Fri | Dec 3, 2021

Alfred Dawes | Bird bush tales

Published:Saturday | October 9, 2021 | 12:10 AM

When Errol learned he was terminally ill, he was discussing his prognosis with his doctor, who wanted to get an idea of what his expectations were.

“I want one more bird bush, doc,” he shared.

He had his wish before he passed. Shoot in Peace now, my friend.

To the uninitiated, this may seem like a strange request, but to those who look forward to the annual bird season, it seems perfectly natural. Seen as an elitist sport, bird shooting is far more than that.

Many villages benefit tremendously from the seasonal sport. The bird man is probably more excited about the hunt than the hunters themselves. For him and his family, this is necessary employment. The shops in the rural communities provide rum and chasers as well as snacks. The cash windfall in these mostly remote communities provides a much-needed injection in the local economies.

Then there are the big bucks paid for hunting licences that aid in the conservationist budgets of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). It may seem paradoxical, but it is the revenue from hunting licences that actually helps in preserving wildlife. This is akin to what obtains in African countries where income from safaris is used to fight poaching. The strict controls on bag limits and the length of the season help to preserve the local bird population.

It is, however, the rum talk that is the best or worst part of bird bush.

When I just started shooting, I was publicly humiliated by an autopsy on a bird I had shot to see if it really had been hit or had died from a heart attack after hearing a loud explosion. Another of my prey was allegedly found with a prescription in its feathers after being shot while coming from the doctor. It wasn’t enough to say it was sick.

Fortunately, I have heard of worse.

One friend was gifted a bird rack that could hold only six birds. The typical rack is made to hold twenty birds. Rumour has it that he took six years to fill it. Then there are the stories of hunters firing 100 shots and leaving the bush with three birds.

For some, it is less about the birds and more about the rum.

Drinking in the bush brings Jamaicans from all walks of life together. Different shoots in different parishes are social events that double as getaways and reunions. Hunters travel from overseas for the season, and plans are made way in advance for prepping the fields by very active clubs. It is primarily a friendly social event when hunters meet up. Only once in recent times was there an ugly dispute of territorial rights in the bush.

PARTIALLY RUINED

Bird bush, like everything else, was partially ruined this year by COVID-19 and its restrictions. Hunters lost the Sunday morning shoot, and the Saturday curfew shortened the evening shoot. There was an online petition for the extension of the season, but nothing came of that. It probably would not have made a difference. By the tail end of the season, the birds had already wised up and changed their flight patterns. As the season went on, it was less about the birds and more about the lyme.

Not all in the bush are hunters. Some who can’t load a gun tag along for the vibes. They can’t tell a blackbird from a bald pate, but they are up long before dawn packing Igloos. They actually help to preserve the bird population by wearing bright colours that are easily spotted by birds that quickly change direction. If they do wear camouflage, the loud laughter and talking do the trick. They do come in handy mixing drinks and with the cooking from time to time.

No bird bush would be complete with the chefs. Whether they make bully beef or cheese sandwiches or real food in the bush or villages, they save many lives every season. The main cook usually comes from the village and has to cook and ration the always scarce commodity.

Nobody knows how to hype up someone more than a birdman.

Before the season starts, the scouting always reveals the best flight ever seen. Bird fi kill! But if on the morning the stand does not live up to the hype, then it’s a mystery, the flight changed, or the season is late.

A birdman who can’t find a much-needed bird is the worst person in the world in that moment. Every lost bird was snatched by a magical mongoose that nobody ever sees.

Then there is the birdman who can’t mark or spot a bird coming. See one deh! Where? See him deh? The poor hunter is left turning in every conceivable direction until he stares into the sun long enough to miss a fat low-flying bird.

At the end of the day, though, it is seldom about the birds shot than the memories created. Special bonding moments for fathers and sons, siblings and friends are created in the bird bush. Generations of hunters and birdmen come together with those who just love the spirit and the vibes.

Everybody loves it except, of course, the birds. And, of course, the conservationists who think it’s a waste of wildlife.

With apologies to the latter, I hope for a COVID-free season next year when we will have even more hot guns!

- Dr Alfred Dawes is a general, laparoscopic and weight-loss surgeon, and medical director of Windsor Wellness Centre & Carivia Medical Ltd.; Fellow of the American College of Surgeons; former senior medical officer of the Savanna-La-Mar Public General Hospital; former president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association. @dr_aldawes. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and adawes@ilapmedical.com