With the combine eating corn stalks six rows at a time on Gulf Farms near Orrville, Ala., I had a flashback of a long past hunt that will forever be etched in my memory.
When I was 12 or 13, my late father and some friends headed to a corn field for a dove hunt. I’d never seen that many mourning doves in one place in my life. I don’t think I’ve seen that many since.
By the end of the hunt, my buddy, Danny Bland, and I ended up with some severely sore shoulders and a lifetime memory.
When Mike Eubanks and I drove around the farm last weekend to check out the number of birds before the opening-day hunt, the farmers who had leased the land were busy harvesting the crop. Huge carts were filled with the yellow grain that has become a go-to crop for farmers because of the demand for both food and ethanol production.
As with any grain-farming operation, there is waste grain that hits the ground, and all sorts of critters are quick to take advantage, especially doves.
With no cold fronts to move birds about, the farm had plenty of doves and the 60 or so hunters took advantage. Except for having to clean up one area where the grain cart had spilled corn, Eubanks was much more at ease for this year’s hunt with the updated planting guidelines issued by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
Those new guidelines did away with the zone planting recommendations for the state and simplified the procedure greatly. The new recommendations set the acceptable dates for top-sowing wheat as Aug. 1 through Nov. 30.
“I think it’s great,” Eubanks said of the updated guidelines. “It’s already made a difference to be able to plant on Aug. 1. I think it’s going to get folks who weren’t hunting because they were so scared about the regulations and nervous about it. I think it’s going to get folks back in the woods. It’s going to get young people back in the woods.
“We’ve already seen the effect with our hunt this year. People are feeling a lot better about it. We started planting our wheat on Aug.1, and we hunted over it on opening day. This makes it so much easier. We were so concerned for years about the interpretation of the rules.
Knows the rules
“Now we know what we can do. As long as we stick with that, we’re in good shape.”
Just like when I was a youngster, the doves flocked to the harvested corn and planted wheat. Although he wasn’t the oldest by a couple of years, Lamar Harrison, Eubanks’ father-in-law, was among the elder faction in the field.
Meanwhile, plenty of fathers with their sons and daughters got a chance to shoot doves or, at least, deplete the ammunition on hand, which reminded me of those cherished days afield with my father.
At the hunt was a young dad on a mission, although his young daughters were back home in Columbus, Miss. Kevin Drewry, a native of Pickens County, had been a waterfowl hunting guide at Mallard Manor in the Mississippi Delta for more than six years when he was called to a new, life-changing vocation.
Drewry is now the Southeastern Regional Missionary for Fathers in the Field, a mission started by John Smithbaker, former CEO of the Brunton Outdoor Group, which specializes in optics and equipment for outdoors adventures.
Despite his success with Brunton, Drewry said Smithbaker had a hard time dealing with his past. “John was basically fatherless,” Drewry said.
“In fact, his father wanted his mother to abort him. He carried around a deep, soulful wound. He didn’t turn to drugs and alcohol, where that many fatherless kids end up.
“John strove for excellence. He thought if he achieved this or that his father would love him and desire to be with him.
“He carried that around for a long time. About 14 years ago, he forgave his earthly father and was inspired to start a program designed to get outdoorsmen involved in an intentional effort to mentor fatherless boys, which became ‘Fathers in the Field.’”
The program goes through local churches, where prospective mentors are required to undergo a national background check and have the local pastor’s approval, as well as the backing of another person in the community.
“There is an intentional effort each month with a particular child to have four meetings a month,” Drewry said. “The commitment is for three years. The monthly commitment consists of church at least twice a month. Then one time a month, they go and serve a widow in the church or community. It demonstrates to him how to care for widows and serve others. It helps them look outside of their circumstances of hurt and pain and into the lives of others.
“The fourth part is the mentor carries the child on a fun activity. It might be hunting, fishing or shooting bows in the backyard. It may be golfing or biking or hiking. At the end of that meeting, they go over a Bible curriculum.
A special trip
“At the end of the year, they go on a special trip, something the mentor father loves to do and can impart wisdom to the boy.”
Drewry and his wife have made a commitment to an 11-year-old named Evan, whose father is not involved in his life. “Evan and I are going on a fishing trip in the spring with other mentor fathers and kids,” Drewry said.
“It’s something that boy can look forward to all year. Of course, we talk about it each month. To sum this ministry in a few sentences, it’s an intentional effort to address the wound of fatherlessness — when a father leaves — through a relationship with Jesus Christ. We are an unapologetic Christian ministry.”
Drewry knows there are other mentoring programs and programs to get kids in the outdoors, but he’s concerned the interaction doesn’t go deep enough.
“We encourage others not to have a drive-by mentoring approach,” he said. “We hope they will truly engage that particular child. It’s all about one child at a time, and really make a difference in that boy’s life.”
“Fathers in the Field” works with boys ages 7 to 17. “Our initiative for the girls is that we encourage the women in churches to work with the female siblings, but this is a boys’ program,” Drewry said.
“We look for fatherless boys in the church. If there isn’t a fatherless child in that particular church, we reach out to the community and work with the school systems and counselors.
“Even if the mentor is not a hunter or fisherman, any outdoor pursuit is fine, whether it’s biking or even working on cars. Anything outdoors is fine. We’re using that activity as an icebreaker into the relationship. Boys like to do things.
“So, instead of asking a man to leave his comfort zone, we tell them to use something they’re skilled at, not as a selfish pursuit, but as a way to engage a fatherless boy.”
Of course, as far as Drewry is concerned, the outdoors is the perfect place to mentor the fatherless youth. “We refer to it as God’s classroom,” he said.
“If you take kids from an urban setting and get them outside around a campfire, there’s something that happens there. Men are rooted in adventure. These boys have an adventurous spirit, and they need an opportunity to get out and get their feet and hands dirty and have fun.”