A hunting trip is a sure-fire way to get kids to jump out of bed at 4 a.m.
OK, maybe yawn and open one eye at a time is more like it. Either way, there wasn’t a sleepy eye in the bunch when hunters began arriving shortly after 5 a.m. to usher in the opening day of dove season.
The occasion was the annual opening-morning dove hunt at Spring Valley Anglers Rod and Gun Club west of Decatur. A star-spangled sky twinkled overhead as the platoon of 50 dove hunters, many with eager kids in tow, drove up mostly in pickups.
Every youngster was dressed in their opening-day camouflage best, just like their dads. The older kids gathered their shotguns and shells. Little tykes were cute in their camo duds and clutching a BB gun, if dad approved, to shoot the wily acorn or stick.
For 364 days a year, sunrise over the fields of the region’s western countryside is quiet, except for the call of the morning’s first bird, usually a cardinal.
Sunrise on opening morning of dove season rides in on the pop-pop-pop of shotgun reports once the feathery game birds appear in their dipsy-doodle, hard-to-hit flight. They’re out to feed on whatever seed they can find.
On this opening day, Sept. 1, hunters were spread out in pairs or family groups around a meadow of milo, wheat and native grass that brings in the birds. The morning started slow, with nary a shotgun fired as legal shooting hours arrived 30 minutes before rise, about 6:30 a.m.
Soon as the clock struck 7, it was like someone threw a switch. The whole field erupted in gun fire, blam, ba-blam, bam. Doves darted about in groups of four or five, or single birds appeared out of nowhere.
“All of a sudden, it’s like the gates just opened,” Rodney Nye hollered to his son, Carter, 12, standing nearby.
A clue to success is the number of shots from a particular group. A single shot heard usually means a dead dove. Eight or 10 or 12 shots might mean the doves got away.
On the hunt for doves
Arkansas dove season opened Sept. 1 and runs through Oct. 28. A second segment opens Dec. 8 and goes through Jan. 15.
Daily limit is 15 mourning doves or white-winged doves. Possession limit is 45. No daily or possession limit on Eurasian collared doves.
Source: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
Nye and his friend Dax Weindorf, both of Bentonville, watched one dove fly in front of their neighbors 75 yards down the fence row. Their group and other hunters unloaded on the single bird, which evaded at least 20 shots.
“How’d that one make it out of there?” Nye mused, amazed as the bird flew from sight.
Those hunters eventually brought down a dove or three, much to the delight of Ethan Simpson, 6, and little three-year-old George Kuettel. The boys got to run out in the field with their dads to pick up the birds.
The cool canopy of a big shade tree sheltered them at the edge of the field from the warm, climbing sun. Leaning against the tree’s trunk was a duffle bag packed with the essentials for hunting with kids.
“You’ve gotta have snacks and drinks,” said Zach Simpson, one of the dads. “Snacks, drinks and saying no to playing with the cell phone.”
None of the boys decried getting up at dark-30 in the morning. Knox Carter, 13, didn’t dread his 4:30 a.m. wake-up call.
“Whenever we go duck hunting, I don’t want to get up, but this morning I wasn’t tired at all. I surprised myself,” said Knox, a student at Fulbright Junior High in Bentonville.
Opening day of dove season is red-letter for hunters. It’s about doves, all right, but it’s also the first day of fall hunting in general, even though it’s still summer. A succession of hunting seasons open from September through November. Squirrel season is open and rabbit season opened Sept. 1, along with dove season.
“There’s nothing like the excitement of opening morning,” Weindorf said. “It doesn’t matter what season it is, duck hunting, deer or turkey season.”
As exciting as dove hunting can be, it’s an opening day or opening weekend sport for most. After that, hunters start thinking about deer seasons, he said. Archery deer hunting starts Sept. 22. Muzzle-loader deer opens Oct. 20 in most of Arkansas and modern gun deer hunting starts Nov. 10 in most counties.
That leaves those fast-flying doves for anyone else who’s good enough to hit a few.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sports on 09/11/2018