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As expected, opening weekend of dove season was a non-event.

For starters, corona-phobia all but ruined the social aspect of hunting's most social event, whose traditional aspects were colorfully illustrated in Wednesday's editorial section by Rex Nelson. Hunters usually gather on opening day under the premise of shooting doves, but that's really a pretext to visit and break bread with old friends and extended family members. For many, opening day of dove season is the only day we see these people.

A good dove shoot usually features a hearty barbecue for lunch. It's best if you can grill fresh dove breasts taken that very morning. It's a multigenerational thing where all members of the family are welcome.

Among my friends, coronavirus vanquished all of that this year. Many hunters, especially the seniors, stayed home to avoid exposure to the virus. Others eliminated the barbecues and potlucks to maintain social distancing. Only a few people showed up to fields that usually teem with hunters.

Ordinarily that's too few to keep doves flying, but it wasn't an issue Saturday and Sunday because there weren't any doves. Reports poured in via text message during the weekend. At one field that is usually very productive, hunters killed a grand total of eight doves, or about half a limit for one hunter.

Friends hunting near Wheatley fired no shots, and they canceled Sunday's hunt. Those that stayed overnight at the camp spent the rest of the weekend replanting food plots for deer, which the hurricane also destroyed.

One of my more avid friends and his son hunted in one of the controlled dove hunts that the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission holds on a lottery permit basis. Together they killed one dove.

Hurricane Laura was largely to blame for the dearth of doves. Heavy wind and torrential rain relocated birds, but mainly the weather wrecked the dove fields. Top-sowed wheat germinated in the wet soil, making it unpalatable for seed-loving doves. Sunflowers seemed to hold more doves last weekend, but I'm told that most of the birds that remained shifted to rice fields that got blown over, especially in the Stuttgart area.

In summary, opening weekend of dove season was a bust, but prospects will improve as cold weather brings in fresh birds from the north. Don't forget about sunflower fields that the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission planted on various wildlife management areas. Hunters pay them no attention after opening weekend, but doves will return to them if they haven't already.

If you belong to deer hunting clubs that lease land from paper companies, cutovers can be excellent places to hunt mid- and late-season doves. Cutovers contain a lot of weeds, and doves flock to them. The problem there is that leased land clubs prioritize deer hunting, and deer hunting will increasingly be the focus of all activities from Oct. 1-Dec. 1. Members that have stands overlooking cutovers don't take kindly to shotgunning activities that might compromise their chances for deer hunting success later. To avert conflicts, clear any plans for a cutover dove shoot with club members that have deer hunting dibs on dove-heavy cutovers.

Donate last year's deer

If you have processed deer meat remaining in your freezer, you can donate it to Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry on Saturday during the Annual Freezer Cleanout Day from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at Bass Pro Shops in Little Rock. Donated deer must have been professionally processed and packaged.

Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry relies on hunters donating processed deer or portions of processed deer to distribute to hungry Arkansans. The organization is heavily funded from hunters and anglers who check the box to donate $1, $5 or $10 when they buy a hunting or fishing license.

Anybody who donates processed deer meat, checks a donation box when buying a hunting or fishing license, or makes a cash donation to Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry will be automatically entered into a drawing for a Fusion Cellular remote game camera. Also, $25 Bass Pro Shops gift certificates will be given away every hour.

For more information, contact Ronnie Ritter, executive director of Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry, at (501) 282-0006.

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