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Mitchell looks to keep family tradition going
Before Chris Mitchell could even hold a shotgun by himself he was dove hunting.
Mitchell is a third-generation dove hunter, taking up the sport like his grandfather and father before him. But the real thrill for Mitchell these days is passing down the sport to his only son Chase — ensuring the line of Mitchell hunters won't end with him.
“For me it's not as good as it used to be because I'm getting older,” Mitchell said. “It's nice to take him (Chase) out and watch him do it. It's neater to get the kids now and watch them enjoy themselves and see the excitement on their face than for me to actually do it anymore.”
That's not to say that Mitchell won't hunt dove this year though. While some may go to the spa or read a book to relax, he hunts.
The walls of Mitchell's house are decorated with the heads of bucks and other game as a proud reminder of some of his better hunting trips.
“That's what I do to enjoy myself is to go hunting and fishing — anything outdoors, really,” Mitchell said. “If there wasn't hunting, I don't know, it would be terrible. It's just kind of a way to relax and enjoy yourself. It's nice to get away from the rat race a little bit.”
Dove hunting season for the Mitchells becomes quite the family affair. They are joined by the uncles, cousins and close family friends as they head out to Dateland — away from the hectic dove hunting scene in Yuma. The pack of dove hunters makes a weekend out of it, camping near their hunting grounds and using the experience as a chance to bond. Hunters are allowed to bag 10 doves per day which, Mitchell said, can happen pretty quickly in the Yuma area.
“It's a good time, it's a lot of fun,” Chase Mitchell said. “I'm hoping that I can get my limit every day.”
It's not just the high volume of hunters that come to Yuma that have forced the Mitchells to look elsewhere for places to hunt.
Farming practices have changed, leaving less and less grain — which is what the birds thrive on — in the area by the time dove hunting season begins.
“Wherever the last grain was harvested is usually where you're going to find the most dove,” Chris Mitchell said. “Then you just try and get in their flight pattern and wherever they're going to feed back and forth and just try to get in that area. “
But before any dove hunting is done this year the Yuma Valley Rod and Gun Club will host its annual “Mike Mitchell Memorial Dove Barbecue” at 3 p.m. on Sept. 1 at the American Legion Post No. 19.
Mike Mitchell, Chris's father, was a crucial part of keeping dove hunting alive in not only Yuma but the state of Arizona, too.
“There was a proposition that was going to ban hunting and fishing in the state of Arizona,” Chris Mitchell said. “The Rod and Gun Club — my dad and some of the other members — got together and started this banquet to fight that proposition. They ended up raising well over $20,000 just that night. ... They kept it going and when my dad passed away that's when the club decided they would name it after him in his memory.”
The event has since evolved into a fundraiser for the Yuma Valley Rod and Gun Club and will feature a raffle, door prizes and a silent auction and a banquet-style barbecue. No dove will be served at the event, though. That comes later.
Friends and family of the Mitchell clan clean and freeze their doves until they have acquired enough meat for a feast.
“Everything tastes like chicken, right? We'll fry it or barbecue. It's good either way,” Chris Mitchell said. “It tastes like, kind of like duck a little bit. I enjoy it. It's kind of a darker meat, more like duck.”
Even amid the atmosphere of a good hunting session, the fear of history repeating itself is on Chris Mitchell's mind. Like his father before him, he worries that one day that hunting — of any kind — will face extinction yet again. But he's hoping that by making knowledge about hunting available to the younger generations that won't happen.
“We just have to keep people aware of what hunting is really about,” Chris Mitchell said. “It's not about shooting animals, it's about conservation. There's so many projects throughout the year for the animals and everything else. If people were actually aware about what hunting actually is and what it does — instead of just the killing of animals that they think of — then hopefully people will come around a little bit better.”
Erin Redmond can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6880. Find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/YSErinRedmond.
Chris Mitchell provided his tips for both lifetime and first-time dove hunters to have a successful season:
• Go to where the last grain was harvested: That's where you will most likely find the most doves.
• Don't be afraid to leave Yuma: The large number of local and out-of-state hunters in Yuma can cause an overcrowded hunting session. Look for other local areas instead of the traditional hot spots.
• It's never to late to get started: Whether you're 5 or 85 the Yuma Valley Rod and Gun Club wants to help you live out your dove hunting dreams. Interested hunters can call the club or the Arizona Game and Fish Department for other tips and potential hunting partners.