Peter Brookes: Dreading day one of dove season

Jack Brookes holds a dove during a hunting expedition with his father. Courtesy photo

I dread the dove season opener every year.

Don’t get me wrong, I love dove hunting. Indeed, it’s arguably the toughest wingshooting game around. Even super shots run “shell to hit” ratios of 3:1 (if not more) against these little gray and white “jets” that fly as fast as 55 mph.

That’s before they catch a tail wind.

But, truth be told, I do some self-loathing every August over how ill prepared I’ve allowed myself to become when I realize the dove opener is just around the corner in Virginia in early September.

While I should’ve been hitting the skeet/trap/sporting clays range for some shooting practice over the summer, I usually spend it building up future “kitchen passes” for hunting and fishing with the wife by playing endless rounds of her favorite sport – golf.

I know: golf. But one has to do what one has to do, right?

My shabby September shooting aside, it can also be hard to find a decent dove hunt, where a buffet of the right crops are tabled in preparation for the migratory dove’s arrival. Believe me: I’ve had my share of lousy hunts over the years.

In fact, this year I had no plans of doing the opener until I was hit full on by a perfect storm: an invite to a promising hunt and a request by my 6-year-old son Jack to take him out on his first dove hunt.

Ready or not for the field, I was dove hunting this year.

The hunt was to take place at Mount Airy (, a historic, 400-year old family farm on the Rappahannock River in the town of Warsaw on the spit of land known as Virginia’s Northern Neck.

Mount Airy’s owner, J. Tayloe Emery, tells me that the farm is one of the birthplaces of the American firearm sporting tradition. I’ve no reason to doubt him as the area is known for its deer, turkey, quail and, of course, abundant waterfowl.

The farm plants some 45 acres of sunflowers, sorghum and corn just for dove hunting. The crop fields, some of which are cut for the hunt, have a dirt road running through them providing grit for the birds. It’s also bordered by the tidal marsh waters of Catpoint Creek off the Rappahannock River.

In other words, it’s something you’d see in Field & Stream magazine as a model dove hunt setup.

The only potential problem for this hunt was the weather. Hurricane Hermine was threatening to come ashore on the day of the shoot. Thankfully, Emery kept us well informed about the hunt’s status via a string of emails.

In the end, Hermine held off shore; the hunt was a “go” for some 60 guns.

It wasn’t long before lots of little gray ghosts were streaking across the gray, overcast sky. The hunting was only made more challenging by the color commentary coming from Jack,  who had fashioned a well-concealed hunting blind from some standing corn.

It included play-by-play calls like “Hey, Dad, you missed that one!” Or, “Don’t worry Dad, you’ll get the next one.” His favorite was: “Don’t shoot Tweety!” a phrase used for any bird that wasn’t a dove but (inexplicably) wandered into the field of fire.

Eventually, with a change of gun chokes and my progeny’s encouragement, dear old Dad started knocking some of the rust off of his gun mount and swing – and some of those elusive birds from the sky.

I’ll never forget the look on Jack’s face when he not only marked, but retrieved our first bird. He beamed as he brought the dove back to me, seeming to spend an interminable time examining it like a young Indiana Jones on his first archeological dig.

Jack went on to mark and retrieve the other nine birds we harvested that day too, racing each time to beat a couple of good-natured dogs from a nearby spot to our quarry. I mean, who needs a dove dog when you have an enthusiastic kid along?

At one point on the car ride home – in a moment of rare, extended silence – Jack blurted out from the back seat: “Today was the best day ever.” I smiled broadly into the rear view mirror, nodding in agreement.

I knew he was right: a father and his youngest son on their first dove hunt together at a storied place like Mount Airy. Besides being better prepared for the opener, what more could one really ask for?

Dr. Peter Brookes has a Fort Valley home and writes about the great outdoors here whenever he can.