More Than Just A Dove Shoot

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Daryl Gay | October 2, 2023

The author’s son Myles with a buck that taught a life lesson in patience.

Of a morning, stumbling to perform my ablutions, the framed photo is likely the first thing bleary eyes are able to focus upon. Father And Son, it’s entitled.

It’s 15×19, shot from the darkness of what appears to be a cave cut through a mountainside. With the camera at their backs, the subjects are a man and young boy, 5 or so, emerging hand in hand into the sunlight and onto a boulder-bordered dirt road, the youngster looking up at his dad. Beneath them is lettered Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

I believe that; I’ve worked extremely hard at proving it true for over three decades.

That’s where this dove shoot comes in. Since day one with GON, I’ve told folks, “It’s about us.” That’s Georgia Outdoor News: you and me and our families and friends. I’ve hunted and fished southern states and Canadian provinces, but none could ever call me away from home for very long. So many of y’all I’ve come to know, respect and love…

And bunches of you have almost literally watched my Knuckleheads, Dylan and Myles, grow up on The Back Page and other GON spaces. There’s a reason for that, which I’ll get to in a moment. But allow me first, please, to pick out a portion of that Proverb and take a closer look.

Let’s see now: “in the way he should go…” Initially, it was necessary to see which way I was going.

I can take you to the spot of my first dove shoot—at 5 years of age. Scattered around were many of the following: Daddy, Granddaddy, uncles Bailey, Belvon, Math, Carlton, Marion, Kermit, Austin, Glynn… you get the picture.

Family, I knew; from that point on, hunting and fishing were about all I cared to add. I could tote boards and nail shingles with Daddy but never wanted to build a house; could have gone to work in the cotton mill with Granddaddy, but that was between walls with a roof overhead. The Lord had a better plan. Some may debate this, but He gave me a modicum of talent to write exactly what I felt. I’ve never looked back.

My young uncles—Kermit, Austin and Glynn—tossed me a buck or two on the side with odd jobs here and there throughout my childhood, which we knew as “working for a living.” Let me give you an example, with apologies for any trampled-upon legalities from an age now long gone…

When I was tall enough—not OLD enough—one of the aforementioned uncles whom I refuse to throw under the bus would come pick me up for a day of riding secluded dirt roads. At 10 years of age, I could see over the dash, barely, so I did the driving. Very slowly. He would scan the roadways for small game of any type: rabbits, squirrels, quail… while refreshing himself from a cardboard box of Falstaff (four quarts) and a jar of pickled pigs’ feet. He would yell, I would lurch for the brakes and whatever showed up got shot. Or at least AT. And later, I believe, should any of his cronies be needing a little something for the pot, he’d oblige with possibly a few coins of the realm exchanging hands.

But then Daddy got wind of the affair and THAT, rest assured, was the end of THAT. He wanted it done right, proper and, most of all, fair. And had a way—with the look in his eyes and the tone of his quiet voice—of convincing me that his point was best taken to heart.

The unsurpassed times of my young life were spent with my Dad in a dove field or on the Ocmulgee, or even building or working on the many houses. His guidance overcame that of my uncles, who loved me like a brother and meant all the best, yet truly left me a lot to unlearn. Fast-forward…

So when Dylan came along, and Myles 32 months later, I knew. KNEW. Some things had to change, and one in particular. Five weeks before Dylan was born, I drank a beer; haven’t had one in nearly 32 years since. Easy? Oh, no; but my sons seeing me cruising a dirt road slobbering over a Falstaff?

Never happen.

What did happen, just as soon as ever I could make it, was taking them to the woods and out on the water. Why have you read of them? Simple: because they’ve always been at my side if it could possibly be arranged. Hey, you folks who have invited me to hunt and fish with you over the years: I can NEVER properly and completely express my gratitude. And especially those who recognized that there were three of me. The job many times forbade it, but I would almost as soon stay home as leave without them.

Dylan and Myles are the best friends and companions I’ve ever had.

Daryl Gay’s other “knucklehead” Dylan on a dove field when he was 4 or 5 years old. Dylan has never missed an opening-day dove shoot with his dad or brother, Myles.

That photo of Dylan on the bucket, birds in hand? I think he was 5, maybe 4. The gun, by the way, is a double-barrel that pops primers only from special shells; a souped-up cap gun. It’s still here at home, in the box, but back then he thought he was ready for buffalo. And he can take you to the spot where that bucket was sitting…

Myles and his buck?, Man, what a morning!

