Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Gift

The shotgun barked, same as the ten thousand before it on this particular afternoon.  This one, however, was quickly cut off by a deep and hearty YEAHHHHH! from yours truly.  I couldn't help it.  The day was over, we were out of shells on a borrowed and ill-fitting 12 gauge autoloader, and I was hastily running to retrieve my ten-year-old son's sixth whitewing dove of the sultry South Texas afternoon.

To say I was happy was putting it mildly.  For one, it cleansed the bad aftertaste of my own abyssmal shooting (also putting it mildly) out of my mind once and for all.  But more than that, it was the punctuation -- the exclamation point -- on a special Labor Day Weekend for me, my dad, and my son.

Through some connections, I was able to line up a dove shoot at the Nooner Ranch just outside of Hondo, Texas.  "Pulling a Nooner" is indescribable.  Sammy Nooner (among other things) manages hundreds upon hundreds of acres specifically for whitewing dove.  Having only started showing up in the Rio Grande Valley in the last 20 years or so, these invaders from Mexico are now the dove of choice in this part of the world, and can be found as far north as Kansas these days.  We arrived on Saturday at around 3:30pm, and the hunt was already on -- the amount of gunfire made it sound like something as close as I ever want to get to D-Day.  Literally tens of thousands of fast-flying acrobats poured across the sky, from their roosts in the city of Hondo to Sonny's planted sunflower fields that ring the small town.

As we readied ourselves, I recalled that I wasn't fortunate enough to hunt with my Granddad, but I know that's where I got my love of the outdoors.  For him, hunting was more than sport -- it helped put something on the table for his hardy German family of eight brothers and two sisters nearly 100 years ago.  Back when I was a kid, Gramps would take us plinking with the .22, but for some reason, we never walked a field or sat in a blind together.  No matter.  He was still a mythical figure, regaling me with stories and knowledge that you can't get from any book or website.

Jack, my son, looks at my dad in the same way.  Seeing Jack and Gramps together is a time machine back to my own childhood.  And what better way to relive my childhood than on a hunting trip with the two of them?  And I gave them that gift on Labor Day Weekend 2010.

Funny thing though.  As I sat there on two semi-sweltering afternoons, I realized I was the one who was the biggest beneficiary from my little plan.  My father was proud of me, joining me in something I deeply and profoundly care about.  He told me I shot well (the first day anyhow).  He was pleased I was teaching my son safe, ethical, and proficient gun handling.  Most of all, he was proud that I was exposing Jack to the glory of the outdoors.

My whipsmart, yet sometimes flighty boy had it in him -- he had to -- it was good breeding, not unlike any birddog worth their salt, that had been passed down through generations.  I was just the inevitable enabler, the kin to ignite the spark in him that really can't be extinguished.

So when that final gunshot went off, I looked for that spark in my son, and saw an inferno.  I looked at my dad, and saw an even bigger grin.  And so I ran, ran to that downed dove -- because I didn't want either of them to see me me smiling so hard that I was crying in joy.

Seeing his smile -- and my dad's -- is something I'll never forget.  Here's to the past, the present, and the promise.

And here's to the Gift.


  1. It was something I'll never forget! Has that young man even started to come down off of cloud 9?

  2. Thanks for sharing that. The story is maybe even bigger than you realize. You're all blessed!