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Scott M

Highwire Doves in Arkansas

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A band of hunters push legal 'gray area' on dove hunt — and officials come calling

By Larry Towell

ESPN Outdoors

CASH, Ark. — Ten dove hunters, four retrievers and a toddler were blasting birds with abandon when the law pulled up to Mike Roach's back porch.

The hunt had been raging for more than an hour. Lead was spraying like water from a busted hydrant. Doves dropped from the sky in such numbers, the retrievers actually stumbled over each other to pick them up. But Pete Lochner stilled the fire with a few quiet words: "We have company."

At the gate at the end of the property sat a green Arkansas Game and Fish truck with "Law Enforcement" emblazoned across the fender.

That's a sight to make any hunter's back stiffen, but all Chris Akin said was, "Make sure everything is in order." His tone told the hunters who couldn't see the gate that the authorities were coming.

No doubt the game officials had noticed the fusillade, but they must have been curious, too, about the fact that the men appeared to be hunting doves on highline wires — a misdemeanor in Arkansas.

As it happened, though, the hunt was actually a bit of Southern ingenuity about to be put to the test.

The green truck drove faster as it got closer, then BOOM, a shot rang out, and then another. This bunch came here to shoot doves, after all, and if they were in trouble, there wasn't much reason to slow down now.

George King — a friend of Roach and, like him, a farmer — leaned against a corner post on the back porch of the lodge. To his left was Kristen Akin, the 16-year-old daughter of Chris Akin, an Avery pro-staffer and an esteemed professional dog trainer. He had his 2-year-old son, Clay, on his lap.

Lochner, another Avery pro-staffer, hung over at the west end of the lodge along with Tommy Young and Russell Porter, the youngest man of the bunch and the owner of a fiery chocolate lab named Dun. At the east end was David White and his dog, Minnie. They were all in comfortable talking distance of each other — a rarity on a dove hunt, but a big motivation for the unique set-up that day.

From the porch the men could hear the game officers exchanging words as they made their way to the west side of the lodge. One of the officers greeted the bunch with a "good morning." The gang of hunters replied in near unison. Porter, familiar with this drill, reached for his wallet and his license.

But Officer Williams had a question first: "Is that highline wires?"

"Yep," King and Roach replied almost simultaneously.

"Where they lead to?" the officer asked.

"Kind of like that road to nowhere you hear about in Alaska," Roach said. "We don't break the game laws, but we're not afraid to dabble in the gray areas." Laughs permeated the back porch.

The officers eyeballed the highline wires for a moment. Officer Cossey asked, "How did ya'll get those decoys up there?"

"With some fishing line and a fishing rod," Chris Akin replied, smiling.

As it dawned on him that he was looking at fake highline wires — no more real than a sitcom studio set — Officer Williams broke into a grin.

"I feel like I need to write a ticket for something, but I don't see a reason why I can," he said. "Who came up with this little piece of genius?"

The hunters laughed and pointed to Roach, the farm's owner. And as quickly as they had come, the officers were off.

The men took a moment to marvel with each other about how effective the setup was, and what a joy this dove hunt had been. They had bagged more than 140 doves that morning, and not one of the hunters had to leave the back porch, thanks in large part to the country creativity of Mike Roach and his dove-whacking brethren.

They had erected the poles and wires a month earlier to entice doves to within small-bore shotgun range. It is no secret that doves love highline wires — perhaps for the tickle of the electrical current inside, perhaps because they've been conditioned to know they're relatively safe.

In any case, the "highline wires" and three spinning wing decoys the men placed between the poles were more than effective at bringing birds to within a few steps of 10 hunters sitting across that back porch with no concealment whatsoever.

In hindsight, it looked foolproof, but that wasn't always so.

"You know," Roach admitted at one point, "I had my doubts more than once."

The fact that the dove trap was only 25 paces from Roach's back door made the birds easy pickings for a bunch of hunters who preferred to tell tales and compare shooting ability than wade off separately into a field. Bagging doves is fine, but they also enjoy shooting the breeze.

And when the law inevitably did arrive, they could replay the scene again and again, together, as they laughed and swept piles of .410 shotgun hulls into empty boxes. When his guests finally rounded their dogs into their trucks to leave, Roach let himself bask in the moment.

"Now that," he said, "is how you have a dove shoot!"

***************************************************

Still seems kind of tacky to me...for a bunch of pro-staffers and "serious" dove hunters to be sitting on rocking chairs on a porch shooting doves off a wire, live line or not. It's not hunting...they call it wing-shooting for a reason. There's plenty of time for smart talking and porch sitting after a real hunt IMO. frown

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well i think im no better than them....

I grew up down south in alabama till a few years ago. While growing up me and my buddy nick would always put on a good dove shoot everyday, after school, right off his front porch. He lived in a ranch style home in the backcountry about 20 minutes outside the city. his house was on serveral acres surrounded by farms with there masses of acres. Anyways, for some reason one of his neighors decided to build his house within 100 yards of Nick's house, building the house to where it would face Nick's place. Every summer the neighbor would plant a small plot of corn between the two houses. Also between nick's house and the neighbors was a abandoned telephone line. Every fall the doves would feed in the corn and fly back and forth to the abandoned telephone line while Nick, me, and his dog trigger sat on the front porch knocking them off. Actually if we set our five gallon buckets in the right place we wouldnt even have to pick up our shells.

This all being legal in the state of alabama.

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Sounds like fun to me, but I am not a purist. I will shoot a treed bird or one off the ground to. I like to eat 'em as much as I like to shoot 'em. If the dog were to get a hold of one, even better, just one I wouldn't have to shoot at.

I also like that they found a loop hole and went for it.

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