There are few things in life more ego-flattening than a really good dove hunt.That being the case, I spent my Christmas weekend eating shared dove breasts and a giant piece of humble pie.
Both came courtesy of Mark Atwell, a man who is as fanatical about doves as Phil Robertson is about ducks.
Every summer, Atwell meticulously prepares half a dozen Southwest Louisiana fields for his favorite birds and the hunters who like to target them.
Atwell always circles the September opener on his calendar, and his hunts that time of year are legendary.
But nothing compares to the hunts the guide hosts in the late season, when resident birds have fled to Mexico and in their place are gobs and gobs of migrant doves.
That was the case Friday, when Atwell invited me to fill my limit with about a dozen other hunters in one of his fields.
The hunt started at 12:30, and hunters were sent out to the field with a prediction from Atwell that the birds wouldn’t really start flying until 2:30 or 3:00.
The man knows his birds.
Only sparrows, cardinals and the odd hawk dotted the skies during the hunt’s first hour. Then some stragglers started coming in by 2:00.
By 2:30, it was nearly impossible to look out over Atwell’s field and not see a flock of doves. Singles, doubles and triples were virtually ALWAYS within gun range.
I had naively asked Atwell early in the hunt if he typically saw any flocks of 10 to 12 birds.
He chuckled and said that many flocks number 50 to 60.
I would later learn he was only being modest. Several times, flocks of at least 100 birds poured into Atwell’s field, and they were greeted by hails of throaty gunfire by the welcoming hunters.
Despite being a fairly disciplined duck hunter, I frequently found myself flock-shooting at the doves. There were so many, it was almost like sensory overload.
My 7-year-old son Joel, my retriever for the trip, would cheer like a drunk LSU fan every time I actually hit a bird. Much more frequently, however, he’d say, “Aww, Dad. You missed again!”
Atwell, who downed his limit in a matter of minutes, took pity on me, and donated his birds to me.
After soaking in lemon juice for a day and marinade for two, they were a delicious Christmas appetizer when served coated in bread crumbs and pan-fried in butter.
Dove season is open until Jan. 8, and Atwell will be hosting a number of hunts in that time. To reach him, call (337) 479-2101.
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