09/18/09 — September ushers in hunting season

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September ushers in hunting season

By Mike Marsh
Published in Sports on September 18, 2009 1:46 PM

Noon had arrived. It was the witching hour for hunters, and the first time most of them had fired a gun since hunting season ended the previous winter.

Hunters headed into a harvest cornfield and stirred a few late-feeding flocks. But it was so hot the birds headed for the trees rimming the field and just perched in the shade.

A couple of hunting buddies from Wilmington, Bill Helms and Reggie Honbarriel, sat on stools at the edge of the stubble. Helms is the manager of a stevadore company and Honbarriel owns a self-storage facility. They had downed one dove during the initial flight.

"I'm sure it will get better as the afternoon goes on," said Helms. "But it wouldn't really matter. No matter how good or bad the shooting is, you can't miss opening day of dove season."

"I love the smell of gunpowder," said Honbarriel. "I wouldn't miss being out here with my friend on opening day."

David Knox of Roans Branch Hunting Preserve hosted the hunt. Knox had 93 hunters spread across several Brunswick County farm fields near Bolivia.

"I try to see how much field area has been cut to determine how many hunters I can have," said Knox. "About 95 percent of the hunters come opening day. It drops to 60 percent the following Saturday, and to 40 or 50 percent each Saturday after that."

Knox charges a fee of $125 for those who wish to hunt all six Saturdays of the initial season. After the first two Saturdays, he charges a daily fee of $25 per hunter for those who don't hunt the first two Saturdays.

"I coordinate hunts on several farms so the farmers don't have to do it," he said. "It keeps everything organized and gives control over access to the property. We have about 800 acres of fields open for dove hunting."

When the hunters first arrived, Knox, his family and friends were preparing a barbecue picnic for their guests. His 13-year-old daughter Martina was helping.

"She hunts, but I will be busy today making sure the hunters are having a good time," said nox. "I will take her hunting later in the season."

Knox works a day job, as well as working as a manager for 250 acres of his own family's farm. He said he always wanted to find a way to make a living hunting and fishing, and the original farm had about 150 acres, mostly in timberland.

"I started the hunting preserve on our original farm acreage, where we still release pen-raised quail for hunters," he said. "Recently, we added a skeet range that is open to the public on an honor system. Anyone can shoot a round of skeet for seven dollars.

"We have some regulars who shoot skeet at our range twice a week. The skeet shooting really ramped up ahead of dove season. Hunters like to practice because it gets them in the mood for opening day."

Knox drove around the fields, searching for the hunting hotspots. Some hunters had good shooting, while others, like Helms and Honbarriel had scarcely fired their guns.

"No one needs to worry about how many doves there will be because the real shooting will start later on," said Knox. "I will be moving the hunters who aren't having any luck to the better positions as soon as other hunters have their limits. Some of these hunters are pretty good shots and will get their limits early."

At about 3:30 p.m., doves started flying everywhere. They swooped across the fields in small flocks of three or four birds along with many singles. Some of the singles received lots of gunfire as hunters missed before connecting with the streaking gray targets. The numbers of shots fired continued to increase, until it sounded like a firefight as flocks of doves numbering several dozen circled and dodged.

Hunters searched in corn stubble for downed birds. Retrievers bounded into the trees and overgrown areas, looking for birds where their owners couldn't go.

Three hours later, the shooting tapered off as the hunters headed for their pickups with game bags bulging or sitting buckets held low, obviously laden with doves because of the feathers sticking to them. But everyone's game bag or stool was much lighter because of the trade off in lead shot shells verses a limit of 15 mourning doves.

Knox greeted hunters as they left, asking them if they had had a good time and seen plenty of birds. Helms and Honbarriel had found the hot action, along with everyone else.

"It's been a good day," said Knox. "There's nothing like hunting you're your friends on opening day of dove season to tell you that fall has finally arrived."

Contact Knox, Roans Branch Hunting Preserve at (910) 520-3485. For skeet shooting information, call Alvin Helton at (910) 512-1707.

To contact Mike Marsh with outdoor news, order his books or view the latest video, visit www.mikemarshoutdoors.com.