© 2010 Joshua Stark
I must confess, I didn't hunt our dove opener on marginal lands this year. And I paid the price.
Oh, I had ideas. I'd get up before work, a couple of hours before shooting time, even, and head out to the best dove spot on the Sacramento Bypass, a small strip of land adjacent to the California Highway Patrol training facility. I'd do this for two reasons: The opening day shoot there is supposed to be great; and I'd take the good spot where, every year, a bunch of A-holes shoot up the place and leave a pile of shotgun shells.
I don't understand leaving shotgun shells. I'm sure there's some macho territory-marking thing going on, or some macho, I-don't-clean-up-after-myself sort of thing. All it does is make me want to slash tires.
Well, this year I'd be out there before the morons. I'd have a good spot, and maybe a good story to go with it, and I'd be back in the office by startin' time.
Two things changed this year's plans, however. First, I lost my job - so, no need to beat the rush. Second, my cousin and a good friend invited me to hunt a property they paid for access. It's a peach orchard, and they'd been told it's lousy with doves, rabbits, and barnie pigeons. Heck, there'd even be peaches for the pickin'.
So instead of heading up to the bypass, when 4 am rolled around, I was in my cousin's truck heading 90 miles South.
The company was great, we had a wonderful time, and the friend used the word "epic" on at least three occasions. Unfortunately, those occasions were: Just how few doves show up at a place that charges money; the notoriety of my cousin's and my ability to create a 'no game' zone within a 20 mile radius of wherever we choose to hunt; and sadly, the amount of crack a 65-year old man decided to show on his way into the Perko's at breakfast-time.
Known for our hunts being titled, "that time..." (as in, "that time we almost shot those specks"), this became, "that time the a-hole guide stopped us to check our permission slips, and the only shootable dove dropped in over his truck", and also "that time we shot those peaches." Epic is the right word.
But, later in the week things would improve, and they would do so on some marginal lands.
The Department of Fish & Game manages a number of small wildlife areas throughout the state. Often, these areas are little more than leftover parcels and patches jammed between industrial and agriculture centers. I call many of these lands marginal (except the duck hunting spots, of course), even though they are outside city limits and urban centers, because they are on the margins of human activities that dramatically alter the landscape. And what's more impactful, anyway, a thousand acres of sprayed wheat, harvested at nesting time, or a thousand acres of city with parks and trees and backyard bird feeders? It's also not accurate to portray "urban" as ending at the arbitrary political boundary, when that city wouldn't exist without the ribbon of asphalt and those thousand acres of wheat, repeated to epic proportions, throughout the "country". There is no real "urban".
And so I found myself, again with my cousin, hunting up an edgeland. We arrived over an hour late, a bad, bad thing when hunting rabbits with no dog in wild grape and blackberry country. But right at the parking lot we jumped and lost a bunny, so our spirits were buoyed. Walking the edge, we spied a flock of doves (the OED describes that as a, "holy crap!" of doves) on the ground. My cousin put the sneak on 'em and got one. Just over a hillock a rabbit fell to my gun. Another couple hundred yards, and I noticed a little brown shape.
"Is that a..." as I speak, I realize it is a, "rabbit, right" BOOM! "there?"
After that, we paddled over a body of water to a spot a bit more difficult to access if not for the boat. At 8:30 am, an hour after most people around here would have called it a day for rabbits, a cottontail skidded by in front of us. We were so shocked to see a coney this late that we didn't get off a shot.
A great day. I've got rabbits in the freezer, my cousin has a dove to add to his pile, and we have that time we got those two rabbits and a dove.
I should've trusted the marginal lands to provide when I needed them.
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