The excitement of the event keeps hunters coming back year after year.
By BRENT FRAZEE
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- At 10 a.m. Sept. 1, J.R. Bretches, his 15-year-old son, Chase, and his longtime friend Bob Schaefer found themselves 100 deep in a line that also stretched far behind them.
No, they weren't waiting to get into a sporting event. Or a concert. Or a one-of-a-kind sale.
They were part of the cast of hundreds that shows up for opening day of the Missouri dove-hunting season at the James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area every year.
"I can't believe the crowd that shows up at this place for the dove opener," said Bretches, 55, who lives in Overland Park, Kan. "The hunting out here definitely is no secret.
"It's a great place to hunt doves, and people know it."
Bretches certainly does. He and a friend followed the sounds of gunfire to the public hunting area near Lee's Summit, in suburban Kansas City, one September day 14 years ago. And he has been a face in the crowd ever since.
More than 560 hunters showed up for last year's opener. And officials with the Department of Conservation reported the crowd was of similar size Sept. 1.
In fact, by the time the noon starting time arrived, there were hunters sitting at the headquarters, part of a waiting list.
"Before, we tried hunting private land, but that was a zero," Bretches said. "We had heard about the Reed Area, so we decided to come out and take a look.
"It was opening day, and it sounded like World War III out here. We went to the area where we were hearing the most shooting, and we had our limit in an hour and a half.
"There were birds everywhere. It was just a wonderful time.
"I think that's how I became hooked on dove hunting."
The next 13 years did little to ease that addiction. And neither did this year's opening day.
Awaiting his turn
In the moments before high noon, Bretches sat on a stool in the sunflowers at the edge of a cut field and nervously glanced at his watch, waiting for the start of another hunting season.
As doves flitted past, his fever grew. Soon, he knew the 2006 season would be opening with a bang.
"This is the start of my time of the year," he said. "This is the start of fall for me.
"I've had this day blocked off for a couple months. When it's Sept. 1, this is where we're going to be.
"For us, this is tradition."
It's also tradition for Bretches and his group to pull the trigger a lot Sept. 1. And they didn't break with that tradition this year.
The afternoon started slowly, with only a few doves filtering into the field where the group was hiding. And to make matters worse, they had to listen to the constant shooting going on at other fields.
But by 3:30 p.m., it was their turn. Flight after flight of doves showed up, and the shooting began.
First, Bretches swung on a bird that was speeding across the field, fired and watched as his target fell. Then, Chase found success on a long shot at a bird that was kicking on the afterburners.
By 5 p.m., father and son, Schaefer, and a friend they met up with -- Richard Holtcamp of Lee's Summit -- all had their limit of 12 doves apiece.
There were the usual good shots that drew praise. And Holtcamp got the added pleasure of watching his chocolate Lab, Simon, range out and make some difficult retrieves.
Another memorable time
Add it up, and it amounted to another memorable dove opener at the Reed Area.
"I told some of the hunters who left early that they should stick around," Holtcamp said. "I had been out here a lot in the last two weeks, and I had always seen doves. But that was always late in the afternoon.
"I thought they would be in here. We just had to be patient."
At the Reed Area, such success is always possible. The area has long been managed for doves, with such aviary delicacies as sunflowers and wheat planted to attract birds each year.
It has developed into one of Missouri's best public hunting areas for doves, annually attracting large hunter numbers and impressive harvest totals.
Count Schaefer as one of many who wouldn't be anywhere else Sept. 1.
"In the past, I always had places close to the city where I could hunt doves," said Schaefer, 74, who lives in Grandview. "But those places are all gone now. That land has been divided up and developed.
"That's why it's nice to have a place like the Reed Area so close to the city. It's public hunting and it gets a lot of people, but there are always birds."