It was opening day, he and I elbow to elbow in a two-man ladder stand. I had been nearly begging him not to put out the lights of a knot-head buck for probably 20 minutes as the little idiot wandered around 30 yards in front. At last, he talked me into it, raised the single-shot youth model .243, cocked it and eased his finger inside the trigger guard…

A millionth of a second before I hissed,” STOP! Shoot the second deer!”

“I don’t see it,” he replied, holding off the squeeze by less than a breath.

“You will,” I whispered. “You will.”

That’s him he’s cradling in the photo. You might even think he was proud… Me? Ho-hum.

Any idea how many lessons that kid picked up that morning? That buck had a lot to do with why Myles is as patient as they come when we’re slipping around: “Oh, we gonna hunt all day in the rain? Let’s get to it…” And I’ve attempted to replace it over the years with something more fitting for the 6-4 galoot, but he still hunts with that little .243!

Just so many memories… Myles, at 13, battling for 70 minutes a blacktip shark that was just shy of the state record; Dylan, at 12, making his first bear-hunting trip into the Okefenokee. (I’m writing this two days before he and I leave for the Swamp for the 2023 opener.)

All through the years, I’ve schooled the Knuckleheads that, “I’ve toted you boys all over creation all these years, and when I’m too old to make it on my own, you’d best be ready to tote me! I don’t care if I have to shoot birds from a hospital bed! You haul me out there and get that thing inclined, and I want a camouflage sheet, too!”

“Train up a child…”

It’s more than fitting—perfect, perhaps—that it was a dove field. As you may have figured out by now, we three amigos have always done things side by side: baseball, football, soccer, doves, sharks, bears… There is nothing on the face of this earth—and I do mean nothing—that I enjoy more than simply being in an opening day dove field with my sons. If the birds put in an appearance, that’s nice, too. Taking a grizzly is on my bucket list—but I wouldn’t pass up an opening day shoot with the Knuckleheads for him.

So, Myles, he of the big heart, stepped up. I remember during his baseball years at Georgia Southwestern he took part in Night To Shine, sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation. All tux-ed and limo-ed up, he escorted to a special prom a young lady who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to participate in one. I’ll never forget the smiles on every face at that place. Me? My eyes water a lot anyway.

He, too, wanted us to be together on opening day and made it happen. You farmers—bless you—know what it takes. There’s a lot of tractor work involved, which means toil and fuel. Seed, as in millet and sunflowers, to buy, sow and nurture. Then back to the tractor and knocking things down little by little…

But this, never forget, is opening day. More than special. I well remember as a youngster all the folks I so admired gathering around a feast at 11 a.m. or so. (It was ALWAYS barbecue and I was ALWAYS afraid somebody was going to get long-winded and I wouldn’t be on a bucket under a broiling sun when the season officially opened at 12 on the dot!) Now we can shoot at first light, but that tradition remains strong.

So how many hunters would you say were in that field before the sun put in an appearance? If three was your guess reach around and pat yourself on the back. We didn’t NEED 100 acres of sunflowers or corn or peanuts or millet or watermelons or any of the other things we’ve shot over all these years.

Remember: it’s about us. That’s what I love most about our state and our people. I see it in every aspect of the hunting and fishing I do: fathers and sons and mothers and daughters carrying on the only way of life I know.

We killed some birds and missed some and laughed a lot and pretty much picked up a new bundle of memories. Then we adjourned for another of Myles’, and Dylan’s, specialties: firing up the grill.

Myles has blessed me with a daughter… in-law… who’s more like a daughter: Elizabeth. Who has been slicing venison backstrap and rolling it with cream cheese and jalapeno slices inside strips of bacon and pinning each with a toothpick. While whipping up mac and cheese, chicken pinwheels, creamed potatoes and gravy, rolls, salad…

All in all, I’m attempting to maintain my girlish figure, but it got fairly brutalized. Mainly it was those two-inch ribeyes Myles followed the backstrap with. I’ve never eaten a better steak(s), as my navel portion attests. And a couple days later, to be able to top that off with fried doves simmering in peppered gravy?

We’ll work it off in the Okefenokee.

And speaking of which…

Only a couple days away, remember, so I gotta get packing. Me and one of the Knuckleheads have a long pre-dawn drive ahead. He’s driving, and has to get back to look after the deer on his place. Because he, too, is passing it on, introducing youngster Addy Newby to the world of deer hunting last year with this big doe, her first.

Thanks to all of you who have a story much the same as mine, and for training up a child. The world, such as it is, can be a better place because of it.

Dylan is doing exactly what his dad did for him, passing on the hunting heritage. Here he is with Addy Newby with a big doe taken last year.

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