When I tell the girls I can't play bridge because I'm going hunting they invaribly ask, "How can you possibly kill a bird?" So I tell them my chicken story. How as a small child I was put in the back seat of the family car with the weekly purchase of a huge healthy hen.

Of course, back then these market-bought chickens had their feet tied together and a paper sack over their heads. But that never stopped them from flopping all over the floor of the car. And there was the time one came both untied and unsacked and poked her withered looking beak in my face. I always rode standing up on the seat to avoid this terror.

No, I don't mind shooting a bird or eating it either. I find dove and chicken equally tasty. Someone had to wring the chicken's neck when my mother got the two of us home and it was usually a woman. So, I say to my friends, I see nothing strange about shooting game birds to pu on our family's table.

Anyway a hunt is like a happy picnic. It can be beautiful and hilarious, wild and lovely. In fact, hunting presents all the joys and tribulations of nature. You have to like the woods, the fields, the outdoors. You must be able to bear the briars and bugs with the beauty. And you have to like the company of men. For on a hunt you are just one of the boys.

However, my face flushes, my throat tightens and my stomach knots just thinking of my first hunt. The new bride of a confirmed hunter, I knew how to shoot skeet but I wanted to share the fun of hungting he described so vividly. When a call came to him about a dove shoot, it was accompanied by the usual phrase, "Bring along a friend." My spouse surprised both me and the host by saying, "I'll bring my wife."

So there I was, the only woman in the field, scared silly that someone would notice my shiny new boots and detect a beginner.

It quickly became evident no one had chosen a stand near mine. Even the bobing, darting flight of doves came nowhere close to me. My husband walked up to inform me that I should watch the flight pattern and move into that line. Thank goodness this move over to a lone tree rewarded me with four doves for my cookpot-because each man that passed would ask "and how many did you get?" with great emphases on the "you". All except one man, that is. He said, "That's a woman," in the same tone he might have used if he had suddenly walked up to a rhino.

My particular tree was inside a large field where about 20 hogs were feeding. I, being city raised, don't take to pigs too well either. These were a surly lot. They responded only with curosity to my "shoo". They were awfully interested in that low tree I had just left. I had collected my kill in a paper sack, since I lacked a proper game bah or shooting vest. I had put this sack in a crotch of that same tree, about three feet off the ground. The next thing I knew those huge hogs were standing on their hind legs eating my birds, sack and all!

All I got for my day's effort was a ribaing for telling the best "Why I have no birds to bring home" story.

I tell my friends it took pure nerve to ever ot back into man's domain fo hunting. But no more nerve than it takes to walk into a field full of pigs - or to get into a car with a chicken.