OPINION | ARKANSAS SPORTSMAN: Splendid sunrise a consolation for dove dearth

Allan Griffen and I drove a long way to watch a pretty sunrise.

Two weeks ago, Griffen asked me if I wanted to hunt doves with him in Clay County on Sept. 16. He had drawn a highly coveted permit to participate in one of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's private land dove hunts. Landowners around the state make their dove fields available to the public on a permit-only basis, usually after opening weekend of the dove season.

Many farmers provide some dove habitat for dove hunts they host for friends and family. That's usually a one-day affair that takes place on opening day, almost always a Saturday. Sometimes they have a smaller hunt the following Sunday. After that, the fields are unused.

Some landowners offer public access through the Game and Fish Commission's controlled dove hunt program. Permit winners are allowed to bring one partner.

Griffen was very pleased to draw a permit to the Clay County field, which is as far north in Arkansas as you can go. To reach the field, you take a dirt lane that exits a county road. The dirt road is used by grain trucks hauling beans and rice from the fields.

On the other side of the dirt lane is Missouri.

Doves typically fly to fields from their roosts at dawn. If you want success, you had best be on station at least 20 minutes before dawn. To be on station at the state's northeastern border required leaving Little Rock at 4 a.m. For me, that required waking up at 3:40 a.m.

I laid out my hunting clothes, wallet, hunting license, prescription sunglasses and regular eyeglasses on the couch the night before so I could prepare half asleep without having to worry about forgetting anything. I set my Mojo Dove decoy, chair and essentials bag outside my front door. My cased shotgun -- a Browning Auto-5 Sweet Sixteen -- and two boxes of ammunition sat inboard of the door. I brewed a pot of coffee, filled my Thermos travel mug, drank the excess and waited for Griffen to arrive.

On the drive north, Venus glowed so big and so bright that it looked like an aircraft landing light. I kept looking to the southeast to see the Nishimura Comet, which was visible for the last time in Arkansas on Sept. 16, roughly at 5 a.m. It won't be back this way again for about 400 years. My daughter saw it a week before and told me where to find it in the pre-dawn sky. Only later did she divulge that it was visible only through binoculars.

We arrived at the field as the sky brightened. Three other vehicles were present. Walking into the field, we passed a father and his son standing beside a hay bale behind an impressive array of spinning wing decoys. They fired the only shots of the morning and killed one dove.

We passed another pair at the corner and selected a hay bale about 150 yards away as our spot. Rows of cut sunflowers were well within shotgun distance. We activated our Mojo Dove decoys and waited.

The sunrise erupted with a rose glow that bathed the bottom of a small bank of clouds to the east that looked like ripples on the water. Soon, the sun swelled like a flaming red ball over the horizon.

The light show was somewhat of a consolation prize for an utter lack of doves. We thought we heard a dove, confirmed by two shots to the west. Evidently those shots did not connect because the shooters did not venture away from their hay bale to retrieve a bird.

A large flock of swallows arrived and put on an impressive aerobatic display over the sunflowers after daylight arrived. That was a risky thing to do so near to hunters that desperately wanted them to be doves. They were in no danger because our guns leaned harmlessly against the hay bale. A prodigious amount of mosquitoes vanished about the time the swallows arrived, for which we were grateful.

At about 8 a.m., the hunters about 150 yards to our right picked up their decoys and left. Shortly after, the hunters to our left did the same. When the father and son collected their gear, we did the same.

At face value it was a lousy hunt, but the trip was worthwhile. I haven't hunted with Griffen in years. It was good to catch up.

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