Sporting Life

A Hunt to Remember

One of life’s seasons

“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” — Ecclesiastes 3, King James Version

By Tom Bryant

The first time I ran across this quote from the Bible, I thought some guy had stolen the words from my mother. It was one of her favorites.

A good example: When I was able to squeak by, grade-wise, and graduate from high school and was complaining one night at the supper table about not being able to play baseball or football for good old AHS, Mom said, “Son, there is a season for all things, and that season at Aberdeen High School has ended. But a completely new season is beginning for you at Brevard College. Remember what the dean said? If you make the grades and survive probation, maybe you can play baseball for them.”

The favorite quote from Mom came back to me the other evening as I was up in the Roost, a small apartment over our garage. I usually hang out there when I need to write a column or work on my novel. On this particular evening, I was sorting through some dove hunting equipment. I mean, after all, the season is upon us, and that’s the kind of season I like. Dove hunting season is never over or at least will never be over in my lifetime. What’s beyond that is anyone’s guess.

I ran across a small box in the corner of the closet where I store most of my hunting clothes. It was full of a bunch of Ducks Unlimited paraphernalia. At one time I was into that conservation club in a big way because, in the early days, if you were a duck hunter and worth your salt, you were a member of DU. For years I was a sponsor, not particularly because I was such a conservationist, although in reality I am, but primarily because of all the perks that went with the title.

In the beginning years of DU, the cost to be a sponsor in the Alamance County Chapter was two or three hundred dollars, not a trivial amount in those days. My partner and I had just started a small weekly newspaper and were working hard to make ends meet, but we had enough money to sponsor what we considered a noble cause. Also, we figured we would find some good stories by being part of the local chapter. And we surely did.

There was a huge competition between chapters across the state to raise the most money supporting habitat for waterfowl. Jim, my business partner, and I got caught in the middle. But we weren’t alone. Numerous hunters in our area spent countless hours, and some of the members spent big bucks, to make the Alamance Chapter fly.

They were a varied group. Richard Cockman, a furniture company representative, headed the local chapter DU board, along with Dick Coleman, a haberdasher and specialty clothing store owner. Other board members included Ronald and Jim Copland, owners and executive officers of Copland fabrics; Don and Steve Scott, owners and officers of their long-standing family textile company; and Nat Harris, an insurance executive with clients from all over the country. Nat still serves on the board of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Also on the board was Bennett Sapp, a clothing broker with one of the first outlets in the Burlington area; and last but not least, Ernie Koury, whose family was into a little of everything, from textiles to real estate holdings. The Ducks Unlimited leaders during those early days carried financial weight as well as a ton of business influence.

The banquets put together for the area sponsors were top of the line. Held at the Alamance Country Club, the event would begin with a cocktail hour. Koury, whose family members were big supporters of UNC-Chapel Hill, would recruit cheerleaders from the university to sell raffle tickets during the libation hour. And they sold a bunch. Items raffled during the banquet were acquired throughout the year from local merchants and were first class. Auction items were even better. Prizes included an oceanfront cottage for a week at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina; a goose hunt in Easton, Maryland; the DU gun of the year; and numerous quality art objects from paintings to sculptures to decoys. The top prize, though, was a puppy, either a bird dog or a Labrador retriever with champion lineage. These pups brought a lot of attention and dollars to the event.

Auction items generated “big bucks for the ducks,” but Jim and I usually stood back and watched. We did buy several raffle tickets and won items too numerous for me to remember.

Sponsors looked forward to the Ducks Unlimited banquet every year, but the greatest perk for me was the opening day dove hunt. I went on several DU dove hunts in those early years, but there is one that was an almost perfect weekend of sport shooting and camaraderie. All hunters have a particular hunt or experience that deserves a gold star in the hunting journal, and this weekend was one of those.

This was before the Weather Channel made a living by reporting one disaster after another and blaming it all on global warming. Growing up in the South, we expected hot weather at the beginning of dove season and looked forward to more of the same on this specific hunt. The Friday before opening day dawned with a hint of coolness in the air. I was up early that morning letting my puppy, Paddle, out of her kennel. The air was still and dry, with low humidity and only a smidgen of a breeze from the northwest. Dogwood leaves in the backyard, already turning a burnt orange color, also added to the false image of an early fall.

Paddle romped around the backyard, did her business and came charging back to me as if to say, “Come on, boss. Let’s go do something, like hunt birds.”

She was a small, young, yellow Lab and had added so much to my hunting experiences that every time I looked at her, I couldn’t help but smile. “No, girl,” I said to her, “we’ve got some doings to take care of before we can head to the fields.”

The doings I referred to was a cocktail party and pig picking that evening at the pool area of the country club. The pig picking had become a tradition for the DU folks the evening before the opening day shoot. It was put on by none other than the famous and popular Junior Teague, a farmer and county commissioner from the southern end of the county.

The next morning, though, all that was just a pleasant memory as I loaded up the old Bronco with guns, my 10-year-old son, Tommy, Paddle, and a cooler filled with plenty of water. We were ready to roll.

Our weather luck was still holding, low humidity with the same soft breeze from the northwest. The jumping off point was a local bank at the shopping center. We would meet the group there, then caravan to the cut cornfield where we would spend the afternoon dove hunting.

In those days, we were hunting the fields of then-Gov. Bob Scott, and what a hunt it was. Suffice it to say, the gold star in the hunting journal had another added to it. As I read the entry I made so many years ago, I recalled Mother and her seasons reflection. I added a thought of my own as a postscript to the note in the journal:

“Mom was right when she emphasized the quote from the Bible, ‘There is a season for all things.’ It’s been my fantastic luck during my lifetime that when one season ended for me, another began.” PS

Tom Bryant, a Southern Pines resident, is a lifelong outdoorsman and PineStraw’s Sporting Life columnist.

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