Dove Nation: Hunting the Opener in 3 States

Bird season blasts off every September as friends and family gather to celebrate the harvest, the hunt, and America's favorite feathered game.

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Last September we tagged along for dove hunts in Mississippi, Kansas, and Texas. Here’s a look at Dove Nation. Photos by Raymond McCrea Jones, Matt Nager, and Tosh Brown
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Mississippi For the last three generations, the Hardys have been farming their land in Lowndes County, Miss. Mark Hardy’s grandfather purchased about 10,000 acres with his brothers at the turn of the 20th century, and they founded the Magowah Gun Club around the same time. Every year for opening day of dove season, the Hardys open their home to friends and family for a weekend of fun and hunting. They share meals and trade stories from the past year. They also host an invite-only hunt for members of Magowah, which drew about 60 people last year. Though they are gathered to celebrate the dove opener, the number of birds taken isn’t their primary concern. For the Hardys and their friends, the weekend is all about spending time with each other. As one hunter put it, “No one actually cares about the bag. If we did, we would do things much differently.”
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Mississippi Mallory Amos hoists a dove high.
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Mississippi
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Mississippi
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Mississippi Davis Jackson carries his last bird of the day.
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Mississippi Each year Jack “Junior” Henry cooks his famous BBQ for the gathering.
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Kansas Early on the morning of September 1, a group of friends and family gathered in a public hunting area not far from Wamego, Kansas. This small town of less than 5,000 in the central part of the state is surrounded by fields of alfalfa, wheat, and corn, and cattle pastures. Throw in some sunflowers and you have ideal dove habitat. Josh Wildin brought his 6-year-old daughter, Makenzie, along for the opener. “Her favorite part is my favorite part—eating the little buggers,” he said. “I don’t want her to miss out on this.” The hunters didn’t go home empty-handed. Before the shooting started, they plotted their strategy, posting up along rows of standing sunflowers to ambush the birds. Doves darted across the bluebird skies, shots rang out, and birds fell. An eager black Lab helped gather the birds, and then everyone pitched in to breast them out. The season could not have started on a better note.
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Kansas Friends pose for a group photo during a break
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Kansas Dove shooters line up for the next flight.
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Kansas Kris Boucher poses with a handful of birds.
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Texas Dove hunting is serious business all across Texas, but on the Nooner Ranch, near Hondo, the birds are accorded royal status. But given that the host, Sammy Nooner, is known as the Duke of Dove, you might have guessed that. Few states encourage youth hunting with the same enthusiasm as Texas. Any child, as long as he or she is accompanied by an adult who has purchased an annual hunting permit, can hunt doves and small game free of charge. On opening day last year, as doves swarmed over the dried sunflower stalks, the young guns took to the field. One of them, 6-year-old Kate Friesenhahn, was armed only with a BB gun. The whitewings flew fast and hard, and more than a few managed to avoid the storm of shot sent their way. But the hunters connected well enough so that by the time they cased their shotguns, everyone had plenty of dove breasts to take home.
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Texas
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Texas A shooter swings on a darting dove.
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Texas A lab helps retrieve birds.
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Texas Kate Friesenhahn carries her Daisy Red Ryder for the opener.