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Vandiver: Hunting season elicits happy memories
Chewy, Josh, Jackson and Taylor Vandiver, as well as Blake and Marley McDaniel, pose during a recent hunt.

Hunting season has arrived with some early fall weather. Dove season got off to a great start for our family and friends at noon on Sept. 5. The food for our tailgate lunch preceding the shoot was excellent. Nothing like visiting with family and friends, old and new, over a plate of wild game and sweet tea.

The dove shoot that followed was as good as any I have ever seen, even with a torrential rain storm mid-afternoon. The follow up hunt Sept. 7 was even better, as it was focused on our children and grandchildren.

Bow season also opened Sept. 12 with cooler temperatures, white oak acorns falling and lush green food plots, which is the magic formula for increased deer movement. I love hunting this time of the year especially since ‘Every Day is Saturday.’

Kudos to my cousin Phillip Merk for the pristine dove field he prepared for our dove hunt. The sunflower, millet and sorghum field was manicured to perfection. Phillip is in the hay and straw business and he knows a thing or two about how to bring in the doves and keep them coming back.

We counted more than 300 birds using the field prior to the hunt, and I suspect there were more than 500 total.

Phillip’s wife, Ali, prepared a wonderful lunch served in their backyard on the bed of one of his hay trailers. It was a perfect setting for family and friends to enjoy a delicious lunch under the majestic white oak trees in their yard. Phillip and Ali’s children, Gabe and Vivi-Ann, and my grandchildren, Jackson and Taylor, had a great time on their farm visiting with the cows, chickens, and, of course, the creek down in the pasture.

The dove hunt got off to a bang — literally — at high noon. We had steady shooting throughout the afternoon, until we were chased from the field by a torrential rain storm. The rain ended and the doves responded by swarming the field for the next several hours. Fifteen hunters harvested more than 200 doves and missed a lot more than that. After cleaning doves for more than two hours, we decided we had harvested enough for the day. This was one of the best dove hunts I have ever been part of and everyone enjoyed the day.

The Monday dove hunt that followed opening day was dedicated to our children and grandchildren. We had eight hunters 11-years-old and younger, and two of those were dove hunting for the first time: my granddaughter Taylor and Marley

McDaniel, daughter of my longtime friend Blake McDaniel.

They both had a great time, and perhaps, it was said best by Marley when I overheard her say to her dad, "this is the bestest day ever.’"

We harvested more than 150 birds. All of the kids had a great time. I believe this to be the best feel-good hunt in my life as every single person there received a blessing. We hope to make this a tradition for years to come. There is no better way to spend time with children and grandchildren than in the great outdoors with your friends and family.

I have always believed the saying that when one door closes another opens to be true. Losing my longtime friend Maurice Cash to cancer last year on opening day of dove season certainly felt like a door closed as he had for years prepared and provided us with excellent dove fields.

This year, William and Jerry Legg opened the door to a great opportunity to dove hunt on their Jackson County property, through Phillip Merk’s hay lease, and brought our families closer together at the same time.

The opening of deer season Sept. 12 was incredible. Deer were moving and feeding on white oak acorns, as well as the lush green food plots I had planted back in August. I finally caught the rain just right. With help of 10-10-10 fertilizer, our oat, rye and turnip greens food plots were perfect for opening day.

We were hunting two specific bucks which we named Lucky and Hightower. Lucky, a wide 10-pointer, avoided us all of the 2014 season. My son Josh had several close encounters, but never got a shot at him. We took numerous trail camera pictures of Lucky the past few months. Hightower, named by my grandson Jackson, is a very tall and heavy eight-pointer and had been seen only from trail camera pictures, both this year and last hunting season.

Josh hunted Lucky in a stand of white oaks and saw more than 20 deer, with many of them good bucks, but not Lucky.

However we did get trail camera pictures of him Sept. 12, not more than 10 minutes after Josh climbed out of his stand. Lucky was lucky again! Josh has committed to spending this fall trying to harvest this exceptional deer, so I am betting that Lucky is about to run out of luck.

Jackson and I hunted together in a ground blind overlooking a food plot where we got several pictures of Hightower in the past few weeks. He was hunting with his cross bow, and I was ranging the yardage for him. This is critical when hunting fields with a bow. We also saw a lot of deer, including several nice bucks, but we were not able to close the deal on what we thought was Hightower right before we lost shooting light.

Hopefully we will get him next hunt.

Saturday turned out to be one of my best bow hunts ever, even though we did not harvest a deer. Great weather, great hunting and creating great memories while sharing the outdoors with your family is as good as it gets.

Russell Vandiver, recently retired as president of Lanier Technical College, has been an avid fisherman and hunter for 50 years. His column appears monthly.

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