The old man came plowing through the corn-field in his yellow Cherokee Chief, tearing great ruts in the ground and sending the doves I had been stalking darting away down the Shenandoah Valley.
He didn't see the birds he was scattering and he didn't see me after he got out of his chariot and made his way up the gentle slope, two or three slow steps at a time with long, panting pauses between.
He carried a folding stool, which he set up ten yards away. He sat facing me and fumbled three shalls into his shotgun and laid it across one thigh with the safety off, his finger on the trigger and the muzzle pointed at me.
I do my best to be inconspicuous in a dove field, but I was not that well camouflaged. I was reluctant - afraid - to move or speak for fear of startling the old man. At length he leaned forward to spit, and while his head was bowed I took quick steps to one side.
"Don't you think we're a little close, sir?" I said loudly, but not loudly enough. "Hello!" I shouted.
"Hello," he said squinting. "Where'd you come from?"
"Been here since you drove up. I was asking if you don't think we're a little close together here. I mean, there's no other guns in the field."
"Oh yes," he said. "I didn't see you. I'll move along as soon as I catch my breath." But as each breath came he spent it telling me about the way he had planned his life and the way it had turned out instead; of the decline of American civilization since Roosevelt (Teddy Roosevelt); about how he had worked plenty hard at jobs he didn't like and had piled up plenty of money so he could hunt and fish as he pleased in retirement - but then his kidneys failed and the money went for a dialysis machine and anyway the hunting buddies he was going to spend his closing years with were all dead or dying; and what a lousy newspaper I work for. . .
The old man paused often and long between phrases, an irritating trait I share, and like me he resented being interrupted during the silences. At intervals during the monologue doves flew over, wheeling out of range when they saw the old man sitting in the open. I had chosen that stand after long hours of watching the flight patterns over the field during a couple of seasons, and it was infuriating to stand there while the old man maundered away the afternoon and scared away the doves.
Almost an hour - and fair chances for half a dozen doves - passed while the old man rambled forward, backward and sideways through the same small set of stories. He was plainly poaching on my time and territory, but then he had been hunting that field since before I was born and will not be hunting it much longer. Excusing myself at last, I moved on to the second most likely spot in the field.
It was no good.Camped where he was, the old man radically changed the pattern of flight over the field, and now the only good stands besides the one he had usurped were too close to the highway that runs nearby. I gave it up and moved on to the other fields in the valley whose owners have given me permission to hunt on them. Nothing was doing, and soon it began to rain.
I started for home, a two-hour drive away. Passing the original field I saw the old man had left - and that feeding in the corn stubble in the downpour were dozens of doves.
Slogging through the mud and the chilly rain, I marched over the three rolling rises that trisect the field. At the top of each, small flocks of doves flushed like coveys of quails, and each time three shots brought down two birds: Six doves in nine shots in 15 minutes, far and away the best I had ever done.
Three hours remained before sundown, but I was soaked and too cold to wait for the birds to come back. And some days afield are not to be measured by the clock.