It's 4:45 a.m. and I'm driving across town to meet my son Mark and two grandsons before heading out for this year's dove opening day.
Hard to believe I have been doing this for 67 years. Most of the past few years I have not done any shooting...just filming, like today. But, I have a lot of great memories of very special hunts during all those times.
Many, many years ago Leroy Fontana and I were with a group out near Arvin. We walked together down the line facing an orchard. Leroy stopped, and set up his stool, and I continued on down for another 40 yards. This gave us the needed zone we each had to have for good shooting. Twenty yards to the right and 20 to the left.
Just as I sat down, I noticed movement to the right side of me, and a gentleman put his chair down no more than 15 yards away. I started to call him out about being in my space, but decided to have some fun instead.
I yelled out to Fontana, "Hey Leroy, what kind of gun did you say this was?"
He replied, "It's a Winchester pump action." I said, "O.K., thanks."
Two minutes later I yelled again, "How do I load it?"
Not sure how he knew what to say, but Leroy answered back, "I showed you how at the car, remember?"
It was about 10 minutes 'till shooting time, and the red sky was dawning over the Tehachapi Mountains to the east. I pointed the gun into the ground about five yards in front of me, dropped a .410 shell in and closed the action.
I then pulled the trigger. Boom!!
I hollered to Fontana, "Leroy..Leroy, it went off. It went off."
I glanced to my right just as the man who had been sitting there, quickly raised himself, grabbed his stool and bag, and headed off in the opposite direction.
I will admit that it was not one of my proudest moments, but at the time it served its purpose, and Leroy and I laughed about it for many years thereafter.
Easy to remember the most birds ever bagged during one shoot, and, it was not out in some farmland area of the county, but right in the city of Bakersfield. About 20 to 25 years ago, Steve Merlo and I noticed a lot of doves pouring into a grain field on the north side of the Kern River, just west of Coffee Road and south of Brimhall.
In those days, Coffee was just a two-lane avenue, and was far removed from the field. The owner of the property lived just up the road, and was happy to give us permission to hunt there, but he said it was located within the city.
At that time, a person could get a special permit from the city for hunting as long as you were far away from homes and roadways within certain limits. I was able to get the permit, and we had high expectations for the hunt because of the number of birds that were feeding there after flying out of the Stockdale Country Club area.
We both had large groups of hunters that year. Most of mine were skeet shooting friends from the Los Angeles area, and between Merlo and I the total was 25. The whole group strung out along the south side of the field, and it was just as we expected. Flock after flock.
About 30 minutes into the shoot, a Bakersfield police car came into the field. One of the group pointed me out, and the officer approached me. I showed him our permit, and he just said, "Have a good day Mr. Barnes," and drove off.
We bagged 25 limits by 8 o'clock....250 birds. Just awesome.
And, I'll always remember the fastest shoot ever. My son Steve and I were told by Steve Merlo to go to an old, abandoned corral just north of Hwy. 58 and east of Buttonwillow. We fired our first shot right at 6 a.m., which was about three minutes after legal shooting time. At 6:20 a.m. we were on Interstate 5 just north of Stockdale Hwy. heading home with two limits.
We had downed our 20 birds in just under five minutes! They were like bees swarming through the area. I will never forget it.
Back to present day. Made it to Mark's house just before 5 a.m., and he and the boys were waiting for me in his truck. We made an easy 45 minute drive to our duck pond near the Kern Wildlife Refuge.
You may recall a seven square mile prairie fire in this area this past spring. About 90 percent of the flora in this region was burned out. Nothing left but black ash on the ground and a few singed salt cedars. Mark came up the day before to scout the best area to hunt. He saw quite a few birds in the larger burned trees at the west end of our property, so we drove right to that spot.
The grandkids were really excited about being in the field, and quickly set up their stools to watch Mark do the shooting. It was just about what we expected with a bird or two flying by every three or four minutes.
There were a number of other hunters in the area far away from us and we heard a lot of shooting. Mark is an excellent field shot, so it took him less than an hour to bag his limit of 15 doves. I got some good video, and some great shots of the kids retrieving the birds.
I could not have had a better time. Sixty-seven years and counting. I pray that I will have enough years left to enjoy seeing the young boys bag their own birds in days to come. I'll keep you posted.