Ben Artemenko shoots at a mourning dove while his brother, Sam and grandfather, Allen Rippy Sr. watch at The Mill Pond Hunting Club. While Ben was shooting, Rippy was coaching and Sam was retrieving doves that fell. [Photo Credit: Mike Marsh/For The StarNews]
Wingshooters gathered at The Mill Pond Hunting Club, milling around on the porch to get out of the rain. Located near Whiteville in Columbus County, the club is steeped in history, with organized hunts dating to the 1920s. The club has an early-20th century camp house and a “big house.”
“We are going to wait until this thunderstorm passes,” said Will Canady, one of the club’s caretakers. “You never know what the weatherman will call for on opening day of dove season.”
This year the season began this past Saturday. Even the calendar can play tricks with dove hunting. Since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the season cannot begin before Sept. 1, it sometimes opens Labor Day Monday, rather than the first Saturday in September.
“I remember opening days when it was so hot you could hardly stand it in the sun,” said Vinson Bowers. “I don’t mind waiting for a break in the weather, as long as I get to shoot my gun a few times.”
Bowers’ father built the big house in 1957-58 and moved his family in when Bowers was 10. He grew up with the 68-acre millpond as his backyard and wrote a book about the lake and surrounding area’s history (The Mill Pond – A Southern Legacy, call 252-670-4733 for ordering information).
Now, about two dozen hunters were staring out the cathedral-like windows at the raindrops disrupting the surface of the normally placid lake.
Canady and Richard Edwards, whose family now owns the clubhouse, big house, lake and surrounding property, prepare for hunting season all year long. Canady was greeting the hunters along with Rick Edwards, Richards’ father, who doesn’t hunt, but enjoys the camaraderie.
“I am more of a golfer,” Rick Edwards said. “But, I enjoy seeing family and friends get together. We will have a hunt, break for some cheeseburgers from Ward’s Grill in Whiteville, then head back to the field about 3 p.m.”
The rain ceased, leaving the fields soggy. Canady tried to drive across one field, but mired his ATV until he nearly could not extricate it.
He passed Allen Rippy Sr., who was hunting with two grandsons, Sam Artemenko, age 6 and Ben Artemenko, age 9. Ben was shooting a 20-gauge Remington 870 youth model pump action shotgun. Sam was retrieving doves.
“Ben shot his first dove this morning,” Rippy said. “Both of them were acting as retrievers for hunters in past seasons and now Sam is doing the retrieving while Ben shoots.”
“I shot three doves, so far,” Ben said. “I have shot six times.”
Rippy had no shotgun, but was watching carefully to make sure Ben’s shotgun and Sam’s Daisy BB gun were pointed in safe directions.
“I started hunting with my grandfather when I was 9,” Rippy said. “He taught me everything about hunting. We hunted in Georgia and the first thing I killed was a red fox squirrel. I started hunting doves when I was 11 and now I mostly hunt doves and quail. I don’t have my gun today because I am teaching them all the safety rules, just like my grandfather showed me. I don’t want to have the distraction of shooting and I will have more fun watching them, anyway.”
“We planted about 16 acres of sunflowers and corn this year,” Richard Edwards said. “We put up an electric fence to keep out the deer, but they always seem to find their way over it, under it or around it, so they ate up some of the sunflowers. There aren’t as many doves as most years, probably because of all the bad weather over the summer which can result in a poor hatch. But, everybody seems to be having fun and that’s what opening day is all about.”
Visit starnewsonline.com to view the full article written by Mike Marsh.