Temperatures in the mid 80s provided for a comfortable dove opener for participants at the annual GONetwork SEEDS Dove Shoot on Claibourne Darden’s farm in Taliaferro County. Nice weather sprinkled with plenty of doves, great food and fellowship and a big pay day for youth hunting programs created a recipe for another great dove-shoot fundraiser.
“I’ve attended the GONetwork SEEDS Dove Shoot eight times over the last 10 years, and this year’s shoot was great yet again,” said Capt. Ron Mullins with The Striper Experience guide service on Lake Lanier. “The BBQ is always fantastic, Claibourne is always entertaining and unbelievably hospitable, and the birds are always cooperative.”
Mullins was just one of a number of hunters who limited out on the two well-prepared millet fields.
“The shoot is a day I look forward to for 364 days a year,” said Mullins. “Getting to see folks that I have not seen in a year makes the event so special. It never fails that I get to meet someone new on the field that I look forward to hunting with the next year.”
Proceeds from the hunt have always gone toward supporting youth hunting programs. Mullins said it’s for that very reason that he’s been a Darden “Shoot Sponsor” since he started a decade ago.
“I consider it an honor and a blessing to be a shoot sponsor each year,” said Mullins. “Jesus, my Lord and Savior, has blessed me over and over again, and being able to give back a little to such a great program is humbling.”
This year, $6,000 was split between the National Wild Turkey Federation’s JAKES Program, the Georgia affiliate of the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation, 30-30 Ministries and the Lake Oconee Shotgun Team (LOST).
Aaron Copelan, a 16-year-old member of the LOST, attended the shoot for the first time and stood before roughly 75 folks and thanked them for supporting his youth shooting team. Aaron shot on the Darden field near Ron Hess, a long-time attendee at Darden’s shoot and a current sponsor and mentor for the LOST.
“Aaron represented Georgia 4-H at the Nationals in Nebraska and the Scholastic Clay Target Program in Ohio,” said Hess. “It’s important for the team to say thanks to those who support them. Support from the dove shoot will be used for registration fees, ammo and supplies for the team members.
“Aaron made some new friends, and he’s already planning for next year.”
Shannon Chastain, of Eatonton, with 30-30 Ministries also paid for a spot to sit on the field with his 8-year-old son, Grant.
“There’s nothing like sitting on a dove field with my son and plenty of birds flying,” said Chastain. “It really kicked off the hunting season for us.”
Chastain has been a volunteer with 30-30 Ministries since 2012.
“The donation we received is going to be used for our annual January Rabbit Camp that we are hosting in Taliaferro County,” said Chastain. “We’ll be hosting six kids and their parents, and we’ll house them at A.H. Stephens State Park. We will feed them all weekend, and we’ll give a gun away to one of our youth winners at the end of the Camp. We can’t do what we do without the support of folks like Mr. Darden who are willing to help.”
Gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp, of Athens, was at the shoot for about an hour and enjoyed meeting with the shooters. Kemp is the current Georgia Secretary of State and an avid hunter.
Wade Palmer, Patriarch of Palmer Equipment Co. in Washington, Ga., supplied all the bottled Palmer water for the meal and the field, brought chairs used at lunch and lent a brand-new Kubota UTV from Palmer Equipment to serve everyone in the field with refreshments.
Lunch, as is always the case, was fabulous BBQ from Fat Matt’s Rib Shack in Atlanta. The owner, Matt Harper, has been a staple of this outing for years, and drives 250 miles round trip to work on a holiday Saturday.
Marine Corps Retired Lt. General Buck Bedard, from Las Vegas, once again donated a shotgun to raffle off among the participants as an additional fundraiser for the shoot.