A different side of the outdoors

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS
Dove hunting is fairly accessible: the gear requirements are minimal compared to other types of hunting.

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS Dove hunting is fairly accessible: the gear requirements are minimal compared to other types of hunting.

While I’ve considered myself a fisherman ever since my dad showed me how put worm on a hook, there is another popular outdoor activity that, until recently, had been a mystery to me: hunting.

It’s one of those activities that is much easier to get into when you have a friend with the equipment and know-how needed for success. My friend of several years, Allen Davis, has over the last year or so been that essential guide; he proved again just how good he was at both leading and hunting in early season this year.

“Oh no.”

That’s never a good phrase to hear when coming up on a hunting (or fishing) spot. My first hunt this year was for doves a few weeks ago. Allen and I had spent the past several weeks scouting the best food plots we could find in Central Iowa, and settled on a Tama County location. There was one small problem: we hadn’t expected there to be a convention’s worth of trucks already lined up in the parking area when we got there.

Of course, we expected a healthy number of people to show up at any given public hunting area, it literally comes with the territory. However, it doesn’t bring any joy to know you’re group will have to find a nook to fit into, if one even exists.

On beautiful morning, Allen, his dad, Ken, and trudged up to the sunflower plot, watching needles of light flash across the grounds from headlamps and flashlights as hunters marked their spots.

“All of this for doves?” Ken said with a incredulous chuckle. The lifelong hunter seemed amazed that so many people woke up so early to come hunt the medium-sized migratory birds.

While the “good” spots we’d scouted were filled up, we found a spot where we weren’t in the way of anyone else trying to enjoy a good hunt. After setting up our stools and unloading our packs, the three of us sat a row or two into the standing sunflower stalks behind us, waiting for that magic moment: the beginning of legal shooting hours.

That moment arrived, and the best word to describe it probably isn’t “magical.” It was loud, put simply. Shotguns of the 12- and 20-gauge variety, and possibly others, boomed and cracked across the plot.

For about a half hour, it was utter chaos, but as the daylight began to illuminate the field, more and more hunters left.

“Good,” I thought, knowing that the opportunity to fill a limit after the early flurry of birds was over.

Allen agreed, and we moved to a better spot and each of us bagged several more doves. Ken left early for work, so it was up to Allen and I to finish the day strong. There was a lot of scrambling from spot to spot as the sun rose higher into the sky and mid-morning arrived.

While I didn’t feel tired during the adrenaline-filled first half of our hunt, it was when everything slowed down that I realized how fatigued I was from running around. Luckily, I had learned from fishing to always bring snacks to munch on when an energy boost was needed. I happily wolfed down some fruit snacks as Allen and I waited on the edge of the plot for more shooting opportunities.

By the time we packed up the decoys and headed back to the truck, the three of us had bagged a total of 32 doves, 13 off of a three-man limit. Not too bad for the first hunt in several months.

Back at Allen’s place, we cleaned the birds carefully, and my friend told me step-by-step how to fry the filleted breasts to taste like “the best chicken nugget you’ve ever tasted.”

One thing I’ve learned in my very limited time hunting is that, much like fishing, it is more about spending time with friends and being out in nature than shooting. I’ve had hunts where I didn’t even see a bird but managed to have a good time hanging out with my friend. As most hunters will tell you, every hunt has a story.

Because hunting involves the use of firearms, and also because it’s the right thing to do, hunters on public land should respect one another’s space. Our dove hunt was a perfect example of when the eagerness to get a shot off must be tempered with common sense. These lands are public for a reason: so that everyone can enjoy them. Respect and responsibility are key.

Despite the sometimes crowded spots, being able to hunt on public land is something I consider a privilege. My appreciation doesn’t end at hunting: there are countless fishing, hiking, biking, boating, camping and swimming spots available through Iowa’s public lands. My home state may have a reputation for being “boring,” but check out the many parks, wildlife management areas, lakes and trails we have, and anyone can see that “boring” isn’t the right word to describe Iowa.

I’m getting more and more excited as duck season approaches. Waterfowling is one of the more strenuous types of hunting — especially if, like me, you lack a boat and a dog — and it’s during this time of year that I’m especially thankful to have a friend who knows his stuff. I’m also not looking forward making a choice between spending a Saturday morning hunting or walleye fishing, though that’s a pretty good problem to have.

While I’m still very much a novice hunter, I’ve come to appreciate the sport; I hope to be able to continue doing it for years to come. Sitting silently among the sunflowers in beautiful 70-degree weather is something I’ll never forget, regardless of the doves flitting around overhead. It’s peaceful, like fly fishing in a calm, clear trout stream; these types of experiences are priceless to me.

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com