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We feel you, buddy.

A friend emailed me the other day singing the blues about all that might have been.

"I can't catch a break," he wrote. "Put in 7 acres of deer food plot, 4 acres of dove field and 4 acres of millet for ducks last week. Then... monsoon!!!"

But wait! There's more!

"Then put in 3 food plots near West Fork for deer, and yet another toad strangler! Praying all was not washed out. I am so ready for 2021!"

Of course, the message contained all of the proper emojis.

My friend planted all of this stuff by hand, too. In addition to being emotionally sore, he is also exhausted.

Everything was fine until Hurricane Laura and her entourage came through.

For the record, the real Laura -- Miss Laura -- said that if they're going to name a hurricane after her, it had better be at least a Category 4. She got her wish, and we will be surprised if there is a single dove left in the country when dove season opens Saturday. They were plentiful before Laura arrived. I haven't seen one since.

I got a similar report from another friend that holds an annual dove shoot in Central Arkansas. Hunters will come, of course. The shoot is a major social event, but there probably won't be much shooting this year. Also missing will be the nap-inducing noon barbecue, a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic that will also prevent a few older members from attending. We all agree that dove hunting will probably be better later in the season if the hail of bricks and stones abates. Like everyone else, I'm about tired of this act.

Hindsight really will be 20/20, and it won't be with fondness.

One thing every dove field will have is deep mud. If your vehicle doesn't have four-wheel drive, you'd better hitch a ride with someone that does. Everyone should shoot video of companions trudging through deep, slick mud with shotguns, ammo, dove decoys, chairs and all the other stuff we all carry. Kudos in advance to those who make it through the day without falling.

Shotgunning basics

I bought my first shotgun in 1985, a Smith & Wesson Model 1000 semi-automatic with a 30-inch, full-choke barrel. I loved that gun. With 11/8 ounces of No. 6 lead, it would take a squirrel out of the tallest tree from as far as I could see. You could still use lead shot for ducks back then, and it was an especially effective waterfowling piece.

I traded the 30-inch barrel for a 28-inch barrel with screw-in choke tubes at a defunct Little Rock gun shop on 65th Street. It was certainly more versatile, especially when steel shot became mandatory for duck hunting in 1991, but I didn't like the gun nearly as much. The shorter barrel didn't swing as well as the original, and I didn't like the shorter sighting plane.

I have since gotten used to short barrels thanks to shooting in skeet leagues where 26-inch barrels were standard. That is changing, though, as modern skeet shooters trend to, that's right, 30-inch barrels. Why? Because they swing smoother and promote a more fluid shooting form and follow through.

The game of skeet simulates a dove shoot. Two stations feature long and close shots on targets coming and going. Four stations feature long crossing shots, and the last two stations are snap shots. The additional length of the action and receiver on semi-automatic and pump shotguns increase the length about three additional inches, which smooths a swing even more. I knew this intuitively, and it took considerable discipline to swing through targets with my short-barreled over/unders. That's probably why my best scores consistently, including my only perfect score, was with Browning BPS with a 28-inch barrel.

I recently rediscovered the Remington Model 1100, a classic autoloader. Mine has a 28-inch barrel with a Modified choke, which is appropriate for almost any kind of hunting or target game. It only has a 23/4-inch chamber, but I don't need 3-inch shells when hunting ducks in flooded timber. In fact, I don't need a 12-gauge for hunting ducks in timber, period.

A 30-inch barrel with something besides a fixed Full choke would be perfect. I recently found a 30-inch Remington 1100 barrel factory threaded for choke tubes. I already own the full complement of Remington chokes, so the new barrel will make the 1100 about as close to a custom gun as I will ever have.


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