Brad had been invited to participate in a live pigeon shoot and mid March 2006 found us driving to east Texas for the event. Brad was still recovering from extensive surgery, radiation and chemotherapy that had removed and treated a stage 4, tumor on his right tonsil. He believed that he was well enough to participate 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 remains an expert shot with both a rifle and shotgun. Brad had asked me to accompany him, and said, “Why don’t you bring your shotgun along.” I needed no encouragement and accepted the offer. I did not expect to get to shoot, but you never know.
The pigeon shoot, a benefit for Jubalee Junction, a non profit organization that provides deer, duck and wild hog hunting for severely injured people who have the desire to be in the field and take part in hunting activities. The founder of this group, David Gates, is a banker in a small East Texas town and a wonderful guy! He is a severely injured victim of an industrial accident but spending time around him you could never tell.
We had dinner at David’s house that night and met there the next morning to begin a thirty minute drive to the shoot that was being 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 “The Friends Of Wildlife” and other “Tree Huggers” out!
Pigeon shoots are conducted on a one hundred yard, half-circle, field with distance markers spaced every twenty 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 twenty yards wide and ten yards deep that is placed in the middle of the half circles base and can shoot from anywhere in 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, it must clear the ropes to be a legal bird. 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. He must be quick and smart!
Brad gets three practice shots and moves into the shooters area shouldering his shotgun. “Listo,” says the thrower and Brad counters, “Pull,” and the bird rockets over the rope climbing for all it is worth. Pow! The bird folds and Pow, Brad discharges the second shot, which is a safety rule. A shooter gets two shots to hit the bird and if successful on the first, must discharge the second into the air.
Brad turns around and says 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 says, “Fine,” and I quickly prepared. I felt somewhat funny with my Browning Superposed “knock off”, a twelve gauge Lanber, a good looking gun made in Spain, but a lot less expensive than a Browning. My opponents all seem to have Brownings, Perrottzis, Berettas and Krieghoffs, all costing many times more than mine. But, as they say, “The proof will be in the pudding.”
Our Colombaire is a man about fifty years old, left handed, with all the moves of a baseball pitcher, which he was professionally in his youth. “Listo,” he announced right in front of me and I nervously answered, “Pull” and he overhands a bird right in front of me, it darted low, he hit the ground, and too much movement in my direst front, and Pow, Pow, two clean misses. An inauspicious start!
The second, practice bird cleared the rope and climbed fast to my right and Pow, down he went. The Colombaire said, “Second barrel.” I look at him. “Second barrel,” a little louder and I remembered to discharge the second shot into the air. Being “tight”, if you hit a bird on the first shot, you don’t waste the second one. I missed both shots on my last practice bird and thought to myself, this is harder than sporting clays or trap shooting and much worse than shooting Mourning Doves on a real windy day. I’ll have to crank up my concentration just to compete with the other shooters.
The practice rounds were completed and there were twenty-five shooters and Brad was shooting twentieth, so I got to watch some very good shooting and picked up some useful pointers. Don’t be glued to the middle of the shooting area. Change your position once the Colombaire says “Listo” and he can’t change his. Your initial aim point is the center of the middle rope. Block out the Colombaire’s movements and just watch the bird. Keep both eyes open and concentrate on the pigeon. And a truism of all wing shooting, swing through your shot and don’t stop your swing until the bird is hit and always be ready for a second shot!
My turn came up as the lady in front of me finished with the lead having knocked down seven out of ten birds thrown. I’m nervous, took a half breath, walked to my position and looked the Colombaire in the eye. His lips moved, but with ear protectors on and being hard of hearing from too much shooting without them, I heard nothing. I told him to speak louder, he smiled and said “Listo.” “Pull,” I answered and the bird sailed over the rope and dove to the ground and Pow, Pow, I missed both shots.
After the miss my “nerves” were gone and I hit eight straight birds including a long, long shot of over seventy-five yards, and the bird fell just inside of the flags. Concentrating completely, being deaf and having ear protectors on I can only hear the “Listoes”. But Brad told me later that I really had all of the other shooters attention. “Who is that guy with the wide shoulders?” “ I have never seen him shoot before.” “That old guy can really shoot!” “What a long shot!” The crowd murmured.
On my last bird, nine of ten should win the shoot for sure, the Colombaire stood right in front of me, smiled and said, “Listo”, I moved two side shuffles to my left, clearing him, he took two spins forward as if to release the bird like a discuss, and of all things, released it behind his back. The bird is flying between the Colombaire and me, and I’m completely “faked out of my jock,” in the wrong position to shoot a hard right bird and Pow, Pow, two weak misses. The Colombaire then does something I had not seen him do with the other shooters, he came toward me, held out his hand, and smiled saying, “Good Shooting.” Everyone was patting me on the back, shaking my hand and congratulating me, but I was worried that one of the last five shooters would tie or beat me.
The last four shooters had sixes and sevens and, as in all good stories, the last shooter a young man probably in his mid twenties, and sporting an old, beat up, twelve gauge, pump, tied me. He missed his first bird, then shot seven in a row, missed number nine and hit an easy straight away for an eight. We tied and to determine the winner, a shoot off was needed.
Having come to the shoot to support Brad, I found myself in a shoot off for the championship. This wasn’t planned, but I will definitely do my best. The Colombaire is primed to make both of us work hard for the victory. He’s getting the bird ready, pulling tail feathers out and swinging it around, while he paces in the throwing area. We both miss the first two birds, our Colombaire stepping up the level of his throws. Shooting first, I nailed a low bird right past the rope and my opponent hit a high, climber. I got a discuss type, behind the back bird to my right and dusted it on the first shot, but hit it square on the second and my opponent hits on his second shot also.
Still tied, I moved to the shooters position, and the Colombaire was smiling and pulling tail feathers out. I’ve seen everything he has I think, so he spins and released the bird with his right hand a hard left. I hadn’t seen that! Pow, Pow and I missed. My opponent won the shoot with an easy climber. My young opponent was the best shooter that day.
Second place still paid handsomely, but I donated my winnings to Jubalee Junction!
However, second guessing, I think that if I had hit the hard left bird, our Colombaire would have pulled one of his tricks on my opponent. Quien sabe?