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Lonesome doves: Birds scarce for opening day hunting excursion

by Bryan Hendricks | September 7, 2023 at 2:21 a.m.
Chris Stillman directs Winston, his Labrador Retriever, to one of the four doves killed Saturday at a field in St. Francis County. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bryan Hendricks)

WHEATLEY -- At least the sunrise was worth the early wakeup.

After a long summer spent avoiding the heat, hunters around the state were excited about opening day of dove season on Saturday. Little by little, though, plans started collapsing in the days leading up to the event. One field that a friend had worked hard to develop was a bust. Another friend cancelled a longstanding dove hunt in Central Arkansas because there were no doves in the area. Yet another friend lost a great field in Central Arkansas. The landowner did not renew the lease because he wanted to run cattle on the property, instead.

Joe Volpe of Little Rock and I scrambled to find a place to hunt. An invitation that he hoped to receive from Stuttgart did not materialize, so we debated the myriad public dove hunting options that were available. I have hunted the fields at Galla Creek Wildlife Management Area with modest degrees of success. Reaching that field is a hassle, though. Ed Gordon Point Remove WMA also has dove fields.

I've had some great hunts at Rick Evans Grandview Prairie, as well. To be honest, I personally have not had great hunts at Rick Evans Grandview Prairie, but I have witnessed other people having great hunts there. It was a great pleasure to share their success in this space, but I was always a few hundred yards away from where the doves flew.

"Plus, you never know what you're going to get into at a public dove field," I cautioned.

"What do you mean?" Volpe asked. "A Game and Fish field is certainly going to be baited."

"That's not the issue," I said. "It's the other people that you have to be careful about."

I recalled a dove hunt with Alan Thomas at Galla Creek several years ago. A couple of airmen from Little Rock Air Force Base were there. One had a dilapidated Remington 870 that didn't have a cap nut to lock the barrel into the action. The whole thing was held together with duct tape, but it was very loose. Thomas insisted, not graciously, that they hunt at the other end of the field by themselves so that nobody else would get hurt when the gun exploded.

This discussion was in full volley late in the week when, like a ray of sunlight, a friend in Northwest Arkansas sent me a text message.

"I assume you have a place to hunt this weekend, but if for some reason you have a day open, holler," he said.

"As a matter of fact, I don't," I replied.

My friend since sixth grade, who shall remain anonymous for reasons that will soon be evident, extended his welcome to Volpe, and later to Cooper, Volpe's Labrador retriever. We would hunt at his farm near Wheatley. I was excited for obvious reasons, not the least of which being the opportunity to hunt with new people at a place I haven't hunted before.

As is my friend's custom, he followed up with expansive texts about the menus for breakfast, lunch and supper. Breakfast would consist of "bulldozers," massive burritos full of egg, sausage and cheese. There would be prime rib, meatloaf, pulled pork, slice pork, collared greens and pinto beans, among other things.

Ordinarily, one might be suspicious of someone that waxes so poetically about food instead of the clouds of doves raiding his fields. Not so with this guy. That's just how he is.

I woke at 3:30 a.m., and arrived at Volpe's house at 4 a.m. He had a pot of coffee ready, and Cooper was eager to "kennel up."

An hour later, we were at the farm. We arrived at the field while Venus still presided over the eastern sky. We assembled a squadron of mechanical spinning wing dove decoys. Volpe deployed his "Flock-a-Flick'r" ground decoys and erected a couple of metal frames that held even more mechanical decoys.

"We could use some clothesline between these frames and dry the laundry," I quipped.

With the decoys in motion, we withdrew to relative invisibility inside some cornrows and awaited the dawn. The sunrise was a fiery copper glow reflecting from puffy clouds to the east. To the south, a thick cloud bank advanced. The air was cool and gentle.

We waited. And we waited. And we waited. The four doves that actually flew within gun range did not make it through the barrage of lead. A pair flew in from behind us, almost low enough to feather our caps. They were gone before a gun could rise.

"You know, I read an article just the other day in your newspaper about how you should always watch behind you for doves that do just like those guys did," my friend said. "That just goes to show that writers don't practice what they preach!"

By then, I had put my gun down and picked up a camera. Doves were too scarce for the extra attention.

We ended the hunt at 10 a.m. Volpe and our host assisted each other for a kill apiece. My friend's brother got one at the far end of the field, and another hunter got one.

Reports from around the state echoed the same lack of success. It's not that doves aren't around. They are, but they're not concentrated.

Willie the Barbecue Man in Hamburg said that modern farming practices are the culprit.

"Now that everybody's cutting rice and corn in August, there's food everywhere so doves are spread out all over the country," Willie said.

It's the best explanation I've heard.

Print Headline: Lonesome doves


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