Robert Hitt Neil, Syndicated columnist
The Picayune Item
Okay, I know what you’re going to say: “All Neill writes about is stuff that happened 50 years ago!” I do write about the Good Old Days sometimes, but I’m 1) a little bit long in the tooth myownself, and 2) so are many of my readers, and they treasure those memories like I do. So, here goes.
Back when I was a kid, up until the times that my own kids graduated from high school and got out from underfoot, we always considered the Opening Day of Dove Season (which wasn’t always on Labor Day weekend) to be a New Year’s celebration of sorts. Fishing and frog-gigging were okay for summertime fun, but Dove Season marked the time to get the guns back out seriously, and load up plenty of shells, for we were going to shoot a LOT! We were also going to see our sporting friends for the first time that year, or maybe since turkey season in April.
We always prepared several fields, as did the Dean Brothers down at Tribbett, and Frank Tindall, my Godfather across the county line. Browntop millet was a favorite food for doves, as were sunflowers and milo, plus newly planted wheat. Back then, a farmer might have a 25-acre patch of each of those scattered around his acreage, surrounded by hundreds of acres of green soybeans and cotton, so all the doves concentrated on those food fields. About 20 years ago, the corn markets opened up down here, corn prices skyrocketed, and now those food fields are surrounded by hundreds of acres of corn, which are harvested a couple weeks before the season opens. Gone are small-field concentrations, for the most part.
Howsomever, when two or three farmers who hunted together anyway pooled their resources in rotation for a long weekend, we’d have beaucoup doves for a couple or three long weekends, so we invited all and sundry. Folks came from the Coast and other states, driving hundreds of miles to stay for the whole weekend and once again mingle with all their friends. Spouses and kids were always included, and everyone brought food to kick off the Saturday Opening Day Party, when more than 150 people would somehow pack into Uncle Sam & Aunt Rose’s house, or Daddy & Mother’s house, or Big John & Eleanor’s house.
I remember after one Opening Day, Aunt Rose remarked rather caustically to Mother that “There were more young people here than people our age!” To which Miz Janice replied firmly, “Fine, we’ll let Bob & Betsy host it next year!”
We did that, although we lived in town then, and the cops showed up about 3 a.m. to quiet us down, but ended up staying a while themselves! Moving our home eleven miles out to Brownspur cured the problem.
I killed my first dove on one of those hunts, on my Godfather’s place. My son and daughter killed their first doves on those hunts, as well as introducing many of their friends to hunting. I started out hunting with my own set of friends like Little Dave & Little John & Jimmy Moore, then invited a bunch of Ole Miss footballers and frat brothers when I went to Oxford, many of whom I’m still close with now, half a century later. Their kids learned to hunt on those hunts, and often there would be three or four generations in the field together.
The host usually would not even shoulder a gun on the Opening Day, because he had the job of taking people to the field, bringing them back with limits or for more shells, making sure every hunter got water or cokes on his rounds in the truck, bringing latecomers in to take over hot spots when the shooter had limited out already — all in a genuine spirit of fun and camaraderie.
When morning shooting hours were opened, it put a lot of pressure on a host to have enough fields for good shooting. Suddenly, instead of using three fields for the three-day Opening Weekend, now six fields were expected. Since we were sharing fields with Big John and Frank anyway, we just had to coordinate a little bit more. But it took planning back into the spring!
And it was worth it! What a wonderful era: the Delta Plantation Dove Hunts!