"Then I'd get together several fellows and spread out and drive them around from gun to gun."
Dave said, "A hunter wouldn't stand much of a chance alone, would he?"
"O.K., O.K.," Eddie laughed. "You two are about as subtle as a couple of hungry dogs. Close up shop for a few minutes, Dave, and let's hop in the car. I know something that may interest you fellows."
And that's when Eddie showed us the big barley field swarming with a thousand doves. He showed it to us at a 60-mile-an-hour clip. "There may be someone watching us and we don't want to be too obvious about this place," he said as we whizzed by the field with the throttle on the floor boards. "No point in letting anyone else find these doves." Eddie wouldn't even slow down and turn around until we had continued down the road several miles and the coast was clear both ways. As we roared back past we again got a hurried look at hundreds of doves sitting along the wires and in the willow clumps and moving in small flocks about the barley stubble.
Hunting before business
I like the spirit of these people in the Owens Valley. The opening day of the dove season, or any other season, would obviously be a lucrative one for a sporting goods store. Lots of hunters forget their shells or other important items until the last minute. But an extra sale or two wasn't in Dave's mind, not with all those birds waiting. Next morning he and his wife dipped in the larder for a couple of boxes of No. 8s, picked up their shotguns, hung out a sign on their sporting goods store, "Gone hunting," and we were off.
We had ample time to reach the shooting grounds by noon. We figured the four of us should be enough to keep the doves moving around and get some shooting. But about a mile from our destination we could see that the road near the barley field was blocked with cars, as though there had been a bad accident. As we drew closer we made out what appeared to be an armed posse gathering, but when we pulled up to our secret spot, the truth was evident: every hunter in the Owens Valley, plus a fully equipped delegation of wild-eyed optimists from Los Angeles, was there ahead of us.
The owner of the barley field was there, too, but he wasn't storming around trying to run off the intruders. He didn't even have a gun to take part in the shooting. Instead he was directing traffic, suggesting a likely stand here and there and generally playing the part of the congenial host.
No one said anything for a moment. Then Eddie turned around slowly and said, "Don't be bitter, fellows."
That was back in 1946, but I'll remember that day's hunt in detail for many years to come. I have never been involved in such a mass hunt before or since. I have too much respect for a gun to make a habit of that kind of thing, though actually a shotgun is a comparatively safe weapon. At a distance of over a hundred yards bird shot won't hurt a person, and over 50 yards it's not likely to be lethal. But the closer a person gets to the gun the more dangerous it is, of course, and in his own hands it is the most dangerous of all. I want to know the men I'm hunting with, and as I looked at the array of shooters lining the fringe of brush along the irrigation ditch bordering the field, my heart dropped. I had come out to open the dove season, not to have the dove season open me. I decided to take refuge in the irrigation ditch until after the initial bombardment, and then see where I could do some reasonably safe shooting.