Let's get a few things out of the way. I didn't grow up around hunting. As a Florida girl raised near the beach, I was around plenty of water, but not a lot of bucks. Actually, not any. And though I've lived in the Deep South for the past 20 years, surrounded by neighbors and friends who hunt, I've never gone. Until last week.
When a friend asked, "Would you like to go on a dove hunt?" I raised one eyebrow. Again, to be clear: I don't have anything against hunting; it just was never my thing. But, always up for an adventure, I said yes.
Each year, Birmingham's Tom Jernigan and Chas Pell host the event at Jernigan's Sugar Foot Farms. The two are business partners, owners of BlackRidge Land Company, which helps people find their future farm and helps manage properties like this. Tom and Chas host the dove shoot on the first day of the season as a gift to their family and friends.
"A Southern dove hunt is a social event," Chas says. "One of the key elements of our party is we make it family-friendly. One of our missions is to show people that hunting can be for everyone. It's not just about the guys packing up their big honky shotguns, whatever highly rated brand of insect repellent, their scopes, beer, leaving the family on Friday and coming back on Sunday. It doesn't have to be that."
Although serving lunch isn't uncommon at a dove hunt, Chas says, they like to add a few extras. The catered affair starts with plates of pulled pork and candied bacon, finishing with a band and a wine tasting (long after the shooting is over, of course). Hayrides take children for a spin (far away from the shooting, of course), dogs run free, men and women gather inside the farmhouse over sweet tea.
Not going to lie: I lingered a bit over the bacon, a little nervous to climb aboard the hay bale-covered trucks that would take us to the fields. As an editor who spends more time behind a desk than in the great outdoors, I was a little uncomfortable. Isn't that where the best stories begin?
The things that I saw in the fields: fathers and sons sitting side by side, talking. Things I didn't hear: cell phones ringing, electronic pings. Things I noticed: how beautiful the West Alabama land was. Oh. Far away from the noise of the city, it was quiet. I was starting to get it.
True confession: I didn't shoot that day. Just as I was considering it, the rain was starting to come in, and I was content to sit and watch, then climb back aboard the truck with the hay bales and go back to the house, where people were gathered around the television watching football.
Granted, not everyone has access to a party like this. But if there's an interest in learning the basics of dove hunting, there are plenty of ways to get started, Chas says. Sporting clay facilities, hunt clubs (open to the public), and paid hunts are a great way to learn. "It's about getting outside, getting closer to the land," he says.