For Tar Heel hunters, the opening of dove season Labor Day weekend is like Christmas. It ushers in festivities, traditions and symbolizes the birth of a new season afield.
Friends will gather. Many a pork shoulder will be barbecued over a wood fire. Oysters will be shucked and a little imbibing will occur – all adding to the storehouse of fond memories of opening day.
H. Thomas Bobo of Guilford County recalls his son, Judson, now an adult, taking his first dove at age seven with a .410 shotgun.
“It was a big deal,” he said.
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Judson was born on opening day of dove season in 1979, also his mother Judith’s birthday. It has long been rumored Dad was away dove hunting. The elder Bobo tells the story:
“Judson entered the world around 0700. The mother-in-law was on hand. No one had addressed or recognized my presence for quite some time, and by noon all were asleep. Feeling somewhat underfoot and generally superfluous, I edged quietly out of the room, fired up the truck (which fortunately was equipped with the gun, shells and a cooler) and departed for the dove field. I’m not sure to this day that anybody noticed my absence.”
Phil Smith of Bath will bring a tear to your eye with his dove hunting story about Brandy, a 15-year-old yellow lab, that passed recently.
“We were dove hunting with 30-plus [people] around a catfish pond and nobody else but me had a dog. Brandy hunted by herself, watching each shot from where we sat, then bringing in the doves. She required very little handling; she marked them all…and every hunter stood around the pond and clapped and clapped for this wonderful girl…”
Lee Hanes, a retired bank executive in Winston-Salem, had a unique view of dove hunting while a youngster in Kinston.
“My memory of dove hunting was I didn’t get to go. They just didn’t take little girls dove hunting back then. But when my Daddy got home I’d watch him clean the doves and he’d give me an anatomy lesson. ‘This is the heart. This is the lungs, and this is what they’ve been eating.’”
Today Hanes is an accomplished handler and trainer of Labrador retrievers with several passes on the national level.
Bryan Pennington, a yarn salesman from Alamance County, measures dove hunting by talking about five dogs that were at his side in the field from the 1970s until today – a Springer spaniel, three wirehaired pointing griffons and an English setter.
“Hunting wouldn’t be the same without all those dogs. I remember the sweetness of a family member like Babe, a griffon, who would sit and lay her head on my knee then put a paw up and stare at me showing pure enjoyment. It was a given when the bird went down she would retrieve it, then return to sit where she started so I could take the bird. Then she’s put her head and paw back on my knee…”
Robert Cutler, retired and living in Alamance County, recalls many a fine dove hunt on the Sam Yancey dairy farm in Fuquay Varina.
“As a teenager we hunted over the corn fields that had been recently cut. Mr. Yancey used to come out to the field about 3 o’clock with a quart jar of ice tea. It always seemed as though the birds flew better as soon as he took his position in the field…”
Not only has dove hunting produced a basketful of fine memories, it also has yielded some savory meals. Dove recipes abound on the website of the NCWRC and that of Hank Shaw, a hunter, writer and outdoor chef. You’ll find the simple to the exotic from preparing plucked, breasted and whole. Select grilling, frying, roasting, poaching, seasoning and marinating.
What is it about a dove that interests so many hunters? The North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission offers some interesting dove tidbits. Here is a sampling from the website:
• Considered a migratory game bird
• Only game bird found in all the lower 48 states
• Member of the pigeon family
• Flight swift and darting and timed at 35 to 55 mph
• Tend to return to same area year after year
• Large flocks of up to 150 birds doves known to disappear from one day to the next
• Do not scratch for food so seed must be plentiful and visible
• Feed primarily on weed seeds, corn, pokeberry, a few insects and waste grain such as buckwheat, cowpeas left from cultivated fields
• One of most common birds in North Carolina except in higher elevation
• Hundreds of thousands harvested annually by Tar Heel hunters
• Population reasonably stable for many decades
• 62 percent of doves are harvested in agricultural fields often over cut corn
• 80,835 N.C. hunters harvested 1,075,833 doves during the 2013-2014 season, with a 13.3 mean harvest per hunter
• Dove hunters number second behind deer hunters(258,000) then followed by squirrel, turkey, rabbit and duck hunters