The Sporting Life
by Dennis Doyle
Memories for a Cold Season
Old sporting adventures warm up a foul week
Inside the house last week, held prisoner by weather I neither asked for nor wanted, I reminisced about warmer times.
I thought longingly of an extended hunting trip into Mexico a long time ago, then of one of the more alarming predicaments I got into there.
It was outside a small town in Nuevo Leon back in the 1960s, and a friend and I had been invited to shoot on a ranch where the corn had just been harvested and incredible numbers of white wing doves were availing themselves of the waste corn.
It was still broiling hot that late September afternoon. We were shooting a large area thickly carpeted with the dried, yellow debris of corn stalks and corncobs chewed up by the combines.
Awaiting the afternoon flight that we knew would start to fly as the mid-day temperature dropped, my friend and I dawdled around the field’s edges.
Recycling By Need
I was shooting an over-and-under 12-gauge double. Our shells were getting ragged. This trip was made on the lowest of budgets, and one of our money-saving gimmicks was reloading our own shells.
We had birdshot, gunpowder, primers and a reloading vise in our camper and would spend our evenings reconstructing the shells that we had fired the day before.
Forty years ago, all shotshells were made with cardboard hulls. Getting two or three reloads out of one paper hull was pushing the limits of the material. We were on the fifth or sixth reload of these cartridges, and the paper tubes that held the powder and shot were getting beyond thin.
My partner had headed down to the lower part of the field. I had just loaded and closed my gun and was checking the safety when a shadow flickered over. I glanced up as the first dove of the day whistled past.
Instinctively I threw the gun to my shoulder, swung after the bird and fired, futilely. Embarrassed at being caught so flatfooted, I slowly lowered my double and watched the bird disappear into the distance.
That is when I heard an evil sound: an angry rattlesnake. The noise of its rattle was frenzied and close.
I froze. But on the ground around me, I could see nothing but corn stalks.
Was it an aural hallucination? No, I was sure that I heard that rattle and sure that it was close, but I could see nothing. I turned slowly and looked intently.
After a long period of anxiety, I began to relax: There just wasn’t anything there. My arms were trembling from holding my gun at the ready, my finger poised over the trigger. Slowly I lowered it while I tried to explain away that terribly sound.
It took a few minutes, but I finally confirmed there was nothing near me. I was about to step off down the field when suddenly that distinct and deadly rattle started up again, clearer, more distinct and just as close as before.
Acutely terrified does not begin to describe my mental state at that point. I had happened upon diamondback rattlesnakes before. That fearful rattle is not a sound anyone is likely to forget, ever.
Long needle-like fangs and the venom they contain was all I could think of as I stared at the ground around me. Yet I still couldn’t see anything nothing but a carpet of dried yellow corn stalks stretched around my feet. I looked and looked; there was nothing there.
Finally, with a yelp of anguish, I ran. After 50 yards, and out of breath with sweat pouring down my face and into my eyes, I stopped.
The Joke’s on Me
Safe at last, I looked back from where I had come to be sure nothing was following.
Regaining my nerve took some time, but finally my breathing returned to normal. I opened my gun, flinching as an empty shell (that I had long ago fired at that first dove) ejected over my shoulder.
I took the second, unfired shell out of the other barrel. It was oddly light in my fingers.
Examining the cartridge, I realized what had happened. Laughter burst from my lips, first slowly in embarrassment and finally in a flood of emotional relief.
I almost couldn’t believe it. The recoil from firing the first shell at the dove had jolted the worn shotshell in the gun’s second barrel and opened up the weakly crimped cartridge mouth that held in the birdshot.
I turned the shell over; what little shot remained rolled out of the hull onto the ground, just as it had every time I lowered my gun barrel back in the field. The fine pellets cascaded down, rattling off the dried corn stalks making a sound exactly like that of an angry rattlesnake.
Fish Are Biting
But not here. It’s still too cold.