On the Wings of a Dove

Hurricane Anita and the white-winged dove hunters were on a collision course and it didn’t bother Kemper Glick a bit. Whatever the outcome, business was blowing his way. Kemper and his twin brother Kenith had operated the Glick Twins hardware and sporting goods store in Pharr for better than thirty years and they knew a thing or two about nature, human and otherwise. Man the Hunter or Man the Hunted, one thing was constant: someone would end up spending a lot of money. And while the four-day white-winged dove season varied according to the whims of various government agencies and the cupidity of the Rio Grande Valley landowners, hurricanes were a predictable windfall.  

Take Beulah, which is what the southern tip of the Texas coast did ten years ago. The hurricane and the 115 tornadoes that it spawned were credited with property loss in excess of $30 million. It was, however, a bonanza for the Glicks. The annual pilgrimage of whitewing hunters had come, bought, killed, and returned home a week before Beulah snarled inland, and by the time Beulah was done with her sport the shelves at the Glick Twins store were virtually bare. “Our carry-over business from Beulah lasted almost a year,” Kemper recalled with great pleasure. It wasn’t even necessary to have a hurricane, just a hurricane scare. This year, in the hours since Anita had veered west and started barreling straight toward Brownsville, packing winds of 150 miles an hour, the Glicks had sold thousands of dollars’ worth of flashlights, batteries, butane stoves, electric lanterns, rainwear, even a few boats. The telephone company had rented fifty steel cots and mattresses for their emergency crew, and merchants and homeowners had purchased more than $5000 worth of tape to reinforce windows. 

“We stock, anticipating hurricanes,” Kemper said. “All it takes is a scare for customers to come pouring in. Then, if the hurricane does hit, we have the carry-over business — pumps, shovels, equipment for rebuilding — plus all that government money. That’s an industry in itself.”  

“You can’t tell about hurricanes,” Kenith remarked. “Maybe it’ll scare the hunters away, maybe it won’t.”

“That’s true,” Kemper agreed. “Maybe it won’t. Can’t hurt a bit.”

On average, the Glicks could figure on their store doing business in excess of $50,000 during the brief whitewing season. “That doesn’t count the carry-over,” Kemper said. “Things like people buying shotguns on layaway.” Until the government tightened tax loopholes that permitted corporations to entertain clients by handing them a gun and a case of .16-gauge bird shells, the Glicks would sell better than a thousand cases of shells in a four-day season. Now they’d be lucky to sell half that many. 

“Since Uncle Sam cracked down on the tax laws, we don't do the volume in shells we used to,” Kemper explained. “Local people don’t hunt that much anymore, and hunters from outside the Valley usually bring their own shells.” Being victimized by rules and regulations, however treacherous, was part of the sport, and the Glicks, who did all of their hunting with a cash register, had turned it to their advantage. Owners might bring their own shells, Kemper reasoned, but they sure as hell wouldn’t bring their own land. In the old days before there were limits or seasons, hunters lines the highways for miles, daring doves to run the gauntlet. A gunner with an even moderate aim could bag a hundred or more in a single afternoon. But hunters were no longer permitted to shoot from the sides of the roads, and the choice hunting sites, at least in that part of the Valley near McAllen and Pharr, were the rich, fallow grainfields controlled by the Glick twins. The best sites varied from season to season, but each summer the brothers studied the doves’ nesting and feeding habits and then leased several thousand acres of farmland where the birds were the thickest. The going price for hunting on one of the Glicks’ leases was $25 per day per gun. 

Kemper studied the dark sky and watched his store window as splotches of rain turned dust into muddy rivulets. A radio behind the cash register broadcast periodic hurricane reports and advice on where to go while your house blew away. There was still about 48 hours until the Saturday noon opening of whitewing season, and if Anita didn’t strike the Texas coast by morning, she probably wouldn’t strike it at all. Kemper looked again at the window, looked through an incredible overhang of ships’ bells, diving helmets, and miles of wire rope, and he could feel the hairs prickling on the back of his neck. He could just make out the rain-streaked silhouettes of a man and a boy pricing one of the aluminum boats out front.  

“I’m not selling anything they’re not buying,” Kemper said, reaching for his raincoat. 

Joe Baraban and Tom Payne used a tank of gas and a case of beer driving from Houston to Brownsville. Joe and Tom are professional photographers, but they are also bird hunters and fishermen. Weeks before the Labor Day weekend opening of whitewing season they bought leases from the Glicks and reserved a motel room in McAllen, and as Baraban’s van plowed through hubcap-deep water on the highway south, they couldn’t help but reflect on their good fortune.   

There was an abnormal amount of traffic for a Thursday afternoon, but it was difficult to determine if the exodus of refugees fleeing Anita matched the convoy of vans, campers, and wagons headed into the teeth of the storm. Some of the southbound vehicles contained rescue workers and emergency teams dispatched from Houston and San Antonio, but there were TV mobile units, too, and car pools of reporters who had chased Anita to Corpus Christi and were chasing her now to Brownsville. The great majority of the vehicles heading toward the delta, however, transported men like Joe Baraban and Tom Payne, men who came for the hunt and

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