Archive for the ‘Dove hunting’ Category

A dove hunter’s sampler

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

In the previous post, it was noted that the Labor Day weekend dove hunt is an important tradition, not only in my family but across the South.

Here a sampling of some interesting writing on the subject.

Jonathan Miles writing in Field & Stream: “If you spotted them from a distance, piled onto a flatbed trailer padded with hay bales, a tractor hauling them down a lonesome highway bisecting rice and bean and cotton fields, you might mistake them for ole-timey field hands being trucked to work. Look more closely, however, and you’d notice the shotguns leaned beside them, the oiled stocks glinting in the sun, and the dogs and children jittery with excitement.

“The tractor turns off the highway and onto a field road, the trailer rocking in the ruts until coming to a stop at a brown patch of dead sunflowers hemmed by green timber. Here the hunters disembark, dispersing themselves into the wilted flowers, children trailing their fathers and dogs their owners, and after the folding stools are unfolded and the shotguns loaded, and the children hushed and the dogs stilled, the hunters sit motionlessly and wait, all eyes aimed at the wide blue sky.

“Already they’re sweating. It’s early September in the Mississippi Delta, and the heat index hovers near triple digits. Yet autumn is on its way, and after just a few silent minutes they can see it coming: three ash-colored specks in the sky, a trio of birds coursing and diving and zigzagging toward the sunflowers. When a hunter leaps from his stool and fires, it’s official. Dove season has started, and autumn has arrived.

“More than the reappearance of school buses on the roads, it’s the dove opener that signals summer’s passing in the Deep South, which is perhaps why dove shoots — big, communal events with dozens of hunters scattered throughout a field — have so long been paired with celebrations, barbecues, grand revels. In Northern climes, the hunting of mourning doves — which some consider songbirds — is a controversy-scarred topic. … In the South, however, dove hunting is a venerable tradition, older than bourbon and as beloved as college football. Dove hunting offers challenging pass-shooting, it’s true, but here it’s about much more than that: kids, wives, dogs, camaraderie, post-hunt cocktails, grilled dove breasts and pork barbecue, old custom and the changing of the seasons.”

R. Michael DiLullo writing at “Throughout much of the Southern United States, Labor Day weekend is the opener for mourning doves. Dove hunting in the South represents the beginning of fall and another hunting season, the start of the harvest, a chance to be afield again and to renew old acquaintances. The return of the migratory mourning doves each fall draws hunters of all ages to the crop fields.

“The dove fields of the South are special places, where the stories and the learning process are as important as the hunting itself. For many Southern youngsters, the dove field will be their formal introduction into hunting and the shooting sports. It is also the beginning of their kinship with the outdoors, the reverence of nature that lives in all true outdoorsmen. These lessons will be the foundations of lifelong ethics, values and traditions. The handing down of vast knowledge passed on from fathers’ fathers is ensured and will continue into the next generation.

“The dove fields of the South also bring together a rich diversity of cultures and social status. Men (and increasingly more women) of all walks of life gather each September to renew their bonds with nature and test their skills against the aerobatic doves. Their shotguns are as diverse as the sportsmen themselves for nowhere in the shooting sports will you see such a varied selection of scatter guns used for downing a game bird. Fine English doubles, vintage American classics by such legendary gun makers as Parker, Smith, Fox, Browning and Winchester are stationed next to modern auto-loaders and pump guns.”

Tom Bryant writing in The Pilot in North Carolina: “The little Confederate gray mourning dove does more to kick off the fall hunting social season for us good old boys than a new shotgun, pit-cooked barbecue, hushpuppies and a longneck Budweiser could. Although the aforementioned help immensely and, most of the time, are included. Dove hunting season has become a major event in the South. I should rephrase that to say the opening few days of the season usher in the real stuff, and then everyone settles into their specialty. Quail hunters concentrate on where the coveys are. Deer hunters start putting up their tree stands, scouting for rubs and limbering up the bows or sighting in black-powder guns. Duck hunters begin cleaning up decoys and getting duck boats ready in preparation for the main event. … But all of that comes later.

