Elmodel – Chasing the Gray Speedsters

Elmodel – Chasing the Gray Speedsters

Even in the middle of a South Georgia summer 6:00 AM can be brisk— and it was. This was Labor Day; Robert and I were trying not to wake anyone as we shuffled out of the house. We were on our way to meet up with a new friend: Tim. Tim had reached out to me this past spring about hunting birds—a sport I’ve been close to, but never tried. My Grandfather was a great huntsman, and for much of my life, visiting Mama and Papa was punctuated with coolers full of surplus game from their freezer.  

Many Mourning Doves visited our feeders throughout the year.

Unsurprisingly, my siblings and I were fed a steady diet of wild game: from shrimp and deer to fish and pheasant, and everything in between. As we grew older, we were recruited into outings—mostly we harvested shrimp and crab, but there were occasional fishing and hunting opportunities. There are few memories I cherish more than the days with Papa, my Dad, and various siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles that ended with a “Catch of the Day” feast. My Mother never went—her childhood camping experiences had soured her on the whole of the outdoors.  

As I got older, our familial ties to the low country hunting plantation where my Great-Grandfather had served as assistant superintendent became increasingly tenuous. Eventually, the lack of hunting land was translated into a lack of interest in hunting, and that became the status-quo for most of my early adult life.  

The onset of middle adulthood can change how one thinks of their formative years—and how one works to preserve the memories harbored there. Hunting, for me, harkens back to fathers’ father, it calls back recollections of the area where my family immigrated. Places where my family name, Malphrus, is as common as others.  

On that brisk Labor Day morning I was carrying one of my Great Grandfather’s shotguns: an heirloom Papa left me—and I had no idea what I was getting into. We met Tim, piled into his truck, and started the journey to Elmodel Wildlife Management Area.  

Elmodel WMA is 1,600-acres of fields and forests found west of Newton, Georgia off highway 37. The property straddles Chickasawhatchee Creek from its northern border off highway 32 and county road 213 to where it meets the Ichawaynochaway Creek. A lot of the property is open fields and about half of those are prepared for dove season each year with wheat grass or sunflower.  

We drove through Elmodel Unincorporated, turned onto county road 213, and then onto the gravel road that took us into the western side of the property. The road wound through slash pines and wildlife openings full of wildflowers before reaching the western dove fields where we saw the first signs of competition—pickup trucks lined the road near the entrances to the first dove fields. Our truck slowed down as Tim craned his neck to look for open positions. “That’s ok, there are more fields further back,” Tim said.    

We followed the road deeper, past twilighted oaks and fields of wildflowers. Another cluster of trucks marked the second and third dove fields just before we veered left through a fork. The further we went, the more competitors we counted—this was opening weekend, after all. After some grumbling and a U-turn, we pulled off the road and marched into the only irrigated dove field in Georgia’s extensive network of Wildlife Management Areas.  

Up until that moment, my experience with dove hunting was limited to hunting stories and tall tales passed on by friends and family—and the brief verbal tutorial I had gotten from my dad a few days prior. Robert was in a similar boat. The ride had given Tim time to reinforce the little we knew about the sport: Hunters should be spread out in and around the field, doves will come into the field to feed or cross the field to reach water, you shoot them in the air—above the horizon, and you must lead the target.  

Much of this is cut ant dry—but as we took our position in the middle of the field, Robert and I felt a sting of unease. Firing at a bird that is between me and a competing hunter would break the primary rule of firearm safety—don’t point a loaded weapon at another hunter. My father and Tim had assured us that this was common practice during a dove hunt. I still found myself uneasy as we marched into the field, took up a position, and waited.  

The bird broke over the tree line to the west, hunters throughout the field called “bird,” and those with better positions were first to fire! Every missed attack adjusted the direction of the gray speedster. It zig-zagged from hunter to hunter and eventually turned our way. I saw the bird flying my way but hesitated—there were hunters beneath my line of fire.  

A primary feature of Elmodel is its extensive network of wildlife openings and dove fields. Both make an ideal feeding ground for butterflies, like this Roxanne (Gulf Fritillary).

They didn’t hesitate, and I heard the rain of birdshot fall short of us. The sound was reassuring in a way—it proved that, in this situation, range was the deciding factor. The bird adjusted course and gave us another pass, I fired, Tim fired—but the bird flew on. The morning became a whirlwind of shouts, gunshots, and gray birds speeding through the air.  

The constant sound of falling birdshot was a little unnerving at times, but it didn’t take away from what was generally a good time—even if we didn’t claim any birds of our own. We gathered our spent cartridges and returned to the truck to head home. Our discussion on the way home centered on how many hunters were out and other possible locations or times to attempt.  

Over the month of September several more attempts were made, both at Elmodel and on private lands we could gain access to. On several occasions Rebecca and I would afternoon at Elmodel—I would spend dusk contemplating the field before me while she fished for bream and bass near the small bridge that joins the property over the Chickasawhatchee.  

The bridge is closed to vehicles and has tall dirt berms at either end, meaning that access to the property is split between Jericho Road and county Road 213. The bridge makes for a cozy fishing spot along the sleepy creek. She had good luck with bream, but a larger bass broke her line—or so she says. Despite the lack of competing hunters, our luck remained roughly the same. The experiences we had were enlightening—and several of us are looking forward to trying again soon. The November mini season is right around the corner, and the winter season will be upon us before we know it.  

-JCM

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