Hunting the mourning dove

The Green River Game Lands

The story was updated December 2, 2013 with a multimedia at the end of the story.

The sun had shifted from directly above to directly over the trees on the opposite side of the blown down corn field, leaving no space for shade except the slat right behind the trees we were standing under. We had to stand under the trees on the edge of the woods for camouflage. Our short-sleeved camouflaged t-shirts became sweaters in the mid-afternoon September heat. Gray decoys perched on the ground and on broken corn stalks, feigning food and safety. The Mojo Voodoo Dove Decoy’s wings flapped restlessly in stationary flight. Suddenly, a gray mass arose from the line of treetops on our left and flew towards us in synchronized disarray. Individual mourning doves swarmed and dove towards the decoys, frightened out of their safe havens by some unknown interruption, and Matt Bodenhamer and Zack Davis
raised their shotguns.

Matt Bodenhamer and Zack Davis carry their shotguns and decoys to a better location

My first dove hunt began on a hot September afternoon in the Green River Game Lands of Henderson and Polk counties. The Green River Game Lands are over 10,000 acres of forest set aside for management and conservation of the wildlife in the Green River Gorge. Hunting, fishing, and trapping are allowed on the game lands, as well as hiking, at risk to the hiker during hunting season.

“The section of the Green River Game Lands that we hunted has got to be one of the most beautiful places in all of Polk and Henderson counties. It has one awesome panoramic view of an old homestead farm and mountains surrounding it. You couldn’t ask for a better habitat for doves,” said Zack Davis, an NC State Fish and Wildlife major and dove hunting companion.

Matt and Zack attend NC State University as Fish and Wildlife majors and have both dove hunted for a while now. For both men, dove hunting originated from a love of hunting in general. For Matt, it started in a cut soybean field with a couple of friends, a couple of shotguns, no decoys and no idea how to hunt them. When a few flew overhead, he shot two, and from then on was inspired to learn about their habits, how to harvest them and how to sustain a better population of mourning doves. For Zack, it began in high school when his agriculture teachers, who were avid dove hunters, took him for the first time.

“I didn’t get to shoot a dove that day, but I did get to shoot at some, which got me hooked, and since then I’ve been going several times a year. I fully intend to continue dove hunting and make it a tradition for my kids,” Zack said.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2013 “Mourning Dove Population Status Report”, mourning doves are one of the most abundant bird species of North America. The migratory birds are managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and annual hunting regulations are made according to results of population assessments throughout the year. In the past two years, North Carolina has had the highest annual count of mourning doves. The most recent absolute abundance estimates concluded that there were 349 million mourning doves in the United States in the 2012 preseason and the numbers continue to rise. Mourning doves are abundant in southern Canada, throughout the United States into Mexico, Bermuda, the Bahamas and Greater Antilles, and in scattered locations in Central America.

The blown over corn and millet fields, surrounded by trees and forest, provide an ample habitat for mourning dove. According to an article, “Mourning Doves”, by Dan Hicks, doves are attracted to many different seeds and grains such as sunflowers, millet, grain sorghum, corn, buckwheat and sesame. For hunters looking to hunt the mourning doves, they should seek out a large, open field with structures such as trees or power lines, as doves like to perch and loaf around ideal areas.

Fallen corn fields make great habitat for mourning doves

The Green River Game Lands make for a perfect habitat for the mourning doves that we were hunting.

“It was the first time that I have ever been on the Green River Game Lands. The NC Wildlife Commission has worked tremendously hard on this land to manage it correctly and supply the general public with not only a breathtaking landscape, but a land full of hunting opportunities. We walked over a mile and crossed a small creek where most people are not willing to travel. The gently sloping land was filled with patches of corn, millet, and pokeberry,” explained Matt Bodenhamer.

Several times during our hunting trip, one or the other of us would take out from the cover of trees and walk around the field in order to find where the birds were perching when they weren’t flying. I walked with Zack on the first of these excursions. We kept our eyes peeled for lone doves diving from treetops and, sure enough, they had moved to the opposite end of the field. He put his hand out to stop me from walking any further and we moved towards the edge of the trees where they were perched and waited. Two doves flew out from their safe haven and Zack raised his shotgun to his shoulder, took aim at one of the birds, and shot. The bird tucked away back into the safety of the trees, unharmed, but it wasn’t long before we heard several shots ring out over the hill.

The only gun allowed to be used to kill doves is a shotgun that holds no more than three shells. A shotgun allows the hunter to have a broader range of shot and better chance of getting a bird as the doves are quick and fly in sporadic patterns.

