The Hunt

The dove hunt, a Southern tradition, brings family and friends together in a return to the land.

Photography by Betsy Pell and Harry Hoover

Driving deep into the Black Belt, you can feel yourself start to connect to the land.

This is the South.

And there is nothing more Southern than the reason behind this drive into the heart of the Black Belt, a dove hunt.

The trees are turning and starting to drop leaves. The twilight falls heavily like a deep Southern drawl on a night punctuated by too much bourbon. There is just the slightest of chills in the night air.

I am driving through this twilight to witness a dove hunt at the farm of Tom Jernigan, Jr. Tom has put together this weekend for friends and family as a way to share his love for the land and respect for tradition.

Alabama has a rich hunting heritage with over 250,000 licensed hunters taking to the fields and forests each season. According to a recent report, hunting in Alabama provides more than 6 million man-days afield annually and a significant impact on our economy.

Mourning dove hunting typically kicks off the fall hunting season as many hunters look forward to a day on a dove field with family and friends.  Unlike many other hunting activities, dove hunting is usually a highly social event with many hunters on the same field.  Alabama is separated into two zones (north and south) with most of Alabama being in the north zone.  The north and south zone seasons typically begin in early September and October, respectively.

Mourning doves are migratory birds and are part of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service has special rules and regulations that apply to dove hunting that all hunters must follow.  The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service has an excellent website that answers many questions regarding the legalities of dove hunting and preparing a dove field.

The mourning dove is the most numerous, widespread, and hunted game bird in North America. Alabama is fortunate to have an abundance of both resident and migratory mourning doves annually. Normally, more than 60,000 Alabama hunters harvest in excess of a million doves during the hunting season.

I arrive at the farm just as the sun is beginning to set. The orange glow across the blue waters of a large pond down from the house is an extraordinary site. Young kids in camo are wandering around, playing tag or just running through the gathering darkness. On the porch of the house a band has kicked off the opening chords of “Sweet Home Alabama.” A spread of food is being readied and people are lining up at the table to enjoy a meal of barbecue and all of the fixings.

For Tom Jernigan, this scene is what the South is all about. This closeness to the land, the generations together in nature, finding that connection that is as old as time.

Tom Jernigan Jr. has an extensive background in both business and outdoor investments and interests. Jernigan is CEO and president of BlackRidge Land Co., a full-service real estate firm that represents buyers and sellers of large tracts of rural land. The land brokerage firm also offers in-house and integrated maintenance and management services

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