Opening Day Dove Shoot



Over the years I’ve learned that opening day dove shoots are as fickle as a fairy throng (in the words of Ezra Cook). It’s not unlike hoping to hit zero or double zero in roulette – good dove shoots do occur, but the odds can be long.

Opening day of dove season found me two hours south of my Louisa home in Dundas, Virginia, Lunenburg County where I was a guest of Jacob Bacon for an afternoon of shooting at brown feathered fairies that flew at 55 mph.

The invitation came via Kate Ahnstrom, the Woods & Waters Winged Wisdom columnist and owner of Virginia Shooting Sports. She’s a crack wing shooting and clays instructor I met some years back at a ring pheasant shoot. She can shoot and write, and she’s a great event organizer that has aligned with Bacon to help promote his business.

Jacob and his family own a 257-acre property not far from Nottaway Reservoir smack dab in the middle of rural Virginia (between Blackstone and South Hill) that has been carefully curated to provide outstanding cover and crops for the early dove season as well as upland bird hunting during the long preserve hunting season.

Bacon is somewhat of a rockstar in the field of dog training and field trials. At just 33 he’s already trained two national champion German shorthaired pointers, and his now nine-year-old yellow lab, Mason was inducted to the National Upland Classic Series (NUCS) Hall of Fame and can consistently vacuum a field of three birds in under five minutes. Bacon trains all breeds of hunting dogs, but his specialty is finishing upland bird dogs.

It’s his love of this tradition and bird hunting that drove him to acquire the Bacon Farms acreage we hunted that afternoon.

For the dove shoot, Bacon had approximately 20 hunters spread out around a 100-acre field that was traced with 10-yard-wide rows of sorghum alternating with 10 yards of burned wheat and switchgrass in the corners next to the woods. There was a power line that bisected 60% of the field – a major attractor to doves.

Hunters sat on buckets or shooting stools in the sorghum or on the edge of the woods and waited for the doves to fly down to feed on the burned grain. Now hunting a baited field is illegal, so that is why Bacon burned and turned the wheat, but just enough remained to attract the hungry birds and be within the law.

Legal shooting hours began at noon. Everyone was in place and ready to go by 12:10. I was hunting with Kate’s husband, Mike; a policeman with the City of Richmond.

When Mike promptly raised, fired, and dropped the first dove that flew over our stand at 12:16. I though, wow, this guy can really shoot! We’ll have our limits in no time.

Well, after four boxes of shells for him and three-and-a-half for me we had each dropped our 15-bird limits, but if you do the math that’s 100 shots to drop 15 birds!

I shot up all my 12 ga. shells through my Weatherby semi-auto, then switched over a new 20 ga. ATI Calvary over-and-under I had picked up the day before. Mike was shooting a tricked-out Caesar Guerini Faber Arms 12 ga. semi-auto.

This was a very good dove shoot as the fairies weren’t too fickle and flew from start to finish with a peak of activity from 3:30 to 5:45.

To this hunt I had also brought along the newest member of my family – our four-month-old Brittany pup, Birdie.

The little brown and white dog loves retrieving a bumper with last seasons’ woodcock wings rubber-banded to it but had never had a bird in her mouth nor heard gun fire.

Turns out I had nothing to worry about. That pup was a natural. She bounded in and found doves we dropped in cover so thick we didn’t know where she was. And she brought them right to us! It was a beautiful thing to see, and I was thrilled.

After the hunt the Bacon family and Kate had a BBQ feast waiting, featuring homemade coleslaw, potato salad and caramel turtle brownies. As I ate, I wandered down to shoot some video of a father and son that had arrived late and were still shooting under the power lines. Turns out the fellow was scheduled for bypass surgery the coming week, so this was his last hunt for a while. His young son, complete with a blonde mullet right out of the WWF, had brought a BB gun.

Before I left, Jacob was kind enough to show me around the preserve via four-wheeler. The grounds appeared endless, all with excellent cover. There were even two hidden lakes he promised me held some giant bass. Bacon plans on adding an event barn with bunk style lodging and hopes to create a destination for upland hunters around the mid-Atlantic. His place is already a stop for the NUCS (National Upland Classic Series) field trials scheduled for November 10-13 if you have a dog you’d like to run.

By the time you read this he’ll have already held a second dove shoot the Saturday after opening day. Now is the time to book an upland hunt and enjoy this tradition of fall. Quail, chukar and pheasant are available, and you’ll be hunting over Bacon’s national champion dogs. He’s currently taking reservations for October through March. You can contact him at [email protected].

It has a been a few years since I experienced a good dove shoot. This now makes four in about 25 years, though I’ve been on probably 18 opening day hunts. The odds are that long, but I do enjoy playing roulette, and I don’t mind paying my dues to the fickle fairies of opening day.

Until next time remember to cherish, protect, and conserve the outdoors, while sharing it with others.

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