Thursday, September 09, 2004
Bill Cochran's Outdoors: Oh, for a 1,000 dove fields to hunt
Bill Cochran's Outdoors
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- A good trade: Virginia trout for Kentucky elk
- Forget the odds-makers; Salem’s John Crews believes he can win the Bassmaster Classic.
- The good and bad of the 2012 saltwater fishing season
- Column archive
Bill's Field Reports
- Virginia General Assembly goes soft on outdoor issues
- Quail Unlimited calls it quits
- Field reports archive
It is 10 a.m. Saturday, opening day of the dove season, and already 50 camouflage-clad hunters have signed in at the milk house located on the Turner dairy farm in Bedford County.
Never mind that the season doesn’t open until noon and that the hot shooting isn’t likely to begin until 4 or 5 p.m. The hunters have arrived early to assure themselves a spot to hunt on this farm where September dove shooting is as much a tradition as is football over in Charlottesville or Blacksburg. One hunter, harboring more than one passion, carries a boom box so he can listen to the Virginia/Temple game, which kicks off the same time as the dove season.
A longtime friend of the Turners arrives with his grown son and gets waved off by Billy Turner when he offers a $20 bill for the pleasure of hunting. The Turners have a going rate of $10 per hunter, but you aren’t around long before you understand it is more than about money.
The friend finally forces the $20 on Billy, and figures it to be a better bargain than any he would have encountered at one of the many flea markets he’d passed on his drive down from the Roanoke Valley. He gladly would have paid twice as much, even more, for a spot to hunt on opening day.
In the barnyard, Holstein cows chew dry feed and swat flies, and there is the aroma of fresh-cut silage. The big John Deere stands idle for the moment. Billy says the corn crop has been so abundant that all the storage is full of silage and there is corn left standing, waiting to be picked.
The result is fewer places for hunters to pop up out of the stubble to take a whack at a dove coming across a field like something tossed by an ace pitcher working on his 20th win of the season.
The Turners are talking about cutting off the number of hunters at 75 to assure a quality hunt for everyone. But it is hard to discourage someone hell-bent on hunting doves, especially if it is a boy, even a boy wearing a West Virginia hat. The Turners are Tech fans. Billy’s son is a student there, studying Dairy Science, no less. Even so, the kid with the wrong hat gets in.
Billy’s brother, Jim, also has a son working the farm, so it appears that the operation will be around for at least another generation. That’s not the case for many other spreads. Dairy farmers have been giving up, selling the cows, selling the tractors, selling the farm. Billy recalls that once there were 60 Grade A Dairy Farms in Bedford County. Now there are about a dozen.
What does this have to do with dove hunting? Plenty.
“Many dove hunters depend on dairy farms, and there aren’t many such farm left,” Billy said. The easy thing is to replace cornfields and cows with houses, yards, driveways and SUVs. That is happening all across Bedford County; all across Virginia, for that matter.
Dove fields are becoming difficult to find, especially by urban sportsmen who have few contacts with farmers. “Where can I dove hunt?” is the question I hear most from readers of this website. There is no easy answer.
The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries once managed for doves on some of the property it owns, but that has all but ended. Officials cite budget cuts as the reason. There is no effort by DGIF, or anyone else, to compile a list of pay-dove hunting available on farms across the state; you know, like one of those lists that advertise pick-your-own strawberries, blueberries or apples.
If dove hunting fades, it won’t be for the lack of interest, or the lack of doves; rather, for the lack of places to hunt.
But that’s no worry for the 75 or so hunters hunkered around the edges of cornfields at Turner’s place. Their major concern is dealing with the sun, which sears down like a circus spotlight. The calendar may say hunting season, but the sun says summer.
The doves appear content to sit pertly in the trees, until cloud cover moves in, then here they come. A hunter peering toward the Peaks of Otter sees wind-blow specks in the sky, then a flock of doves suddenly is bantering rapidly over the field.
Shotguns boom to the point of sounding like the Bedford Boys in action. One hunter, who has picked an unfruitful spot in a remote field, only can listen as he watches an empty sky.
“Don’t worry about it,” he tells another hunter. “Just one dove flying across a field full of hunters can sound like the Fourth of July.”
The other nods, but can’t shake the feeling that he is in the wrong spot, which isn’t the place to be on opening day of the dove season.