At 91, Still a Devoted Dove Hunter

For the fortunate, a love of dove hunting is instilled early. Thankfully, parents and others who realize and appreciate the thrills and joys of this annual “challenge” are eager to share their passion for the same with the next generation. And once introduced, as all devotees know, there’s simply no going back. But, that’s a good thing and, as countless Texans can attest, the sooner experienced the better.

One practitioner of note who bears excellent testimony to this youthful introduction is McAllen’s venerable Calvin R. Bentsen. First firing at age six and now well into his 91st year , this native son of South Texas continues to “look forward” each late summer and early fall “to getting back into the field” with his prized Ruger over-and-under shotgun at the ready. For Calvin, it remains one of the most continually rewarding aspects of his remarkably full and productive life and something that he plans on enjoying for some time yet to come. He gives heartfelt thanks to his father for his initiation as his heirs likewise give their thanks to him for helping to perpetuate this worthwhile tradition.

As a youth growing up in the quiet Valley town of McAllen, Texas during the Depression Era, Calvin’s foray into dove hunting began with his designation as a “shagger” entrusted to retrieve downed birds for his father. While fun, as he admits, “It was tiring even for a youngster – Dad was a heck-of-a shot and seldom missed. And actually pulling the trigger seemed like a lot more fun.” Because of his father’s love of hunting coupled with living in an environment where, as Calvin relates, “the doves were thick – and, still are,” the excited youngster, usually accompanied by his brother Ted, got many opportunities to hone his skills. And fortunately, the best shooting was often right outside the rear door of the Bentson homestead. As Calvin smilingly remembers, “It was pretty darned convenient and thankfully, since Game Warden Jones’ territory ranged from Brownsville, to Corpus Christi, to Laredo and, then all the way back to the Rio Grande Valley, we figured no one would bother us on these backyard expeditions.” His childhood was filled with frequent family hunts headed by his nurturing father (who always bought the shells) further instilling an intense enthusiasm for the sport along with an appreciation for all game species that Calvin still retains to this day.

As an adult with a successful career in investments and real estate, Calvin always found time to hunt dove – in Texas, Mexico and South America where he pursued White-wing, Mourning and/or Eared birds. And, while many of his trips into the field were with area acquaintances (from all walks of life), because of his national shooting club affiliations, Calvin often played host to “out-of-staters” eager to experience a “real South Texas/Northern Mexico dove hunt.” Two notable examples who were, at that time, both well-known “stars of the stage and screen” were none-other than Bing Crosby and Phil Harris, both of whom, as Calvin remembers, “Surprisingly, could shoot pretty well, enjoyed a great hunt and loved getting to see the Valley.”

It was after marriage to his loving wife Marge (sixty-seven years ago) followed by the later birth of his three of treasured daughters, when Calvin’s “hunting group” expanded beyond his original circle (that consisted primarily of his father, brother, business associates, fellow club members and, his many likeminded male friends) to eventually include “his ladies” too. While not originally a hunter, after the wedding vows, Marge insisted on participating and, participate she did. As Calvin proudly states, “She’ll tell you I taught her how to shoot but, truth be told, she’s a pretty natural marksman and didn’t need much help.” The daughters, after their introduction as “shaggers,” have become excellent hunters as well and now, with a couple of locked-and-loaded sons-in-law and six rambunctious grandkids, a Bentsen family hunt is truly a Texas-lifestyle-sight to behold. With so much annual enjoyment, as the undisputed patriarch offers, “It must be in our blood!”

Much of Calvin’s (and the family’s) dove hunting is now conducted on his prized La Coma Ranch. His father acquired the property in the 1940s with Calvin gaining ownership in the mid-seventies. This was the ranch where Calvin, also a noted big game hunter credited with taking the big-five (elephant, Cape buffalo, lion, leopard and rhino) on several African hunts, became the first private-land owner to introduce and breed endangered black rhinos. Starting with three imported animals, for fifteen years, he successfully produced and distributed many rhino calves ultimately used to ensure preservation of this threatened species. When speaking of this undertaking, Calvin admits, “The desire grew out of my hunting background with the realization that we, hunters and non-hunters alike, have a responsibility to protect the very same beautiful animals that have brought us so much pleasure for so long.”

Although Calvin no longer hunts other game, he’s still devoted to his dove hunting. When queried, he simply states, “There are so many reasons why – the camaraderie achieved with one’s friends and especially family members, the closeness to nature, the innate challenges faced in trying to best the birds, the competitiveness of it all. And then of course, there’s the dinner bell. Marge’s chicken-fried dove are the best.” Thank you Calvin R. Bentsen for sharing your story and your love of the sport with our readers, your family and the many other hunters, young and old, who also look forward to each year’s upcoming shooting season. You make a wonderful, encouraging ambassador for this true Texas pastime. Bang!

By Ernie Altgelt