“Where a rifle shoots a single projectile round at a designated target, a shotgun shoots many different small bead-like projectiles known as shot. Shot is contained in a shell that consists of the powder wadding and the shot,” Matt explained.

We crested the hill and found Matt in amongst the trees again, with a few doves at the trunk of the tree. The sound of Zack’s shot had spooked the doves on the edge of the corn field out of the treetops and Matt was able to bring a few down in their frenzy. The doves fly from the treetops towards the decoys because the dove decoys make the birds think there is a food source and that it is a safe place for them to land.

The Mojo Voodoo Dove Decoy tricks the doves into thinking there is a safe food source

For Zack, the most exhilarating part of dove hunting is the natural instinct he feels.

“When the doves are almost in range there is that moment of anticipation, you’re raising your gun to get the bird in your sights all the while your mind is focused on the shot. For that brief moment you don’t think, you simply let your instincts follow the bird and when it’s in range you pull the trigger. That’s the exhilarating part, being able to do something without even thinking, like its second nature.”

By the end of the day, we walked away with six doves.

According to the US Humane Society’s website, mourning doves are a “farmer’s friend” bird and should not be hunted.

“[Doves] are too small to provide any sustenance, they don’t cause any problems, they’re not overpopulated. These birds don’t cause car accidents, they don’t knock over your trashcans, they don’t spread diseases. These are gentle, inoffensive, backyard songbirds and they should not be treated as game,” said Michael Markarian of the US Humane Society in a Youtube video on the society’s website.

However, according to the Fish and Wildlife service, hunting mourning doves is a healthy way to keep the population maintained. All of the doves that Matt and Zack shot were made into dinner that same night, as well. Dove breasts are small, but can make a substantive meal with quantity and the right seasoning. Dove mean is dark and delicate and made a delicious post-hunt meal.

“The best way to clean a dove is by breaking off both wings and pinching the lower end of the breast plate. There is a gap between the breast and the anus where the skin can be pinched. Grip it tightly and pull the skin towards the head. This will sever the skin and feathers. Gently push on both sides of the breast and the skin and feathers will slide off. After the feather removal, push your thumb underneath the breast plate and lift up,” Matt explained.

Matt cooked the doves he shot and we had them for dinner

Both men had similar ways to cook the meat as well, of their own creation, both involving the breasts being wrapped in bacon. Zack prefers to season his dove meat simply with salt and pepper, while Matt enjoys marinating his.

“Some argue that mourning doves are the most succulent bird meat of the game species in NC. Their meat is extremely tender which allows it to soak up marinades well. My favorite recipe is marinated dove breast wrapped in hickory smoked bacon. It is as simple as it sounds. Simply put your dove breasts in a bag and marinade them with your favorite marinade for an hour. Wrap the bacon around the breast and use toothpicks to hold it in to place. Cook it slowly on the grill and that is all that you have to do. My favorite marinade is Allegro original,” Matt explained.

I had never tasted dove before this hunt and, having raised a mourning dove that had fallen out of a nest some years before this, was a little hesitant. Wrapped in bacon, however, it didn’t look so much like the bird I had raised as a pet. As I took my first bite of the succulent meat, I was surprised at the lack of gamey taste I have experienced in the meat of other wild animals such as deer. The breast is approximately the size of a chicken nugget yet laden with rich meat, nonetheless. Because the breasts are so small, they drank in the marinade and were dripping with flavor. Paired with the bacon, green beans, cornbread, mashed potatoes and sweet tea, the dove made for a mouthwatering country dinner that I could look forward to every dove season.

For the 2013 dove hunting season, hunters are only allowed to have 15 doves per day in their individual possession and 45 doves per group. Doves are a migratory bird and, therefore, are protected and managed by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and the dove season dates are determined by mating season. The NC Wildlife Resources Commission conducts studies each year to ensure that doves are not being harvested during mating seasons. The 2013 dove hunting season dates, according to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission Website, are September 5 through October 5, November 25 through 30 and December 13 through January 11.

The video below displays graphic images of doves being cleaned and prepared for cooking:

A thrill of a ride

Photo c/o Brian Thrill fan page

“It’s the most addictive drug on the planet. You can’t just quit.”

Brian Arrowood is an addict. In just five years, he has sacrificed family events, holidays, birthdays, relationships, and job opportunities to get his fix. He routinely risks life and limb just to get his high.

“It’s that adrenaline rush man, it’s always something different every time.”

Brian is a professional wrestler.

