By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Sweat trickled into my eyes as a mourning dove turned and came straight at me. Hidden in the sunflower stalks, I was undetected until it was too late. A shot at the approaching dove dropped it between rows.
A short time later, another dove flew even closer. Two shots later and the dove continued flying unscathed. I’ll blame it on the sweat.
As usual, the opening day of dove season in the North Zone was an exercise in trying to find shade as the onset of fall temperatures is likely still a few weeks away. But that didn’t deter the participants at the annual dove hunt at Gulf Farms near Orrville in Dallas County.
Hosts Mike Eubanks and Lamar Harrison make a point to emphasize that dove hunting is an ideal method to introduce youngsters and inexperienced hunters to the outdoors.
During the pre-hunt safety briefing and discussion, Eubanks celebrated a record turnout of young people at the hunt.
“We had 38 hunters age 15 and under,” Eubanks said. “That’s fantastic. That’s the most we’ve ever had. What we’re trying to do is get these younger people involved in the outdoors. And we appreciate these dads and moms who bring their kids with them to hunt.
“Mr. Harrison (his father-in-law) and I want to give these kids a chance to hunt doves in a safe environment. We stress safety before we head to the dove fields.”
Gulf Farms goes to a great deal of effort to provide top-quality fields for the hunters, planting a combination of corn, soybeans, grain sorghum, sunflowers and wheat.
“We can’t control how many doves we have,” Eubanks said. “But we do everything by the guidelines to provide everything we think a dove might need from food to water to places to roost.
“We had a decent number of doves this year. It was better than last year, but it wasn’t the best hunt we’ve had at Gulf Farms. But those kids got to shoot a lot, and their enjoyment of being outdoors is what we like to see.”
Eric Guarino and his 14-year-old son, Jack, have been fixtures at the Gulf Farms hunt during the last decade. Last weekend’s hunt made the seventh hunt for the father-son team in the last eight years.
“I think Jack was probably six when we started coming,” Eric said. “My daughter even came one year. I just wanted to get them outside and get them involved in something that I always enjoyed doing.”
Eric’s outdoors adventures started out with a fishing rod in his hands. It was a few years before it was replaced with a firearm.
“When my dad opened his own business, my mom was working there,” he said. “Five days a week when we weren’t in school, my mom would put me out at Fisherman’s Wharf on Dog River. She would come pick me up at five o’clock when she got off work. I fished all day, every day. I caught more redfish and flounder out of Dog River than anybody else.”
Guarino was in high school when he went deer hunting for the first time with friends. Then one of his friends was dating a girl whose dad was a member of a dove club in Baldwin County, which led to his introduction to dove hunting.
“Then I really got into duck hunting,” he said “I was fanatical about it for a very long time. I still am, but it is suppressed by kids, career and other obligations. I don’t have time to go scout for ducks anymore.”
Despite the other outdoors endeavors, the Guarinos try to make it to Gulf Farms for the September opening-day hunt.
“Mike and Mr. Harrison invite me every year,” Eric said. “Actually, they invite Jack, and I get to drive him. In a couple of years, he’ll be driving, and I may not get to come.”
Eric said the atmosphere at the Gulf Farms hunt makes them come back year after year.
“This is a good bunch of folks, good fellowship, good eats in a safe, clean environment,” he said. “It’s just a good time being around a lot of good folks.
“Jack is really into camping and hiking and backpacking, so, we do that together. We don’t do a whole lot of hunting, but when this dove hunt came up, he said, ‘We have got to go to that.’ He wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
Jack said he remembers his first Gulf Farms hunt like it was yesterday.
“When I was six, I was happy to be here,” Jack said. “I had my little BB gun. My dad would shoot one, and I’d go over with my BB gun and say, ‘I got it.’
“It’s been fun. I’ve been coming half of my life. I get to shoot guns all day, which is a fun thing to do. A couple of my friends go deer hunting but not many dove hunt. I love dove hunting. It’s special because we come here every year. It’s just a good time.”