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North Zone Dove Hunt Focuses on Next Generation

September 13, 2012
 
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Lamar Harrison and his son-in-law, Mike Eubanks, had a successful hunt on the opening day of the mourning dove season in Alabama’s North Zone last weekend, and they didn’t fire a shot.

For the past 10 years or so, the pair has played host to a growing number of guests on their farm near Orrville, Ala., and the fertile soil of the Alabama Black Belt that nurtures just about any sort of row crops. The soybeans, corn, grain sorghum and millet provide excellent forage for all sorts of wildlife, including a considerable flock of doves for the opening hunt during many of the previous years.

As with all wildlife, you never know what you’re going to get until the day of the hunt. I’ve been to places that had thousands and thousands of doves only a few days before the season opened, only to be devoid of birds opening day because a cold front passed through and moved the birds en masse.

That’s why Eubanks wanted to do a little scouting last Saturday morning, even though he knew there wasn’t a thing he could do about it if the doves were scarce.

As we rode past a field of corn, Eubanks stopped to pull an ear from the stalk. “I was afraid of that,” he said as he peeled back the husk to reveal a less-than-ideal ear. “We’ve had a lot of rain lately, and everything stayed wet. But the corn on the hill looks a lot better.”

The soybeans were planted late, so the plants and beans were as green as could be, but the millet and grain sorghum provided plenty of grain for the birds and other small animals, although the grain sorghum around the duck pond had been overtaken by weeds because of the abundance of moisture.

A smattering of doves flew from power lines and out of the crop fields while we were making our rounds that morning, but there were no huge numbers.

“Maybe the birds are sitting in the trees,” I offered.

“I hope so,” responded Eubanks as we headed back to the camp to get ready to feed a bunch of hungry hunters, young and old. After blessing the food and hunt, the crowd that had swelled to about 100 dined. Eubanks urged the crowd to be safe before the hunters gathered their gear for the hunt. An approaching cool front sprinkled a few raindrops in the area and brought a welcome breeze to help mitigate the early September heat and humidity.

Eubanks and friends escorted the hunters to the field and placed them in positions to cover the field with enough guns, ensuring there was a safe distance between each group of hunters.

Whether it was a case of the birds sitting in the trees until early afternoon or the approaching cool front, something worked in favor of the hunters and hosts. Before all the hunters could be put out, the volleys of shots had started. Some doves never got past the first shooters, while other birds flew the length of the fields untouched.

By the time Eubanks made a round or two with his ATV loaded with water and soft drinks, the smile on his face was growing wider all the time. The birds that were not evident during the morning drive-around had made a timely appearance after lunch, and the hunters were literally having a blast.

Of course, there were hotspots as with every dove hunt. When a hunter bagged his limit, he headed out and another took his place. Eubanks did his best to ensure that everybody got in on a share of the action, share being the key word.

“When we bought this place in 1999 and started the hunt in 2000 with about a dozen people,” Eubanks said, “it was more to try to get my children and some other kids to understand dove hunting. The second year it was up to 45 people, and by the fifth year it was up to 80 to 100, where it is today. The main thing is we’re trying to get these kids out here. I think we ended up with about 20 on this hunt. We try to promote that more than anything else. And it’s a good way to get into the woods for the first time this year.

“It wouldn’t mean anything to me to just come up and shoot doves. When you’re blessed to have a few things, sharing is what it’s all about.”

Eubanks recalled that during his childhood his father, Jerrold (who was at the hunt), took the boys hunting or fishing as often as possible, but his work schedule was so full that he wasn’t able to go as much as he would have preferred. Mike was determined to make sure his schedule wouldn’t keep him and his son, Michael, from being outdoors just about every weekend.

“It made a big difference to be able to spend time with Michael, whether it was in the woods or on a boat,” Mike said. “It made a difference in his life as far as giving him perspective of how to stay out of trouble. This world would be a better place if we got more kids in the outdoors, I promise you. And my son respects a weapon and knows the damage it can do. Michael is not a killer; he’s a hunter. He’s a conservationist.”

Harrison said his only regret for the hunt was that he couldn’t make it around to all the guests and thank them for coming to the shoot.

“I get a lot of satisfaction out of being around people like this, who are like-minded about the outdoors,” Harrison said. “I grew up in Covington County. I had a great life. We didn’t worry about going to town. We worried about where we were going rabbit hunting the next day or squirrel hunting.

“I’m probably one of the most fortunate people in the world. You don’t measure what you accumulate. It’s about where you came from, how you got what you got and – most of all – what you think of it. I’m probably happier than Donald Trump. You really get more fun out of sharing what you’ve got when you get older. I’m at that stage. I like to see other people enjoy this, especially these young kids. Like I said, I’m one of the luckiest people in the world, and I just enjoy sharing.”

PHOTOS: (David Rainer) Getting the next generation outdoors was obviously one of the themes for the recent dove hunt near Orrville. Eric Guarino erected a blind for his kids, 8-year-old Jack and 6-year-old Molly, as they waited for the doves to start flying. Chris Smith and his son, Noble, scan to skies on the edge of a millet field in search of the distinctive flight signature of a mourning dove.

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