Photo by John E. Phillips.
Four doves came across the cut corn field at blistering speeds. Darting and rolling, diving and climbing, they resembled a World War I dogfight in progress.
“Here they come,” I whispered, as I watched my dad’s head twisting back and forth.
Just as the birds came within range, he fired his old double-barrel 20-gauge twice, missing all four birds.
“Dadjimmit,” Pop said with a frown, as he quickly broke the shotgun open.
The gun spat out the paper-hulled shells, and he quickly reloaded as another dove headed straight for our stand. Pop put the 20-gauge together, locked it and mounted his gun with steely-eyed determination. Leading the dove slightly, he squeezed the trigger. The bird cartwheeled through the air.
“I’ll go get him,” I yelled.
As fast as my 8-year-old legs could carry me, I sprinted for the downed dove. Retrieving the bird, it added to the pile of other doves my dad had taken.
Thirty years later, I heard, “You got it, Pop!” as my young son, John, sprinted across a dove field to pick up a bird I’d just downed. Although younger, he often beat his sister, Kate, to the doves.
“John, you got the last bird. It’s my turn to pick up the dove,” she’d whine.
This fall, I’ll have a whole flock of new dove retrievers by my side — grandsons Conner and Bennett, along with granddaughters, Cameron, Emma Grace, Amy Beth and Abbey. Time passes quickly, but the Southern tradition of dove hunting continues to withstand the test of time. It is woven into the fabric of many Alabama families.
Thanks to the efforts of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries and its Youth Dove Hunt programs, that close-knit connection is likely to continue.
As land to hunt all across the state shrinks, in cooperation with the DWFF, more landowners and hunting clubs have opened their fields for youth dove hunting. That insures more adults can take another generation or two of Cotton State youngsters into the field when the leaves change colors.
PICKING A DOVE FIELD
One bonus of taking kids on a state-sponsored Youth Dove Hunt is you know that the landowner has made every effort to draw in doves, but has also kept those efforts legal. The rules and regulations on planting and harvesting grain and shooting doves over croplands can be confusing — unless you are a farmer! Well-intentioned sportsmen have received citations for hunting over bait, even though they were not aware someone has baited the field. With the DWFF overseeing the youth dove hunts, you can depend on these fields to be safe and legal.
If you don’t have kids to take to a shoot, or simply prefer more adult camaraderie, you may have to go to a hunt on a commercial field. If so, there are a couple of things to look for in their ad or to ask the person putting on the shoot.
First, has the field been checked by the local conservation officer from the DCNR? Also, will an officer be dropping by during the hunt to check licenses, plugs in the guns and bag limits? If the answer to those is affirmative, odds are the field is legal.
WHERE ARE THE BIRDS?
Regardless of careful preparation of a dove field, the amount of food on the ground, or the number of birds the landowner sees before the season starts, there are no guarantees. You may show up at the field and spot only a few doves. It’s even possible none at all will appear during the season.
A slight temperature change can cause doves to migrate. Or, the birds may have discovered another field nearby that is more to their liking. These are wild birds and they can be unpredictable. However, if you go to the field the day before the hunt, you can generally see whether you can expect action on opening day. If the birds are there, you also can learn information about their flight patterns.
CHOOSING A GOOD DOVE STAND
If you observe doves at a particular field a day or two before a hunt, you can learn volumes about the flight patterns the birds use. Doves have unseen highways in the sky. They have particular places where they like to enter and leave a field. Lighting-In Trees
When I first heard this term, I thought that the hunters had called them “lightning” trees. Yet I could see none of the trees where the doves perched looked like lightning had hit them. Later, I learned the one word really was two and what they were saying was lighting in trees.
Doves like to light in these trees at the edge of a dove field, and observe the field while perched there. Once comfortable with the situation, they commit to coming into a field.
If you take a stand below these trees and sit still, you can get some easy shooting. When the doves come in to light, you can take your shot and catch the birds in the process of shifting gears. For a split second, they’re almost stationary in the air.
I learned about hunting doves at lighting-in trees many years ago when I had few shells and couldn’t afford to waste them. Back then, I hunted every day of dove season after school, and had identified every lighting-in tree in my area.
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