If you build it, they will come.
If you build it right, they will keep coming back, the doves that are fair game in fall and winter and oh-so tasty.
That was proven after high noon on Nov. 3 with each and every karump, usually followed by an echo depending on the location, of shotguns booming, doves falling or escaping the Dove Field of Dreams. Sixty-three doves, 12 short of the limit for five dove hunters, went into the game bags that afternoon.
Loreauville’s Ronnie Dressel carved the ultimate dove hunting field out of a sugar cane field, a seven-acre area near his home in rural Iberia Parish. Dressel, who doesn’t hunt doves during the first split, his son, Mick, and three friends enjoyed the third weekend of the second split, the first outing of the 2019-20 season by the all-around outdoorsman who began hunting on the property as a boy with his father, Sylvester “Sylvest” Dressel.
“They called him ‘Dago.’ He showed me how to squirrel hunt and duck hunt,” Dressel said about one of the four sons born to Emile Dressel Sr., who farmed 200 acres of land and later divvied it up 50 acres per son. One of those sons worked the 50 acres to send three of his own sons to college.
“When I was a kid, those trees there and those trees there were connected. They ran all the way to the Northside Road and to the railroad track. Dad would take me there and we’d hunt squirrels, rabbits and everything,” he said.
Dressel also vividly remembered when he was growing up, the good ol’ days when hunting doves depended on the graciousness of landowners who granted permission. He and a handful of buddies would get in their vehicles and fan out across the parish to find doves, call each other and converge on the area with the most doves.
A lot of the time they’d find the watering holes that doves made a beeline to after eating, or destinations the doves would fly to roost for the night.
Times changed and fewer and fewer landowners welcomed dove hunters on the property. In fact, a recent statistic shows 95 percent of Louisiana’s land mass is private and behind locked gates.
Mr. Sylvest, Dressel’s father, surely would appreciate the modern approach to perpetuating a generations-old tradition. Dressel and his four dove hunting guests took advantage of his work on the field.
The dove field was laser-leveled earlier this year to eliminate seven ditches that collected as much as 2 inches of browntop millet seed after it was cut. Then Dressel chopped the ground and planted.
So many weeks later the browntop millet stood 4-feet and ready to be cut in mid-September. Dressel cut only a little more than half the field before the second split Oct. 12-Nov. 17 in the South Zone.
More and more local doves frequented the field to eat. When other migratory birds arrived, the local doves helped attract them.
Sunday’s dove hunt began at approximately 12:30 p.m., after Dressel’s Kawasaki Mule deposited each dove hunter, his gear and shotgun in a dove blind spaced approximately 35 to 45 yards apart.
From left to right facing the primary dove hunting field and line of dove decoys, half-a-dozen or so on the ground and a Mojo Voodoo Dove in front of each dove blind, were Ted Pellerin, Ronnie Dressell, Mick Dressell, Gondron and Richard Hazelwood. The property owner set up the dove blinds — circular fencing about 5 feet high and brushed — long before the dove hunt.
“I’ve got the time,” said the retired co-owner of Regional Fabricators at the Port of Iberia.
“We usually have seven or eight blinds all the way to the trees over there, see?” Dressell asked rhetorically before action got hot and heavy.
Another welcome guest was Piper, one-quarter Labrador Retriever, one-quarter Australian Shepherd and one-half American Staffordshire Terrier. Pellerin’s son had the smooth dove hunting retriever DNA tested as a birthday present for Pellerin, he said.
With their small profiles, seemingly warp speed and airborne acrobatics, doves are difficult to bring down. (Hunters shoot five shells for every dove they hit, according to one estimate.) They humble hunters who don’t touch their shotguns all summer and quickly expose any rustiness.
Doves demand instinctive shooting, as Sunday’s dove hunt showed. Lead a dove too long and the bird will dive, turn or jet upward, sending lead shot harmlessly into the sky.
Dressel said, “That’s what I like about dove hunting … always a different angle, coming this way, in back of you, you know?”
Eyes on the sky, head on a swivel. That was the practice by each dove hunter in his dove blind.
The first shot of the day was at 12:54 p.m. Four minutes later the first confirmed kill came on a shot by Pellerin, who let Piper out to retrieve the dove.
“Well, we got one down, buddy. All we need is 74 more,” Dressel said. “We haven’t shot them yet. They’re real calm.”
A minute or two later, two doves angled into a landing in front of him. He walked out of his blind, shotgun in hand.
“I’m going to go walking. I saw them land,” he said, crouching low as he entered the field.
The two doves flushed and he brought both of them down.
Gunfire was frequent up and down the line. The dove hunters would call out loud to each other to update whereabouts.
One of the sweetest shouts of the day came from Pellerin, who midway through the dove hunt while retrieving a downed dove in the middle of the field in front of his dove blind, fired three shots, then yelled, “Triple!” He killed three birds with those three shots.
“Oh, yeah, when the birds come in, I get excited,” Pellerin said later.
Pellerin, who started hunting at age 7 in his native St. Landry Parish, was the first to get his 15-bird limit.
“When you live in the country, I mean, you hunt,” said Pellerin, who moved to New Iberia 35 years ago because of its close proximity to the Wax Lake Outlet and Atchafalaya Basin.
“I can’t get out of the Basin,” he said with a smile.
There were lulls in the dove flyovers. All that was heard was the wind and birds in an otherwise silent setting on a cool day under clear blue skies.
“You see,” the elder Dressel said, pointing far across the field from the concealment of his dove blind, “they go rest in those trees. They’ll forget about the guns and go back to feed.”
Dressel and the others were waiting.
He said there’s a good chance he’ll hunt most weekends the rest of the season.