As expected, this annual dove shoot had plenty of shooting and a number of limits, but it was a visit from an American hero that made the day so special for the roughly 100 in attendance. Three Star Marine Corps General E.R. “Buck” Bedard with the United States Marine Corps (USMC) made the trip from Las Vegas, Nev. to visit his friend Claibourne Darden and be a part of the annual fund-raising dove shoot.
The shoot was held at Darden’s farm located about 50 miles southeast of Athens near Sharon, Ga.
“I think everybody had a real nice time,” said Darden, who has hosted a dove shoot on his Taliaferro County farm for more than 20 years. “One young person put on their Facebook page, ‘I have now been to the best dove shoot in the state of Georgia.’”
The general, however, seemed to be the main event.
“Everyone who has called me or said something to me about the dove shoot has mentioned meeting the general. That was a really big deal for the folks,” said Darden.
Darden and Gen. Bedard met 18 years ago in Kansas while at the Governor’s One Shot Turkey Hunt. They’ve been friends ever since, and Gen. Bedard has been supporting the annual Darden dove shoot for a number of years. This year was his first year actually attending the dove shoot.
“It was just a wonderful event,” said Gen. Bedard, who retired from the USMC in 2003. “Being a veteran who has spent about 45 years protecting his country, it’s wonderful to see people gathered like that with the freedom to do those kinds of things, and it makes you really appreciate the freedoms we do have.”
Gen. Bedard enjoys the freedom to hunt all over the country and points to the importance of educating and inspiring our children to become involved with hunting.
“Seeing the general camaraderie of people coming together for an event and then the number of folks bringing their young children to the event was very enlightening for me,” said Gen. Bedard. “I was happy to see that because the future of our hunting heritage is in our youth. I think the other thing the hunt provides is that it’s a tremendous opportunity to witness the actual implementation of our second amendment.”
Gen. Bedard, who spent his final years with the Marines as the deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations in Washington, D.C., compliments Darden’s ability to successfully organize the annual dove shoot.
“It takes not only a man of vision but an individual with boundless energy and someone who is willing to make a commitment and then to follow it through with the actual activity. A lot of people talk the game, but they don’t walk the walk. Claibourne does all of it. He is the real deal,” said Gen. Bedard.
Several hours before the dove shoot, Gen. Bedard left a special phone-call message to a former Washington and Lee University classmate of Darden’s. The classmate is a retired USMC captain who suffered a very bad stroke several years ago and now has some trouble speaking and walking. Gen. Bedard also signed a dove-shoot sponsor hat, where it’ll become a family treasure for Darden’s friend.
“He left a message for my friend, and it was just classic the things he said,” said Darden. “His wife is having the message transcribed and sent to their children.”
After a lunch supplied by Fat Matt’s Rib Shack in Atlanta and the traditional introduction of the shooters, hunters took to the well-prepared millet dove fields. Once the consistent shooting started at 4:30 p.m., it was very steady until about 7 p.m.
“I had a great time as always, and it was a lot of fun to see all of the kids,” said Ron Hess, of Putnam County. “Claibourne is the ultimate host, and you can’t help but laugh and enjoy yourself.”
Ron, who shot 12 birds, has been coming to the shoot for 7 years and said he’ll definitely be back next year. He added that Gen. Bedard’s presence made the shoot extra special this year.
“It was really neat to have him there,” said Ron. “People get caught up in the little things and don’t see the big picture and what’s really important. It was nice of him to bring that all together (in his speech). We were out there enjoying something that other people have sacrificed for, and we need not to forget that.”
Gen. Bedard didn’t even touch a shotgun during the hunt. He seemed content during the first half of the shoot riding around the dove field in the UTV with Darden. He shook hands as hunters thanked him for defending their freedoms. Later on, he was found quietly sitting in a folding chair in the upper end of the dove field just watching the shoot unfold.
“I am going to try and get back next year,” said Gen. Bedard. “I think it’s that important to be there and to reinforce things Claibourne is doing and to meet the great people from Georgia.”