“First of all, we’ve got to go dove hunting. Dove hunts take place in different ways, from the fine-linen, top-of-the-line, sophisticated event to the out-behind-the-barn, down-close-to-the-creek, next-to-the-freshly-cut-cornfield hunts that were my early introduction to the fine art of dove shooting. No two opening days are the same. And yet, if you’ve been to one, you’ve almost been to them all. … Like untold thousands of dove hunters across the South, we will join the noble pursuit of an amazing little Southern bird that means so much to us.”

Finally, back to Jonathan Miles: “In the South, dove hunts do not draw quietly to a close. Sometimes, at the simplest end, a grill and cooler are hauled to the edge of the field, and the doves’ breasts are grilled — usually swaddled in bacon, maybe with a jalapeno tucked inside — as the hunters tell and retell stories of the day’s shooting.

“Other post-hunt celebrations, especially in the Mississippi Delta, veer toward the baroque, with candelabra on the tables and servants buzzing around. At the Labrays’ (a farm near Alligator, Miss., owned by Edward Labry of Memphis), the hunters and I rejoin their families beneath a ring of pecan trees near the stately, white Depression-era house that serves as the property’s ‘camp.’ There we feast on the day’s dove harvest and a 102-pound hog, black and crispy from 24 hours in a smoker, while children scamper around the trees and a bartender muddles old-fashioneds.

“When the sun sets over the fields, and that flat Delta darkens, the air seems cooler, not just from the sun’s departure but from a gathering chill that is creeping toward my bones. It’s a subtle reminder that autumn is on its way — and I can’t help but feel, after a day in a dove field, that it’s been properly welcomed.”

Autumn officially arrives next week. But I welcomed it on the unseasonably cool morning of Saturday, Sept. 4, in a field along the Monroe County-Lee County line.

Long live the tradition of Labor Day weekend dove hunts.

Joining the Southern dove hunters

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

It’s now the middle of September, and I’ve been dove hunting just once.

The year will end, and I still will have been dove hunting just once.

You see, I’m like a lot of dove hunters. I go out into the fields on opening morning, and I don’t go again. College football takes up the rest of my fall Saturdays.

But I look forward to that opening morning and have since I was a child.

The weeks surrounding Labor Day always meant four things at my house when I was growing up — the start of school, the start of football season, the start of dove season and my birthday (Sept. 2).

I don’t do much to celebrate my birthday these days (I’ve grown too old for that), but I cherish the start of football season and, though I now go only once, I enjoy the start of dove season. Though the temperatures are still hot, these events signal that fall is coming. They’re a part of the rhythm of my life.

I almost overdid it in those final days of August and first days of September. Too many events, too little sleep. Anxious to see an actual football game, I went out to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on the evenings of Monday, Aug. 30, and Tuesday, Aug. 31, to watch high school contests. On Wednesday, Sept. 1, I made the trip to Gene Lockwood’s in west Little Rock to buy shotgun shells and my hunting license. Hunting season was approaching.

My birthday fell on a Thursday, and that was the night of Ouachita’s first game of the season. I began my 29th season of doing Ouachita’s football play by play on the radio, signed off the postgame show at 10:35 p.m., left the press box at 11 p.m., had a late dinner while sitting in the parking lot of the McDonald’s in Malvern and got home at 12:30 a.m. But after a long day of work, I was back at War Memorial Stadium that Friday night to watch the Salt Bowl between Benton and Bryant. From there, it was off to KARN-FM to co-host the high school scoreboard show from 10 p.m. until midnight. I was in bed shortly after 12:30 a.m.

The 4 a.m. alarm certainly came quickly. Still, I bounded from the bed, anxious to make the familiar drive to see my friends at the Piney Creek Duck Club in Monroe. Wiley, Steve, Don, Mickey, Rex, Art, Tom and the rest of the dove hunting regulars would be waiting on me.