Despite the blood, the pain, and the struggles, he wouldn’t change a thing. If you were to ask him, Brian would tell you that working as a professional wrestler is the best thing he’s ever done in his life. “Everyone says it’s about that emotional roller coaster ride you take the fans on, but what no one is saying, is it’s about the roller coaster ride you are on.”

A Southern boy from a tight Irish family, Brian grew up with wrestling. His mother, who worked in the business before he was born, would tell him stories of traveling the United States and performing in –front of fans, making money and spending time with her friends. His father, who follows Brian to his shows today, would sit down with him every week to watch World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and then named World Wrestling Federation (WWF). These childhood memories would ultimately drive Brian to enter the ring himself.

I first met Brian in high school. We had class together, but never spoke to one another; I’d wager that he probably didn’t know I existed. Brian, a natural showman, was more comfortable in front of a crowd than behind a desk, was commonly found trying to find some way to make other students laugh with his antics. By the time our senior year rolled around, it was not uncommon to hear people clapping for him every time he entered a room.

The first time I had ever spoke to Brian was in 2008, over a year after we had graduated. I happened to bump into him at a local electronics store, and he offered me a spot playing bass in a band he was trying to create.

After several months of failing to get the band off the ground, Brian and I decided to scrap the project and move on to something else.

When he couldn’t find anything else he wanted to do, Brian turned to wrestling, but he didn’t to go into the business solo, so he called me. “I was like, ‘he’s probably going to laugh at me and call me a queer’ but why not?”With some reluctance, I agreed, and before I knew it, we were in an 18 x 18 ring, taking bumps and bouncing off the ropes, training to be professional wrestlers.

We made our in-ring debut on July 4th, 2009 in an over the top battle royal, and every Saturday night for the remainder of that year, Arrowood and I worked at APW as “Brian Thrill” and “Dustin Ride” and together we were the tag team “Thrill Ride.”

By the winter of 2009 Brian was working three shows a week all over North and South Carolina, while I was home nursing an injured ankle.

In 2010, he hit the road with a group of wrestlers he had met the previous year and began traveling all over the Southeast for the better part of the year.

“I’ve slept on so many promoters couches and in their floors it’s not even funny.”

Brian’s hard work earned him an invite to Mexico, where he worked an trained for a month.

By 2012, Brian was working four to six shows a week, often in different state. In December of 2012, after nearly five straight years of non-stop traveling, he finally decided to take a break. He traded his championship gold in for a wedding ring, and has been out of action since. He is currently working as a welder in his dads auto repair shop.

Brian admits that he can’t stay away from wrestling forever. While he doesn’t plan to travel as much, Brian will be performing across North and South Carolina through the Spring and Summer of 2013. He also hopes to open his own promotion within the next year.

Tax season brings class war mentality to WNC, translates to moral war between citizens

photo by Randy Conn

Lower income individuals and families in WNC are receiving more of a tax return this year than last year as President Obama’s plan to pull the middle class out from below the poverty line begins to take shape.

The U.S. Census Bureau released data in 2011 that stated nearly one out of every five mountain residents lived in poverty in 2010 throughout more than half of the regions 17 counties. The Community Table, a non-profit organization that serves free meals to people and families here in Jackson County, confirms that 15.1 percent of county residents live below poverty level as of 2010.

But as the lingering National Debt continues to loom, some Americans believe that there are too many Americans abusing the nation’s welfare system while the wealthier are “paying the tab” as they are taxed at a higher rate than the lower earning people.

John Stephens, a tax paying young American who has collected unemployment in the past, believes that Americans should keep what they earn and force a rising working class to make tougher decisions when they approach their own income.

“Taxing the wealthier more puts more money into welfare,” Stephens said, “and most of the Americans on welfare are good and able-bodied workers who COULD go out and get their own job and WORK, but by separating that tax bracket between the upper-class and middle-class, it enables those same able-bodied people to continue to draw welfare while the working taxpayers are paying for that to happen.”

Jesse Cochran works in the family-owned Nick & Nate’s restaurant in Sylva and likes that he will be getting more money on his returns this year than last year.

“Good. I like getting more money for what I work for,” Cochran added. Cochran feels the extra payout is something he has earned. When asked what he was going to do with his extra money he replied, “buy stuff I want.”

Amber Thomas is a mother of a one-year-old, a fairly newlywed, and on top of that a teacher.  Amber and her husband Justin have also received more returns this year than last. Although appreciative, Thomas knows where her extra cash will be going.

“It’s all gotta go to bills,” replied Thomas.

Thomas is also all too familiar with the other side of the system. Amber’s younger sister was a drug addict and was abusing the welfare system while living with her parents as they raised her two children.

