OLIVIA, MINN. -- Mariah Lundstrum is 17 and had never hunted anything before last week. ¶ The Bird Island, Minn., high schooler had shot at targets with an air rifle in 4-H but said she wanted to try hunting. ¶ Like many youths, she wasn't sure how to go about it.

"I wanted to hunt, but had no one to go with," she said.

Her dad contacted his friend Tom Kalahar in neighboring Olivia, Minn. Kalahar is a die-hard hunter of deer, turkeys and birds.

"I told her I'd be happy to take her hunting," he said.

So Mariah, with a new shotgun she had fired "maybe five times," huddled with Kalahar on the edge of a harvested wheat field on the Minnesota dove season opener last Wednesday.

In the field, along with freshly applied aromatic pig manure, was a dove "tree" Kalahar built from dowels. On it he placed several plastic dove decoys, topped with a battery-powered spinning-winged decoy, all designed to attract doves.

"Here comes some," Kalahar said, still 20 minutes for sunrise.

Mariah fired but missed. Kalahar shot twice and missed, too. Her first lesson: "You can't get 'em all," Kalahar said.

She learned that dove hunting requires quick reactions and precise hand-eye coordination. Anything less, and you just shoot holes in the sky.

Not many doves flew, and Mariah didn't shoot one. Neither did I.

• • •

A swarm of mosquitoes descended on me and my yellow lab as we hunkered in tall, wet grass in a roadside ditch at dawn.

It was hot and humid, and the mosquitoes were drawing first blood. But doves -- lots of them -- soon filled the sky, winging into the 35-acre cut wheat field to feed. Five of us, scattered along the roadside ditch or in tall grass alongside a drainage ditch, tried to intercept them.

The pop, pop, pop of shotgun blasts shattered the dawn silence.

Most of the doves came in twos or threes, but sometimes flocks of eight or 10 flew in, bobbing and weaving as if their gyroscopes were faulty. I fired and missed at one, then fired again at another and connected. My dog scampered out for the retrieve as more gunshots rang out nearby.

Between the doves, mosquitoes and numerous swallows that joined in the aerial show, it was chaos.

But the doves kept coming. Several of us bagged our 15-bird limits.

"That was unbelievable," said Greg Larson, 59, of Woodbury.

• • •

Two days after Mariah's first dove outing, she was back on the edge of a field with Kalahar.

This time the sky was filled with doves. Before the sun rose, she swung her shotgun at a dove and fired, dropping her first game bird ever.

"All right, Mariah! You got one!" Kalahar screamed, high-fiving the teenager as his chocolate lab raced to retrieve the bird.

She grinned.

Then, remarkably, she shot another dove. And another. And another.

More grins.

Someone forgot to tell her that shooting erratic-flying doves on the wing is difficult for experienced hunters -- and should be next to impossible for a novice.

"It was harder than I thought at first, but then it got easier," she said later.

And what about dove hunting?

"I liked it. It was fun," she said.

Now she plans to hunt pheasants, waterfowl and deer this fall.

"She has a lot of determination,'' said her dad, Lyle. "When she wants to do something, she does it."

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com