Bama's Dove Season

The opening of dove season is fast approaching. If you have kids, the Alabama DWFF has a program that should spark your interest. (September 2009)

Each youngster on the field during Youth Dove Hunts must have an adult set up with them.

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.

Power Lines

Also, search for easy-to-take doves on power lines where they perch while going to and from the field. There will be certain spots on power lines where they like to sit. Taking a stand near these places you can get the same kind of shot as around the lighting-in trees.

Water Holes

Especially on a hot September day, setting up near a creek, pond, ditch or just a mud hole is a good tactic. Doves like to fly into and land on a clean bank with no bushes or brush on it and then walk down to the water and get a drink. In fact, often a mud puddle at the edge of a field is their preferred watering hole.

Finding a light-in tree overlooking such puddles or ponds is even better. You'll see doves perching in the tree checking out the water before coming on down.

Entrances And Exits

When you scout a field before hunting, you can locate the points where th

e doves like to enter and exit the field. Even with hot and heavy shooting, most of the time the doves won't veer from their instinctual entry and exit spots. Having a stand there can ensure a quick limit, or at least a lot of shooting.

I like the areas where the doves enter the field better than those where they exit. When the doves come in to feed, they're not aware of the hunters -- assuming the shooters are well camouflaged and remaining still. But when the birds exit, more than likely they're missing a tail feather or two. They've got their after burners turned up, dodging and weaving like crazy.

A FAMILY AFFAIR

Dove hunters use a variety of dog breeds for retrieving doves, with probably the Labrador retriever the most popular. You see all types of retrievers on a dove field, and some are likely to have only two legs.

As I've mentioned earlier, my children and I all have retrieved in years past, and a new generation of the family is set to follow us. Making such an experience afield enjoyable for youngsters is the first step toward making them hunters for life.

Always provide plenty of water for your retrievers, because running back and forth in a dove field in the September heat will dehydrate and exhaust them. Take plenty of snacks, too. Have a comfortable seat, be it a chair, stool or blanket on the ground, in case their short legs tire out before the hunt ends.

Such events also offer the chance for kids to learn hunting and firearm safety in an enjoyable wired-for-action situation. That gives them a firm foundation for when they get old enough to actually join in the shooting on the dove field.

YOUTH DOVE HUNTS

"The Youth Dove Hunts began as a way to introduce young people to the sport of hunting in a way that could be enjoyable and less restrictive to them than a deer or a turkey hunt," said Gary Moody, Chief of the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. "Each youth under the age of 16 must be accompanied by a licensed hunter. Both the hunter and the youth can shoot. Many times a licensed hunter will bring a child too young to shoot, but the child still can enjoy being with Dad, Mom or Granddad on the hunt.

"Regardless of the age of the young hunter, on this dove hunt the adult and the youth have to stay together. The older hunter can't put the child in one place and be in another spot. This regulation allows the adult to spend time with the youth and help him or her better understand hunting.

"We ask the participants after each hunt to tell us what they've enjoyed about the hunt," Moody continued, "Most youth hunters say they enjoy spending time with their moms or dads the most."

Youth Dove Hunts usually start between noon and 2 p.m., depending on where the field is located and the landowner's preference. To participate in the hunts, you must call in advance to make a reservation. The telephone numbers dates and the times of the hunts are posted online at www.outdooralabama.com between Aug. 1 and Sept. 1.

When you reach the field, the adult and the youth hunter sign in, and the child receives a youth hunter license he or she can keep as a souvenir. Then a conservation officer or a biologist explains hunter safety and why hunters need to harvest doves.

"These Youth Dove Hunts are not held on management areas," Moody emphasized. "Instead, they're held on the properties of private citizens, who are willing to donate fields for Youth Hunts."

Generally landowners provide the DWFF with 30 to 35 fields each year for Youth Dove Hunts. Those are usually held on the first and the second Saturdays of dove season, with some spilling over to weekend number 3, depending on how many hunts the landowner approves. There are no charges for these hunts. The landowner and the size of the field determine the number of hunters allowed on each field.

"We've never had a youth hunt where all the reservations weren't filled up," Moody pointed out.

Autauga County Dove Hunts

The Autauga County Community Hunting Area now offers another option for dove shoots that are open to all Alabama hunters. The Autauga tract sits on the east side of State Route 57 between Poseys Crossroads and White City.

The Autauga County CHA originally had 5,000 acres until landowners withdrew virtually all the land from the wildlife management area system. Today, the state of Alabama owns only 130 acres there.

"Now all we have are two dove fields open to licensed hunters on scheduled hunting days," Moody explained. "Hunters over 16 years old need a hunting license and a management area permit, which can be found at www.outdooralabama.com or picked up at Poseys Crossroads at the management area's headquarters.

"In the past, the hunts have been held on Sunday and Wednesday afternoons," he added, "Be sure to check the Web site for exact dates and times. These fields generally are planted with brown-top millet and other small grains and then mowed.

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