“It’s just aggravating to know that while I’m out busting my hump to have something, she is just sitting there on her [big] butt with her hand out, and people keep putting money in it,” Thomas reacted.

Her sister has since enrolled in a rehab program, but for a long time, Thomas could not understand how so many people could be so willing to help those who are not interested in helping themselves.

Seth Roland recalls members of his own family bragging about how much they receive in food stamps and would even sell their stamps for money so that they can buy drugs.

“The rule they basically had,” Roland shares, “was that whatever you would pay a person in cash, you would get that in double the food stamps.”

Thomas wonders what would happen if the benefits for her sister and people like her who are abusing the system were taken away, if just for a month, because most people don’t know what they have until it’s gone. Would it be a life lesson learned?

President Obama proposed his top five solutions to cut poverty in the United States during his State of the Union. The president plans to:

photo courtesy of

1)Create Good Jobs.

2)Raise wages. Specifically minimum wage to $9 an hour

3)Train next generation of workers.

4) Invest in children, specifically early education.

5) Strengthen families. The president has proposed an end to financial penalties for marriage in public policies as well as calling for the Violence Against Women Act, which ensures more women are able to benefit from services and reforms to flee abusive relationships.

A more detailed synopsis of President Obama’s points is available here.

The following is data according to the 2010 Census Data that shows counties in WNC’s population, per ca pita income, high school completion rate, and bachelor’s degree rate. 2010 Census Data of WNC. 

Republican control of North Carolina is scary for many

This election cycle was very successful for Republicans in North Carolina unlike the one on the national level. Starting in 2013,  North Carolina GOP will have control over all three branches of the government, which has never happened before, and some people are not very optimistic.

“Well I believe most people are just happy the negative campaign ads are off the airwaves,” said Democratic Political Operative Justin Conley. “What I think we’re going to see is further cuts to public education from the NC General Assembly.  With the three years of budget cuts now amounting to nearly $700 million, local county governments are left with unfunded mandates with little room to work.  The NC General Assembly has forced counties through the revision process to make these layoffs.  In rural areas like Western North Carolina, where funding these positions comes mainly from the state and federal government, these cuts are going to negatively impact already hurting schools operating at the bare minimum.  It’s not a plan for success.”

Topics such as Medicaid and Medicare, education, and unemployment rates will be the issues to watch in the coming years.

“On the local level I don’t really take advantage of what the old folks get and all the federal programs,” said 85-year-old Angela McGregor from Bryson City, N.C. “But I think that a lot of people will be very negatively impacted by the state being Republican.”

McGregor also says that she believes the middle to lower class will suffer.

“I think they’ll be cutting all kinds of programs. They’ll be cutting programs for kids, cutting programs for the disabled, cutting programs for people who are on Medicaid, and cutting a lot of social service programs.”

Associate Professor of Politics and History at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C., Dr. J. Michael Blitzer, said he expects to see a major push to the right.

“We’re going to see problems come up that we haven’t even thought of,” said Blitzer. Voter ID will get pasted, social concerns like abortion will be brought up and there will be significant conservative change.”

He also says that all the new and inexperienced representatives will be interesting to watch.

“Having so many new freshmen will effect [state government]. They will have to learn how to do it and how they will play with each other.”

Only time will tell what the newly elected state and local officials will do for North Carolina. After an election full of negative ads that were created to tear down each other’s opponents and living in an area that often gets overlooked, apprehension is the feeling of most Western North Carolina residents when it comes to their local and state government.

Election watch party a big success

By: Ariel Rymer & Kane Rowell

Faculty and students watching election results. Photo courtesy of WCU Political Science Department.

The election watch party held at the Cat’s Den hosted by the Department of Political Science and Public Affairs received a bigger turn out than expected.

The party included live coverage of the election broadcasted on big screens, political bingo, political family feud, prizes, snacks and drinks.

In the crowd were mix of undergraduate and graduate students along with faculties. In between the TV screens and the games, students and staff debated the results and were constantly refreshing their social media pages.

When students were asked why they were engaged in the election process answers varied.

Jared Gant, a 21-year-old WCU student, said that “the importance of the decision made will influence legislation for many years to come.”

Derald Dryman, a registered Independent, said that Obama’s consistency was crucial for his decision.
“The social issues surrounding this election were important to me. I like Obama because he didn’t flip-flop on these issues like Romney did,” said Dryman. [Read more...]

Election season in North Carolina

Todd Collins, Director of WCU's Public Policy Institute. Photo by Ben Haines.

