High-wire act

CASH, Ark. — Ten dove hunters, four retrievers and a toddler were blasting birds with abandon when the law pulled up to Mike Roach's back porch.

The hunt had been raging for more than an hour. Lead was spraying like water from a busted hydrant. Doves dropped from the sky in such numbers, the retrievers actually stumbled over each other to pick them up. But Pete Lochner stilled the fire with a few quiet words: "We have company."

At the gate at the end of the property sat a green Arkansas Game and Fish truck with "Law Enforcement" emblazoned across the fender.

That's a sight to make any hunter's back stiffen, but all Chris Akin said was, "Make sure everything is in order." His tone told the hunters who couldn't see the gate that the authorities were coming.

No doubt the game officials had noticed the fusillade, but they must have been curious, too, about the fact that the men appeared to be hunting doves on highline wires — a misdemeanor in Arkansas.

As it happened, though, the hunt was actually a bit of Southern ingenuity about to be put to the test.

The green truck drove faster as it got closer, then BOOM, a shot rang out, and then another. This bunch came here to shoot doves, after all, and if they were in trouble, there wasn't much reason to slow down now.

George King — a friend of Roach and, like him, a farmer — leaned against a corner post on the back porch of the lodge. To his left was Kristen Akin, the 16-year-old daughter of Chris Akin, an Avery pro-staffer and an esteemed professional dog trainer. He had his 2-year-old son, Clay, on his lap.

Lochner, another Avery pro-staffer, hung over at the west end of the lodge along with Tommy Young and Russell Porter, the youngest man of the bunch and the owner of a fiery chocolate lab named Dun. At the east end was David White and his dog, Minnie. They were all in comfortable talking distance of each other — a rarity on a dove hunt, but a big motivation for the unique set-up that day.

From the porch the men could hear the game officers exchanging words as they made their way to the west side of the lodge. One of the officers greeted the bunch with a "good morning." The gang of hunters replied in near unison. Porter, familiar with this drill, reached for his wallet and his license.

But Officer Williams had a question first: "Is that highline wires?"

"Yep," King and Roach replied almost simultaneously.

"Where they lead to?" the officer asked.

"Kind of like that road to nowhere you hear about in Alaska," Roach said. "We don't break the game laws, but we're not afraid to dabble in the gray areas." Laughs permeated the back porch.

The officers eyeballed the highline wires for a moment. Officer Cossey asked, "How did ya'll get those decoys up there?"

"With some fishing line and a fishing rod," Chris Akin replied, smiling.

As it dawned on him that he was looking at fake highline wires — no more real than a sitcom studio set — Officer Williams broke into a grin.

"I feel like I need to write a ticket for something, but I don't see a reason why I can," he said. "Who came up with this little piece of genius?"

The hunters laughed and pointed to Roach, the farm's owner. And as quickly as they had come, the officers were off.

The men took a moment to marvel with each other about how effective the setup was, and what a joy this dove hunt had been. They had bagged more than 140 doves that morning, and not one of the hunters had to leave the back porch, thanks in large part to the country creativity of Mike Roach and his dove-whacking brethren.

They had erected the poles and wires a month earlier to entice doves to within small-bore shotgun range. It is no secret that doves love highline wires — perhaps for the tickle of the electrical current inside, perhaps because they've been conditioned to know they're relatively safe.

In any case, the "highline wires" and three spinning wing decoys the men placed between the poles were more than effective at bringing birds to within a few steps of 10 hunters sitting across that back porch with no concealment whatsoever.

In hindsight, it looked foolproof, but that wasn't always so.

"You know," Roach admitted at one point, "I had my doubts more than once."

The fact that the dove trap was only 25 paces from Roach's back door made the birds easy pickings for a bunch of hunters who preferred to tell tales and compare shooting ability than wade off separately into a field. Bagging doves is fine, but they also enjoy shooting the breeze.

And when the law inevitably did arrive, they could replay the scene again and again, together, as they laughed and swept piles of .410 shotgun hulls into empty boxes. When his guests finally rounded their dogs into their trucks to leave, Roach let himself bask in the moment.

"Now that," he said, "is how you have a dove shoot!"