HIS NAME, he said was Jack, and he offered no more than that except his left hand, which was the only one he had. A man with a missing arm is no unusual sight in a country that has sent its last three generations to war, but few singlehanders turn out for dove-hunting, the minimum requirements for which are three or four hands and eyes in the back of your head.
No thanks, he said, he couldn't use any help getting his gear out of his car, and he left pass without comment the singularity unfortunate phrasing of the offer, which was, "Could I lend you hand there?"
He hung a mussette bag full of shells around his neck and strode stiffly into the vast field of dry standing corn, sorghum and small-seed crops. Stifly, it turned out, because his feet were artificial. "They tried to hang an arm on me too." he said later, "but you've got to have a good stump, and I don't even have the shoulder. Land mine. Northern France, 1945. What we used to call a Bouncing Betty. Goes off at your feet and sends up another charge that goes off head-high.
"I was born right'handed and it still feels like a left hand to me.
"Looks like we've got the field all to ourselves," he said. "That's too bad. Can't have too many guns on a drove shoot."
His gun was a super-lightweight 20-gauge over-and-under made in Japan, with 26-inch barrels and the stock cut down into a sort of pistol grip. It seemed impossibly muzzle-heavy when held at arm's length by a man half again Jack's size. "Supposed to be a quail gun." he said, regarding the weapon through quarter-inch-thick tinted glasses. "Weighed a little under six pounds before I cut it down. It's all right for doves and ducks, but it's a little light for geese beyond about 25 yards, and you can spend a long time waiting for them to decoy in that close."
He took his stand under the overhang of a clump of trees in the middle of the field, which remained empty and silent for nearly an hour.
"You watch west and I'll watch east," he called out. "The sun bothers me a lot."
The first flight came in from the west three doves weaving back and forth across each other's tails like fighter pilots.They came over the treeline so fast it was futile to shoot. At my yell of "Incoming," the putatively disabled veteran wheeled and fired at the birds, which had spotted him and were already climbing and turning away. The first and third tumbled cleanly. Jack fell down, his plastic feet having betrayed him on the rough ground. He levered himself upright with the aid of the gun and shook off an offer of help in retrieving the birds.
"Thanks for the call," he said, mumbling past the two shells he had stuck in his mouth while reloading. The two empties he slipped into his pocket.
The next bird was a single form Jack's side. He fired once, and then yelled "Don't" as I swung on the dove. It glided into the corn stubble and landed dead.
"Do't you ever miss?" I asked.
"I don't shoot at what I can't hit," he said. "When you hand-load shells with one arm you don't want to waste 'em.
And besides, I can't see something that size beyond 40 yards." He grunted as he bobbed his head to swing the mussette back within reach. "And I hate cripples."
By four o'clock he had six doves, brought down with nine shots, no cripples. He had watched without comment as his companion blew away nearly two boxes of shells and bagged one bird.
"Guess I'll pack it in," he said. "Got all I need."