Having graduated from the University of Georgia with a geology degree in June 1980, I moved to Brownwood, Texas, and began working in the Southwestern U.S. oilfields as a geologist logging oil and gas wells. During my time in Texas, I took up dove hunting.
In August 1981, I paid $50 for a dove-hunting lease on a two-section cattle ranch owned by a burly, weathered gentleman by the name of Mr. Leslie Crawford. During dove season, I spent most of my free time on the dove lease with my dog, Cleet, and my cooler loaded with the usual fare of beer, sliced ham, and enriched white bread – the kind of bread that sticks to the roof of your mouth. We would usually sit under a shade tree while we waited on the doves to fly in.
Mr. Crawford was an enigma. Despite being in his mid-eighties, he stood a good six feet tall without his boots on and had a young man’s posture. “Hard work is what keeps me fit,” he would say. Always sporting a three-day-old white beard, he was renowned by the locals as a fair but never-give-an-inch neighbor. He was an old-line Texas cattle rancher. I was a naive, young Eastern tenderfoot. We were like salt and sugar because we had at least one thing in common: dove hunting. Mr. Crawford often met Cleet and me at the lease to hang out and hunt doves.
Mr. Crawford and I never scheduled a time to meet, but I could count on him to show up frequently with his stories and surly wit. If Cleet and I arrived at the dove lease before he did, I could easily recognize his black F-250 pickup truck approaching from a distance because he had the curious habit of driving with his headlights on all the time – even in broad daylight – like some sort of fugitive from a funeral procession. I wondered about that. I also wondered about how he could constantly maintain the three-day-old stubble on his face.
One day while the three of us were sitting in the sun by a cattle-watering tank and waiting for the doves to fly in, I asked, “Mr. Crawford, every time I see you drive that truck, you have the headlights on. Why is that? Is the switch stuck? Maybe you should take it to the shop.”
With a grumble, Mr. Crawford stood up and replied, “Son, let me tell you something. Texas law says that whenever you can’t see clearly beyond 500 feet while driving, you have to turn your headlights on. AND I ain’t been able to see clearly beyond 50 FEET for the past ten years!” Well, I got one of my answers. I didn’t get the nerve to ask for the other.
Mr. Crawford grabbed a beer from my cooler and then shoved a bunch of snuff in his mouth. Before long, he started going after the snuff and the beer like a swarm of flies going after a bucket full of Fourth-of-July watermelon rinds. After a short while of watching him indulge himself, I asked, “Mr. Crawford, doesn’t all that snuff interfere with the taste of the beer?”
“Nope. I ain’t tasted the beer for 50 years. Didn’t like it much when I did taste it. That’s why I started dipping snuff . . . It kills the taste of the beer. Funny thing though, snuff by itself without the beer tastes like mule dung, and the beer kills the taste of the snuff. Now, is that dog of yours gonna fetch us some doves when we bring ’em down?”
“You bet she will.”
That particular hunt was memorable because at 5:00 p.m. hundreds of thirsty birds started flocking toward the watering tank from all directions. We stood back to back shooting and reloading, shooting and reloading. Cleet jumped into water and swam out to retrieve two dead birds that had fallen into the watering tank. “You see? Cleet’s doing her part,” I said while looking at Mr. Crawford. “Thatta girl! Good girl!” I praised her each time she deposited a bird at my feet. The fast action continued for 30 minutes and then stopped for the afternoon. With all the birds flying about us, I bagged the 12-bird daily limit for the first time.
We would have dove for supper that night. When Cleet and I returned home from our dove hunts without birds in the bag, I’d grill a 2-pound ribeye steak for supper and enjoy it with a big baked potato swimming in butter and sour cream and corn on the cob dripping with butter. Or I’d cook a 4-pound batch of pasta and my special homemade Italian red sauce. I could’ve used a satellite dish for eating my pasta. My weight rocketed from 170 pounds to 195 pounds, and I wasn’t getting any exercise by sitting on my beer cooler and shooting at doves. But we would have dark-breasted birds for supper that night.
Like always, as we left the dove lease that day, I let Cleet chase my truck as I drove down the road a few hundred yards because Cleet liked chasing things. Maybe, I should’ve been putting Cleet behind the wheel and chasing the truck myself. That way, I could’ve knocked a few pounds off my 5-foot, 10-inch frame.
The 1981 dove season, a lifetime ago, was to be our last in Texas.