Right in front of me the colombaire yelled, “Listo”, he was a man around 50 years old, left handed, with all the moves of a baseball pitcher, which professionally he was in his youth. Nervously answering, “Pull”, he overhanded a pigeon right in front of me, it darted low, he hit the ground, and with too much movement in front of me, I shot 2 holes in the sky, completely missing the bird. What an inauspicious start to my first pigeon shoot!
The second practice bird cleared the rope, climbed fast to my right, an easy shot, I nailed it and down it went. The colombaire said, “Second barrel”, looking at him with a confused look on my face, he almost shouted, “Second barrel”, then I remembered to discharge my second shot into the air, which is a safety rule. In all of my trap shooting, clay bird shooting and hunting activities, if you hit a bird on the first shot, you didn’t waste the second. Missing both shots on my last practice bird, I thought to myself, this is much harder than sporting clays or trap shooting and much worse than shooting mourning doves on a real windy day, but this is a sport I could really like!
Thinking to myself, How did I get in this spot shooting in a live pigeon shoot? Brad had been invited to participate in the shoot and in mid March 2006 we drove over to east Texas for the event. He was still recovering from extensive surgery, radiation and chemotherapy the past summer that had removed and treated a stage 4, tumor on his right tonsil. He believed that he was well enough to shoot and was looking forward to it! He had been on the Army rifle team, and, for two years had been the Arizona junior trap champion and remained an expert shot with both a rifle and shotgun. Brad had asked me to accompany him then added, “Why don’t you bring your shotgun along.” Needing no encouragement, I accepted the offer, but did not expect to even use the gun.
The pigeon shoot was a benefit for Jubalee Junction, a nonprofit organization that provided deer, duck and wild hog hunting for severely injured people who still had the desire to be in the field and take part in outdoor activities. It’s founder, David Gates, was a banker in a small East Texas town and a wonderful guy! He was a severely injured victim of an industrial accident, but spending time around him you could never tell. After a restful night we met David for the 30, minute drive to the shoot that was held on private land, deep in the Trinity River bottom. Pigeon shoots aren’t against the law, but secluded, private locations are necessary to keep all the “Tree Huggers” out!
Pigeon shoots are conducted on a 100 yard, half-circle, field with distance markers spaced every 20 yards around the circumference. To be counted as a kill, the bird must fall within this half-circle. The shooter stands in a roped off, chalk lined rectangle 20 yards wide and 10 yards deep that is placed in the middle of the half- circles base and the shooter can shoot from anywhere within this rectangle. In front of the shooter the thrower of the pigeon, the colombaire also has a rectangle the size of the shooters for him to maneuver in. Once he is in position and ready to throw, he says “Listo”, which means he can’t move until throwing the bird. The shooter says, “Pull”, and away goes the bird.
To the shooters front, the posts and ropes, ten feet off of the ground, are for the safety of the colombaire, and when he throws the pigeon, to be a legal bird, it must clear the ropes. Since he is throwing the pigeon from in front of the shooter, this gives the colombaire a margin of safety. However, when the pigeon clears the ropes and then dives back down toward the ground, the colombaire must hit the ground quickly to avoid being shot. Being quick and smart is a definite job requirement!
Brad got 3 practice birds and moved into the shooters area, shouldering his shotgun, “Listo,” said the thrower and Brad countered, “Pull”, the bird rocketed over the rope climbing for all it is worth. Pow! The bird folded and Pow, Brad discharged the second shot. Again, a shooter gets two shots to hit the bird and if successful on the first, must discharge the second into the air.
Brad turned around and said to David, “The gun’s recoil puts too much pressure against the implant in my jaw and I don’t think that I can continue. Is it OK for my Dad to shoot in my place?” David said, “Fine,” and startled, I quickly prepared.
To be continued on March 10th.