• Richard Murff

Well Armed & Charming

From the Archives
In memory of a dog who would simply never hunt.

“It’s not a hunt,” Dad corrected me, “It’s a dove shoot.”


“Because you aren’t hunting anything, you’re just shooting what flies overhead.” The same could be said about duck season, but it has the sporting decency to be wildly expensive as well as wet and miserable. Which in my childhood meant something.

Hunts and dove shoots in my family were masculine affairs held out at the family farm – an actual farm that I expected to manage because none of my four brothers wanted the job and no one bothered to ask my sister. As such the hunts were large, but not really the grand affairs that get featured in Garden & Gun. In general I don't remember anyone's hunt being that grand back then. More personally, with that many children in the house, my parents weren’t terribly social people: Going to parties meant running into other humans and I think they were getting enough of that at home.

More to the point, they were sick of mammals. We grew up in a big house, but it was a big house with eight people so only the most unobtrusive of pets were allowed. We never had a bird dog. Until I reached the age where I could be pummeled by that double-barreled arm-cannon of my grandfather’s without too much danger of killing any of the guests, I’d been Dad’s retriever.

So when I was invited to one of those big, social dove shoots at another “farm”, I was in for a glorious shock. First of all, it wasn’t a farm in any practical sense of the word, but some manner of bucolic fantasy camp. Well-fed, rubenesque retrievers ran about getting into everything in the most picturesque style imaginable, but these places are always way too pretty to be profitable. In England they call them country homes, but say something like that in the Mississippi Delta will get you labeled a real first rate ass. That and there were the four wheelers zipping about with odd, “Heeeell yeh-ass!” rolling in from the distance. Not much of a “tally-ho” crowd.

Then there were the women: decked out in olive green and khaki that was suspiciously well-cut and unpatched, those pearls around the neck and in the ears, with slim, unfired Benelli’s set on the hip. “Good Lord,” said I, “Why do we leave them at home?”

One grand dame from the Delta I know of used to shoot seated, ankles crossed, from a camp stool and told her granddaughters that the sign of a true Southern Belle was to be able “to outshoot any man on the hunt and outlook any woman afterwards.” Her granddaughters have carried this bit of wisdom around ever since - so dear and intimidating that none of them have taken the sport up. When I asked her son about the quip, he laughed and admitted it was a great line, but his mother couldn’t hit a barn door on a bet.

They may be called dove shoots, but they look like a cocktail party with guns. Or at least they do until the men head off in one direction with the gals holding back saying things like, “Y’all go one, we’ll be out in a bit.” They always seem to be saying it right in front of the bar while clinging to a fresh mimosa, you know, to stay hydrated.

Perhaps it should be filed under “The Mysteries of the Southern Belle # 74: Well Armed & Charming”, but I’ve only seen a lady get out in the field at one of these things and shoot a living thing once in my life. I was on assignment for a magazine, so even that was staged. My wife is a wicked shot when she isn’t thinking about it, and she got that way somehow, but she doesn’t have one actual hunting story, plausible or otherwise, to explain it.

The truth is that I don’t know what the ladies get up to while I’m out debunking my own myth of superior marksmanship. Perhaps they sashay out after the Neanderthal males have left, bag their limit without breaking a sweat, and flounce back to relaxing with cocktails on our return. Popping up with charm and grace to kiss us on the cheek and say, “You stink.” in a way that makes you want to stink more.

Or perhaps they are out there for an entirely different sport – one in which they can certainly outshoot any man I’ve ever met.