can ratchet up the testosterone. You reply, “Sure. You don’t want ’em?” Every single time, they will reply, “Nah, I’d just have to clean ’em.” Then you say, “Clean ’em? Hell, I shot ’em.” Wait a beat, and add, “The wife cleans ’em.”

Your legend will spread like wildfire—just make sure your wife is in on it.