Uncle Harry, keen to go hunting for doves.
What do you hunt normally, Harry's hunting buddy Jos asked me. Polar bears, I answered.
Uncle Harry is different. He is the last farmer of our family of many generations of land-owning farmer in Eastern Brabant.
After he sold his farm to local government for an industrial development some 15 year ago, he bought a large house with 2.5 acres of land. It also has a 20 m barn for his many hobbies.
Initially, he still kept a few pigs and chickens. He also turned a 2 acre meadow near his house into park landscape and it even has a pond with a bridge. His pets include a peacock that likes to come into the house.
The barn houses his mechanical hobbies, the tractor but which he still uses to help out farmers, and various cars like a 1920's old timer, a red buggy  for driving on the land, a Mercedes SUV and an old American muscle car that has been idle now for at least ten years.
Harry's House and the red buggy for driving on the land.
Speaking to him on my mother's birthday some 5 months ago, and talking like “men” on interesting hobbies (mine were expeditions in Canada), he invited me to go on a dove's hunt in the summer as I knew how to handle guns. These days a rare skill.
He is one of the few remaining hunters in Holland, currently some 28,000. This number will go down fast as it is seen as a devious hobby.
Still, anybody could lease a piece of farm land from the local government, typical about 100 acres, and get a hunting license once they pass a test. The owner's of the land have no right to stop you from hunting. Hunting rights are decided by the local government but you do have to obey many rules like not shooting near a road and not damaging any crops. Grass land is normally used for hunting. Targets are pheasants, rabbits, doves and foxes.
I arrived at his place at the agreed time and he was already ready to go .
We took his red buggy and drove to the farm land of his hunting buddy Jos.
The red buggy on the wheat and corn field.
The land has wheat and corn; wheat to attract pigeons and corn as a hiding place for us. Jos planted the 10 acres of wheat mainly for the hunt, was my feeling. His main income is a gasoline station and a petroleum (jet fuel) tanker truck supplying local farmers with heating fuel.
I initially imaged we would walk on the land and in the forest, often crossing ditches like I saw pheasant hunters do when I was young. Instead we would do the sniper's method, wait till the doves nearly land and then shoot them. This reminded me of shooting small birds when I was 15 years old. For a year I shot 1 to 5 birds a day in our orchard.
According to the hunting regulations, doves must be flying in the air when shooting them. When they sit down, you have to wait till they fly again but that is easy, just stand up and point the gun, and they will take off.
Doves are very cautious animals. We really have to hide low in the corn field. When they see us when standing up they leave instantly.
Corn and wheat field with the hunting dog.
Jos , Harry's hunting buddy, showed up a few minutes later with his hunting dog . He set out some 30 plastic doves as decoys on the flattened wheat field, a perfect place for doves to forage as it is open and still protected by the surrounding wheat, some 60 cm high.
Flattened wheat field with the decoy doves.
“What do you hunt normally”, Jos asked me. “Polar bears”, I answered. “Just kidding, I used to have a gun, a Remington 12 gauge riot gun. For protection on expeditions against polar bear in Northern Canada. Never even saw one during the 5 expeditions in the 1980's”. “I needed it once to scare off wolves when they tried to steel the garbage but they did not react to the gun sound”. Only emergency flares worked to chase them off.”.
Uncle Harry said that the Remington I used is prohibited now for hunting and only a two-shot gun like he had is ow permitted. He had a Winchester.
It is now 37 years ago I shot the last of some 500 small birds in my parents orchard, a hobby for only one or two years after coming home from school and to get concentrated for doing home work. After our "green" village council member neighbour found the 3rd large and protected bird I shot accidentally, my two pellet guns were confiscated which I didn't mind.
In the corn field, Harry put two bails of straw for sitting. We settled in and waited.
Waiting for the doves
Uncle Harry, waiting for the doves
Shooting doves while flying over is very difficult. This is really the art and Jos' speciality. He was very good, got round 10, but I failed completely.
Jos gave me the doves that tried to land in the field, targets for beginners, but this still requires a fast reaction. As soon as doves spot some movements in the corn field, they fly off, and you have only a split second to react.
After some trials following the flying dove with the barrel and disappointing results, I decided to go for the near-landings. At that point the doves are almost stationary, an ideal target. I got my first dove soon [Harry and the dog [same].
The first one (of nine)
I soon got the hang of it and after 5 doves, uncle Harry told me to stop shooting the little blue doves as they have little meat. Now I had to skip 2 out of three targets.
The recoil of Harry's gun and noise are much less compared to shooting with slugs, a single lead bullet, like we did in the Arctic. I still used ear plugs but this was not really necessary.
I got another four. One we couldn't find in the wheat field so this doesn't count. Also, two shots resulted in a cloud of weathers only but the doves kept on going, a near-hit. Again doesn't count.
Finding doves in the wheat field is not easy. The dog helped us sniffing them out.
The corn field is even more difficult. We found none as the visibility is zero by the many weeds so we stopped shooting them above the corn field.
At the end Jos asked me how many I wanted to take home. “Well”, I said, “I am a vegetarian”.
They were surprised with me having a good shot. Initially, they predicted I would be happy hitting a single dove. Nine is very good for absolute beginenrs. They invited me to come back soon. Next week?
Just four hours in the field, shot 50 rounds and had 9 official hits. A very tiring day by the excitement of hunting and even more, safety. Paying attention in handling the gun. Buckshot is not deadly for us but will cause a big wound.
So this is what real men still do, but they are dying breed and so is nature in Holland.
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