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Ken Perrotte’s Outdoors Column: Hunters get rolling, literally

MANY SPACIOUS farms across Virginia hosted traditional dove hunts the past two weekends. These events are typically part hot-barrel wingshooting action, part family-and-friends reunion.

Under sunny midday skies in Richmond County near Warsaw, Conservation Police Officer Frank Spuchesi gave shooting safety advice to a group of nearly 70 hunters relaxing in the shade of a barn at Sabine Hall Plantation last Friday.

This was no ordinary hunting party. These were members of the Virginia Wheelin’ Sportsmen, affiliated with the National Wild Turkey Federation, an organization that provides people with disabilities opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Many participants had traveled 100 miles or more to be part of this “Ultimate Dove Hunt.”

Asked about the daily limit, Spuchesi advised,

“Fifteen birds.” Robin Clark, NWTF state chapter president and a Wheelin’ Sportsman himself, jokingly chimed in: “And you’re allowed to bring 16 shells, which means you can miss one.”

With a hearty laugh, hunters began rolling to their preferred locations along the many acres of sunflowers and cut cornfields. Sabine Hall, a classic example of Georgian architecture, was built in 1735 close to the Rappahannock River and is surrounded by some 500 acres of fertile river bottomland and an equal amount of forest. It is both a Virginia and national historic landmark.

This hunt came about when Ford Becker, who owns a farm near Sabine Hall, hosted a deer hunt for the group, Clark explained. He approached Carter Wellford, one of the owners of Sabine Hall, with the suggestion.

To everyone’s delight, the hunt became a reality.

A DAY OF FIRSTS

For many hunters, it was a day of firsts. Among them were 11-year old Jack Hinson and his father, Paul. Jack is a fifth-grader at Robious Middle School in Chesterfield, and it was his first-ever hunt of any type.

Jack has spina bifida, a congenital condition where the neural tube that eventually becomes a baby’s brain and spinal cord and the tissues that enclose them fails to properly develop, resulting in often severe problems with the spinal cord and backbones. Jack wears “ankle-fit orthoses” or “AFOs” to improve his ability to walk.

Paul Hinson, a hunter since his teen years, explained that a friend of his saw the hunt advertised in the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Outdoor Report (dgif.virginia.gov) and encouraged them to look into it.

Jack was shooting a single-shot .410, and at the end of the afternoon he beamed a big smile and exclaimed that he had shot two birds, which the family’s English setter, Penny, happily retrieved.

Many hunters had wheelchairs with special attachments designed to carry their shotguns and gear. One hunter had a wheelchair with camouflaged wheel inserts.

Skipper Andrews, a quadriplegic from Dinwiddie, was also at his first Wheelin’ Sportsmen event. His wheelchair had a specially configured gun rest. Taking a shot from a rest at a standing deer is one thing; hitting a dove flying erratically at 40 miles per hour is another.

I watched Andrews diligently trying to position his vintage Remington Model 1100 with a 30-inch barrel and a fixed, full choke in a manner that would allow a shot to intercept the speedy birds. It is no insignificant feat. But perseverance pays, and a smiling Andrews shared, while chewing on the plastic tip of a cigar, that he taken his first dove ever on the hunt.

Ernie and Connie Easter of Virginia Beach were also dove hunt novices. “I got one! But I shot a box and half of shells,” he chuckled.

“The whole thing is getting out here and trying,” Connie retorted. “It’s not how many birds you get; it’s just getting out. I tried, darn it. My shoulder hurts,” she added, revealing a bruised left shoulder.

“That’s usually a sign it was a good day,” Clark chimed in.

Some hunters were crack shots, including Paul Shelton of southern Stafford County, who hunted with his cousin Skip Salyers. Shelton hunts from a wheelchair and is dialed in with a shotgun. One of the local guides helping with the hunt placed a decoy on a power line above Shelton, and the birds homed in. Shelton collected a limit with just 22 shots, remarkable for any dove hunter.

The event finished with a sumptuous pig roast, sponsored by William Washington and catered by Brian Oliff.

Clark plans to submit the event to NWTF headquarters for consideration of a national award. “We do so many events, and all are special, but it really means a lot to us, both hunters and hosts, to have an event as successful as this,” he said.

For more on the Wheelin’ Sportsmen, see vanwtf.com or facebook.com/VaWheein Sportsmen. Email Clark at weeeelz@aol.com.

EMOTIONAL OPENER

I hunted opening day with my grandson, Kenny, in Louisa County at Bobby Woolfolk’s annual family and friends hunt. This small hunt takes place at a farm he and his brother, Lanny, hunted for decades.

The hunt was bittersweet for everyone. An especially somber moment came as Bobby spoke before we headed to our locations in the field.

His voice cracked as he dedicated the hunt to Lanny, who died shortly after the September 2011 earthquake struck. Lanny’s ashes were scattered at the farm.

Birds flew early and everyone collected at least a few. Kenny, shooting a 20-gauge, took his first bird ever on his third shot of the day. He was sitting on a small folding stool Lanny had given him three years ago. The post-hunt chilled watermelon tasted especially sweet as the sun dipped into the western horizon.

Ken Perrotte can be reached at The Free Lance–Star, 616 Amelia Street, Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, by fax at 373-8455 or e–mail at outdoors@freelancestar.com.

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