MCPHERSON VALLEY WETLANDS — Not long ago, Chaz Oliver was busting flying clay targets about as easily as stomping on eggs.
Saturday morning, with empty yellow 20 gauge shells scattered around him, he had yet to connect with a fast-flying dove.
“I was shooting all those things then,” he said as he reached for more ammo. “I guess I forgot how.”
Eventually, the 10-year-old got the hang of shooting one of Kansas’ most challenging flying targets. He certainly had plenty of opportunity, just as Mike Christensen had planned.
“The nice things about doves are that there generally is a lot of shooting, September is always pretty nice out and it’s so easy to take a kid and let them have fun,” Christensen said. “I’d hate to think how much ammo these kids have shot this morning … it’s been a bunch.”
Christensen is president of Pass it On Outdoors Mentors, and he arranged for about 35 hunters, including Big Brothers Big Sisters pairs and kids hoping to be matched with mentors, to meet at a 30-acre field of partially-harvested sunflowers. The field had been reserved for youth and adult mentors for Saturday morning’s opening of dove season.
Chaz got up at about 4 a.m. to make the hour-long trip from Wichita with his Big Brother, Christian Lehr. The two were paired-up about four years ago and have fished and hunted for turkeys and doves in the past, as well as spent some time at a shotgun range.
The cloudy remnants of Hurricane Isaac were glowing red on the eastern horizon when the first of hundreds of doves started working the field. Several bunches passed within range of Lehr and Chaz without a shot fired, as the adult reminded the youth about safe zones of fire, maximum shotgun ranges and safe gun handling.
Eventually Chaz began taking a few shots, with Lehr reminding him of things like putting the safety back on first, then pumping out the empty shell, reloading and keeping an index finger on the gun’s safety, and not the trigger.
For the first box of 25 shells, it was obvious Chaz was giving in to the excitement and just shooting at a bird, without things like proper lead and follow through after the trigger was pulled.
Finally, the boy hit a bird that probably flew 100 yards before falling dead. Lehr searched diligently until it was found. He, too, nicked down a couple.
Adding to the fun was that good numbers of white-winged doves were using the field. Birds normally of the desert southwest, they were the first many hunters at the field had ever shot.
After an hour, Chaz was in the groove of safe gun-handling and needed few reminders. He laughed aloud at some of his own misses, and shouted congratulations when young Gage Schneider made a nice shot about 60 yards away.
As he was breaking out another box of yellow shells, Lehr asked his Little Brother if dove hunting was more fun than playing video games.
“A lot more fun,” Chaz answered. “I get to be outside, and shoot a lot.”
After another box of shells, Chaz ended up getting five doves for the day.
Birds three and four were shot back to back, both fast crossers that folded up like clean pairs of socks.
“I guess you can just call me the hit man,” Chaz said with a laugh. “I’m on a roll now. It’s all good.”