Lonesome Dove Fest has grown from a gathering of dove hunters in a Coy City hay patch to an event recently described as the “South Texas Expo” by former Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Education Coordinator Steve Hall. As many as 8,000 hunters and their families attend the festival – about one hour south of San Antonio – each year to enjoy activities that cater to all wildlife enthusiasts in South Texas.
“The showing of support for this event is to benefit the youth in our area and continues to grow each year,” said Charlie Thompson, co-chairman of the festival.
“Not only are people coming to have a good time, but an increasing number of them are asking to donate, sponsor an event or just be part of this effort. Having a family-oriented event with a lot of people working together is what the Lonesome Dove Fest is all about,” Thomspon added.
The annual festival that combines education, outdoors activities and entertainment will also feature a sanctioned Barbecue Cook-off on Saturday (Sept. 15) at the Karnes County Youth Show Barn. An anticipated 20-25 teams will be preparing brisket, beans, chicken and ribs on some of the most elaborate outdoor grills and cookers in the state. This will be the second year of this sanctioned event.
Also in its second year will be the Black Gold Shootout scheduled for Thursday (Sept. 20) beginning at 2:00 p.m. The shootout will consist of a five-member, five-stand clay target competition between representatives of companies related to the oil and gas operations that have moved into the area.
The winning team will earn bragging rights as the “Top Guns” of the county and a traveling trophy, with the friendly challenge providing energy-related companies a chance for some head-to-head match ups while raising a big chunk of cash for the Karnes County Rotary Club charity fund. Some of the uses of these funds have included help to purchase the Jaws of Life equipment for emergency medical service crews; construction of little league fields; and Christmas gifts to needy children.
The fun continues Friday (Sept. 21) with a Youth Day that offers educational mini-seminars on a variety of different topics to more than 300 high school youngsters from area schools. Outdoor skills; game laws and wildlife identification; hunters’ education; and shooting safety instruction are just a few of the learning opportunities presented to the students during a variety of open-air seminars conducted by volunteers. Returning again this year for both the Youth Day and the main event will be John Karger of the Last Chance Forever Bird of Prey Conservancy in San Antonio. Karger and his crew conduct hundreds of educational programs each year about the graceful and efficient aerial predators.
Funds from the main events of the Lonesome Dove Fest have allowed the Karnes City Rotary Club to award 12 scholarships to seniors from each of Karnes County’s four high schools, including two scholarships specifically dedicated to vocational students.
The public events at the Youth Day will start at 5:00 p.m. Friday (Sept. 21). Food and merchandise vendors from across the area will operate booths and there will also be bounce castles and other kids’ events. For the adults, beer and other beverages will be sold under a 14,400 square-foot air-conditioned tent as a DJ and local bands provide musical entertainment.
Saturday (Sept. 22) events start with a Lonesome Dove Fest Parade that will kick off at 10 a.m. in downtown Karnes City. Parade floats, bands and other participants will travel along Calvert Street through the heart of downtown Karnes City, weather permitting. The Lonesome Dove Fest Parade has become a traditional annual event enjoyed by folks of all ages.
One of the main attractions at the festival, a team sporting clays competition, will be held Friday (Sept. 21) from 5:00 p.m. until sundown and again on Saturday (Sept. 22) from noon until sundown. The team shoot provides an opportunity for participants to compete for prizes and bragging rights and, for those interested in hunting, includes a dove hunt with area landowners. A celebrity challenge five-stand clay target event pitting the shooting skills of media members against local and state officials will be held at 2:00 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 22).
Exhibits will also be on display to entertain the kids on Saturday (Sept. 22). In addition to the Birds of Prey exhibit, this year will feature the “Aussie Kingdom” that includes birds, lizards, wallaroos and wallabies among other native Australian wildlife that is the largest display of its kind in the United States. A&J Snake Handlers will perform shows Saturday (Sept. 22) featuring rattlesnake showdowns between rattlesnakes and their handlers. The annual Stickhorse Rodeo and Kid’s Camo Contest will be conducted shortly after noon on the main day of the festival.
Musical entertainment is always a big part of Lonesome Dove Fest. Karnes City’s very own Mark Odom and American Idol contestant John Wayne Schulz will provide live musical performances during the festival. Mark Odom and Cactus Country get things started Friday (Sept. 21) at 8:00 p.m. while John Wayne Schulz will perform at 9:00 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 22). In addition, country music act Emmerson Biggins will be the opening act for John Wayne Schulz on Saturday (Sept. 22) from 5:00 p.m – 7:00 p.m. Between Emmerson Biggins and John Wayne Schulz’s performance, there will be a live auction featuring a variety of sporting goods and other items will be held under the tent at 8:00 p.m.
“This is not just for hunters,” Rotarian Randy Witte emphasized, “but for families - for everybody!” Organizers say they rely on some fantastic sponsors to have a festival on this scale. When sponsors come to the grounds and see entire families being entertained, they get very interested. Club members said that any success or growth the event has enjoyed over the years is directly associated with the generosity of these sponsors.
Sponsorships from groups such as L&F Distributing of McAllen; Texas Parks & Wildlife; the San Antonio River Authority; Academy; Cabela’s; Blackbrush Energy of San Antonio; Marathon Oil Corp. of Houston; Aggreko Inc. of Corpus Christi; Hilcorp Energy Company of Houston; Lone Star Beer; and Karnes Electric Coop have provided a major boost to the event.
There will be no admission charge for all the public events of the festival, including John Wayne Schulz’s performance Saturday night.
For more information on the 20th Annual Lonesome Dove Fest, including schedules and applications for the team shoot, parade, vendor, Black Gold Shootout and cook-off, go to www.lonesomedovefest.com or call Randy Witte at 830-780-3314, Benny Lyssy at 830-583-5775, or Charlie Thompson at 830-620-8815.