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September 2009 cover image hunting dog

Lonesome Dove Fest

Annual event gives kids the chance to learn about the outdoors.

By Ralph Winingham

Karnes County’s Lonesome Dove Fest, set for Sept. 18-19, was an idea hatched as a hay patch gathering of hunting buddies, fathers, sons and even a few sharp-shooting women.

 Contrary to its name, the darting aerial acrobats known as the grey ghosts of fall were far from “lonesome” doves, but, at times, filled the sky in numbers that caused even veteran shooters to experience opening day jitters.

That has been the pattern of the annual festival, which will celebrate its 18th year on the opening weekend of the South Zone mourning and white-winged dove season. The festivities are headquartered at the Karnes County Show Barn just off U.S. 181, about 60 miles south of San Antonio.

About 500 hunters attended that first gathering in 1992. At the 2008 celebration, nearly 8,000 hunters and their families came to watch celebrity and team sporting clay competitions, to see numerous exhibits and displays, including the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Wall of Shame, and to sample fine fare prepared during a cook-off competition that also featured wild game dishes.

“We started with no exhibits, no auction and no electricity except for a generator out in the middle of 110 acres,” said Larry Hedtke, one of the festival’s founders.

“This event has continued to grow and we are getting more and more support from sponsors and the community,” he said.

“When we started, one of our goals was to put hunters together with landowners that wanted to lease their property,’’ Hedtke added.

The liaison effort between hunters looking for land to lease and landowners looking for hunters has blossomed into a pipeline funneling hundreds of sportsmen into the area every year.

In addition, the clay target events at the festival have been designed to tune up the shooting skills of the visiting and local hunters — attracting as many as 300 participants.

However, the main focus of the activity is the education of youngsters about the outdoors. The first day of the festival is devoted to area high school students. More than 300 youngsters visited the event in 2008 on officially sanctioned school field trips.

Outdoor skills, historical re-enactors at campsites, game law presentations by department game wardens, wildlife activities, shooting and boating simulators, bass casting and shooting safety instruction are just a few of the learning opportunities that have been presented to the students.

Area youngsters also are the main benefactors of the festival. In the past, the Karnes City Rotary Club has used proceeds to award college scholarships to graduating seniors from all four Karnes County high schools, purchased Jaws of Life equipment for emergency medical service crews, constructed little league fields, promoted shooting sports for area youngsters, contributed to volunteer education programs, and even provided Christmas gifts to needy area children.

To this end, the Karnes City Rotary Club has adopted the following mission statement for the event:
“Lonesome Dove Fest is a celebration of traditions and outdoor lifestyle of South Texas for local residents, visiting hunters and especially kids to enjoy.”

Information on the various events at the festival is available at (830) 780-2670 or (830) 780-3314, or on the Web at www.lonesomedovefest.com.

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