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Of doves, guns, memories and kids: Opening day at Jim Edgar Panther Creek SFWA

A different shotgun adds a twist to opening day of dove hunting at Jim Edgar Panther Creek SFWA.

Marinaded dove breast kabobs with homegrown organic peppers and cherry tomatoes presented on a bed of rice, served with fresh sweet corn.
Dale Bowman

CHANDLERVILLE, Ill.--I bought a VW bug, a deer rifle and a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun the summer I turned 18. The Mossberg served me for 44 years, but, as years mount, I’m switching to a 20-gauge shotgun, courtesy of my late father-in-law, for field hunting.

Sunday was my first hunt with it on opening day for dove season in Illinois.

I patterned it last week at 30 yards and 40 yards. I was stunned at the size of gaps in the pattern at 40 yards. Just a thought if you have never patterned your shotgun.

For the second year, I drew a permit for Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area. Thee 16,550-acre site in Cass County is traditionally the top public dove site in Illinois.

JEPC handles its draw as first-come, first-served beginning at 8 a.m. That should change next year with all sites going to an 11 a.m. draw for permitted hunters followed by the standby draw. That announcement drew a cheer from most of the crowd.

A thunderstorm slowed me, but saved me from getting poured on like those waited in line overnight (think old days waiting for baseball or concert tickets). I was a couple people behind Gabriel Hart of Pekin and his oldest child, Sarah, 8.

Gabriel Hart and his oldest child, Sarha, 8, wait in the line Sunday to register for opening day of dove hunting at Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area.
Dale Bowman

``This is my first time,’’ Sarah said.

``She wanted to tag along before,’’ her father said. ``Next I think we will try a deer stand or a goose hunting.’’

It touched me. Our daughter, Sara, was a few years older when she would join me in the deer stand when she was considering bowhunting.

I took an end flag in the back of Field 6, a good pick. Walking in, doves flew around the sunflower fields and nearby trees.

My first time shooting the 20-gauge seriously was appalling. But, after going through a box of shells, I settled into passable pass shooting. It was humbling to sit by two guys who limited out in the first three hours.

The final half hour (dove hunting ended at 5 p.m.) doves came across the treeline in waves, some speeding, some barrel-rolling and many swerving in or out.

Back at the parking lot after closing time, a lone dove sat on a wire across the gravel road.

It was time.

All in all, a memorable day: became comfortable with a different shotgun, shot enough doves to make kabobs Monday, saw cockbird and poult pheasants, watched a couple deer and caught a largemouth bass in the morning from Gridley Lake.

A sunflower field for doves at Jim Edgar Panther Creek SFWA, an hour before shooting time on opening day Sunday.
Dale Bowman

ILLINOIS HUNTING: Teal season opens Saturday. Maybe the cold snap this week will bring some.

WILD THINGS: I saw lots of giant dragonflies, at least some were darners, at JEPC. So many so big it was visually distracting.

STRAY CAST: Steve Stone is to a certain Sox fans what a fly fisher is to meat hounds.