The 2012 election season is in full swing between incumbent President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

With just over a month until Election Day on Nov. 6, polls across the nation have shown a consistently tight race between the two candidates. Both campaigns have raised hundreds of millions of dollars in donations, much of which has been spent on a cavalcade of media advertising.

North Carolina is widely regarded as a swing state in this election. While polling shows many states favoring one presidential candidate over the other, swing states are the handful that remain up in the air until Election Day.

North Carolina’s 15 electoral college votes went to Obama in 2008, the first time since the 1976 election that the state backed a Democrat for president.

Todd Collins, associate professor of political science and the director of WCU’s Public Policy Institute, indicated that North Carolina is not as crucial a swing state as some others in this election.

“If you look at how Obama won in 2008, North Carolina was a part of it, but we weren’t like Florida in 2000,” said Collins. “I think either candidate could win without winning North Carolina, but it would obviously help.”

With this election being so closely contested, neither presidential campaign is neglecting the Tar Heel State.

Hoping to repeat Obama’s North Carolina success in 2012, the Democratic National Convention came to Charlotte earlier this month. The day before the convention, Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, led a victory rally on the campus of East Carolina University in Greenville.

Collins explained that the winner-take-all nature of electoral college votes fails to reflect how close elections typically are in North Carolina compared to other Southern states.

“When you look at a map of who wins or who loses, you’re either considered all red or all blue,” Collins said. “If you want to see how competitive those states are, you really need to look at things like the percentage of the vote that each candidate gets.”

Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina was narrow, by a margin of less than one percent. He received 2,123,390 votes in the state compared to 2,109,698 for Republican John McCain, and 25,419 for Libertarian Bob Barr.

A lack of enthusiasm could impact Obama’s Democratic Party base turnout this November. When North Carolina voters nominated their parties’ presidential candidates in the May 8 primary, 20 percent of registered Democrats selected ‘no preference’ rather than nominating the incumbent president.

“That’s kind of a sign,” said Collins, “when people in your own party are checking ‘no preference’ rather than voting for you when you’re basically assured the nomination.”

The impact of redistricting

Every ten years, the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a new census of the national population in accordance with the Constitution.  The results are used to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives based on individual state populations.

States are divided into congressional districts, each served by one representative. The decennial process of drawing district lines based on new population numbers, known as redistricting, is conducted in many states by the state legislatures, including in North Carolina.

In the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans gained majority control of both houses in the North Carolina General Assembly for the first time since 1898, putting them in charge of redrawing the state’s congressional districts for the new decade.

“For the first time, we had Republicans controlling the North Carolina legislature,” Collins explained, “so we had Republicans drawing the lines in ways that would help incumbent Republicans and other Republicans that are running for office.”

WCU is located in North Carolina’s westernmost 11th District, represented since 2007 by Heath Shuler, a member of the Democratic Party’s Blue Dog Coalition of self-identified moderates.

The 11th District has historically been very competitive for congressional candidates due to the contrasting political demographics of Western North Carolina, particularly between densely populated Asheville and the neighboring rural communities.

However, after redistricting, that might change. The 10th District now extends west into Buncombe County, encompassing most of Asheville and leaving the 11th District largely conservative.

Collins points out that politically conscious redistricting, though controversial, is both legal and traditional.

“The Supreme Court has even said that parties are allowed to draw based on incumbency and they can think about partisanship because it is a partisan process,” explained Collins, “and if you’re a Republican, you’re saying ‘well this is just what the Democrats have been doing for the last hundred years.’”

Rep. Shuler declined to run for reelection in the redefined 11th District.  Hayden Rogers, Shuler’s longtime chief of staff, secured the Democratic nomination for 11th District representative over fellow candidates Cecil Bothwell and Tom Hill in the May primary.

Mark Meadows technically won the 11th District Republican race in May with 37 percent of the vote, but the fact that no candidate secured at least 40 percent required a runoff election between Meadows and runner-up Vance Patterson.  Meadows won that July 17 contest with over three-quarters of the vote.

Rogers and Meadows have publicly debated twice this month, in Franklin and Brevard.  Collins is trying to organize a debate between the two congressional candidates at WCU.

“I think it’s important to have one here on campus so that voters in Jackson County can see what the differences are between them,” Collins said.

With both political parties aiming to increase their presence on Capitol Hill this election season, the contest between Meadows and Rogers is sure to be one of the most closely watched in the state.


Related stories:
Touchscreen voting: the good, the bad, and the ugly
Amendment One passes, Jackson County no longer dry
C-SPAN Campaign 2012 Bus visits WCU

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