As seen in the September Issue of Great Days Outdoors. “On the Stump with Hale”
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon for a dove hunt as fifteen male and female hunters gathered on the edge of the field shortly after noon. The anticipation was evident by the spirited conversations and smiles. As instructed by the hunt master, all fifteen hunters had purchased hunting licenses before arrival. The hunting group included twelve hunters from out of state and a popular national outdoor television show which was filming a hunt to showcase Alabama dove hunting. In a spirited pre hunt talk, the hunt master encouraged all participants to have a good time out on the field but cautioned that the utmost attention to safety detail would be expected and demanded from everyone. He also emphatically stated that any hunter who decided to harvest more than the fifteen dove limit would be turned in to the local conservation officer and would not be invited back. This was a welcomed speech by all and the hunt master enjoyed a few fun jabs from the group before sending us out for an exciting fall afternoon on an Alabama dove field. One by one the hunters nestled up to large round bales of hay and settled in for some dove action that is usually top notch on fields prepared by this particular host. As usual, the birds started off a little slow but began to build in numbers throughout the afternoon to that moment that all dove hunters long to see when the sky is blackened with birds. In an instant, the joyful mood of the afternoon changed when the local conservation officer and his assistant from the federal department descended on the field from a well hidden spot in the bushes where they had been watching the hunt. With stern looks on their faces, they began to check the hunters and their equipment as well as the preparation of the field. The hunters’ attitudes began to head into a nose dive that would not be recoverable on this day. Although all hunters were properly licensed and equipped, the hunt was shut down immediately by the conservation officers with very little explanation to any of the hunters. During discussions with the host, it was revealed that the conservation officers had watched the field for a few weeks and determined that the host had used unapproved agricultural practices, as specified by Auburn University, by applying top sown wheat to the plowed field on more than one occasion. Afterward, the host explained to his hunters that in addition to planting sunflowers and brown top millet, he had allowed a stand of wheat from the previous year to remain standing during the summer for the doves to utilize while the new crops were maturing for the upcoming hunting season. He went on to explain that he did recently plow the field and manipulated last year’s wheat stand while preparing the field for the upcoming season’s new planting of wheat. He further acknowledged to his hunters that if the officers looked at the fresh plowed field prior to him applying this year’s planting of wheat seed that they would have indeed been able to see wheat seed left over from last year’s crop. He was open and candid about his preparation of the field and was embarrassed by the situation that his hunters had been subjected to. Unfortunately, the conservation officers were not concerned with whether or not the pre-existing wheat seed was from last year’s planting. The officers only wanted to know if the host had recently applied wheat to the field, which he answered by saying “yes, seven days ago”. The host of the hunt would have to wait for his opportunity to fully explain his field preparation to a federal judge. The local conservation officer decided it would be appropriate to appear in a newspaper the following week with a picture of himself and the confiscated doves on the tailgate of his conservation department truck. The caption under the photograph said that hunters needed to know if they go hunting with this guy that they may be hunting over an illegal dove field. So off to court we go. One year later, after months of anxiety and lawyer expenses for the host of the hunt, a federal judge threw out all charges stating that the law had not been broken and that normal agricultural practices had been maintained.
Here is the issue: Hunter satisfaction and enjoyment was greatly diminished on this day due to the lack of knowledge of what is considered normal agricultural practices by the conservation officers. This is not the officers’ fault as they were being asked to enforce rules that they were not prepared for. Here is a solution: Allow the feeding of doves and strictly enforce the limit. All of our conservation officers would certainly find it easier to count doves and cover more hunts if we take the responsibility off of them for determining if normal agricultural practices are being adhered to. If the concern from the conservation department is that our dove resource would suffer a negative impact from feeding, lower the limit from fifteen to a more desirable level. From what I have witnessed in recent years, there are not many of us hunters out there that can shoot well enough to fill our limit for the day anyway. Most hunters only have one or two opportunities per year to hunt doves. Please let us enjoy it.