Yes, there’s another Rex who hunts there. We also duck hunt together on occasion. They call us the Rex Who Cooks (that would be Rex Johnson, a great breakfast cook) and the Rex Who Eats (that would be me).

For the Rex Who Eats, the brunch is as much a part of a trip to Piney Creek as are the duck and dove hunts.

Heading east on Interstate 40 through the darkness, it was easy to spot the pickup trucks of those who were going dove hunting. Some had dog boxes in the back. Others pickups carried four-wheelers.

I exited the interstate at Biscoe, headed east on U.S. Highway 70 across the Cache River, went south for a bit on Arkansas Highway 17, made the straight shot east through the fields on Arkansas Highway 241 (while again wondering who owns that nice duck club on the right) until it intersected with U.S. Highway 49. I then made the short trip south on U.S. 49 until turning onto Arkansas Highway 39 into Monroe. Got it?

The weather could not have been better. Usually on that first Saturday in September, you’re sweating before the sunrise and slapping mosquitoes. On this morning, I was actually chilly prior to daylight in my camouflage T-shirt. We killed some doves (and I retained my title as the world’s worst shot). There have been years when it was better. There have been years when it has been worse.

I would call this hunt average by Piney Creek standards. But (and I know this is trite; all of those who write about hunting say this) it’s about much more than killing birds. It’s about the friendships and the tall tales. It’s about getting outside and watching the sun come up over the flat east Arkansas landscape.

And it’s about brunch.

The older I get, the less I care about how much I shoot.

At least I could make myself useful cleaning the doves. Though I can’t shoot worth a darn, my dad did teach me how to pop a dove breast out quickly. So while the other Rex cooked, I helped Mickey and Tom clean doves.

Brunch consisted of pork chops, scrambled eggs, biscuits, muscadine jelly and fried potatoes. A nap would have been in order, but I fought the urge and made the drive back to Little Rock, listening to college football games on XM along the way.

It had been a great morning, and I had played my part in a Southern tradition.

This is how R. Michael DiLullo described i5 in a story at “Men like Nash Buckingham and Robert Ruark penned their impressions and laid down on paper what would become for me the foundation of my hunting experience. These men shared a common love of being afield with their dogs. They hunted a variety of game, some on different continents, but they both shared a fondness for the Southern dove hunt. … Most of Southern hunting, I would find, is more on a social level than of solitude and individualism. The lonely baying of a coon dog across a dark swamp, the excitement of a pack of hounds as they jump deer, the flush of a quail covey and a tom’s early morning gobble were all visceral and shared experiences.

“Southern dove hunting is a cultural social function; it is about camaraderie and, more importantly, tradition. It is a community event, and it is quite common to see three or more generations of family members heading out together to the dove fields. Dove hunting’s history and traditions can be traced far back into the culture — traditions which have been handed down through generations of Southern hunters, some of who’s lineage can be traced to the original settlers of the very land on which they hunt.”

Indeed, we ate our brunch on a piece of land that has been in the Meacham family for almost 100 years.

When I was growing up, I dove hunted more than once each season. If the season opened on the Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend, we would be out there on Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoon (Sunday morning was reserved for the First Baptist Church), Monday morning and Monday afternoon. My dad loved to shoot doves, and he was a great shot. He has been raised in Saline County in a poor family during the Great Depression and being able to shoot well at rabbits and squirrels meant the difference between a supper with meat on the table and one with only biscuits and gravy.

The Labor Day morning hunt with my dad’s great friend O.J. “Buddy” Harris and his two sons, Cliff and Tommy, was a family tradition. Cliff and Tommy would go on to be decent football players as you Ouachita, Razorback and Dallas Cowboy fans might remember.

Dad would delight in telling the story of cleaning more than 100 doves one Labor Day and giving them all to a local grocery store owner. Henry loved to eat doves. And he loved to take a drink.

A week later, my dad asked him: “How were those doves?”

Henry answered: “Never give me another dove. I was so sick for two days that I couldn’t even get out of bed. Either I got some bad doves or some bad whiskey. I want to think it was the doves.”