Most of us don’t own stock in an ammunition company. Nor do we appreciate unloading shell after shell trying to knock down the first dove. But an even worse scenario is not getting at least a few good shots — or not seeing any birds at all!
These situations can and do happen and many times are beyond our control. There are steps, though, that we can take to lessen the chance that we create our own bad luck on the dove field and have it lead to an unsuccessful hunt.
1. CHOOSE A LEGAL FIELD
Nothing can ruin a hunt quicker than being cited for hunting illegally or shooting over a baited field. The laws on planting and harvesting grains for dove fields can be confusing to many folks, especially if you don’t farm for a living. Most of us don’t know when and what has taken place on a field prior to the day we show up for the hunt. As a result, a well-intentioned hunter can receive a citation for hunting over a field that is not legal.
If hunting a private field, whether it belongs to a friend or is an advertised hunt, it’s a good idea to talk to the landowner beforehand. Ask if the landowner has had his field checked by a local conservation officer or if an officer has been invited to stop in during the hunt to check licenses, plugs in guns or bag limits. If so, chances are every measure has been taken by the landowner to assure that the hunt is a legal one.
One other thing to do is walk the field prior to hunting. If you see corn on the surface in a wheat field, or vice versa, beat a hasty retreat. It’s likely not legal.
The best way to be sure you are hunting legal property is to go to a public dove field. Generally every effort has been made to plant and prepare the land for attracting birds — and in a legal manner.
Taking advantage of a special adult/youth hunt is a great way to have a dove hunt in a great location.
2. BE PREPARED
Taking the time to visit the location a day or two before the hunt can teach you volumes. Doves generally stick with a flight pattern and learning their access and exit points to the field can greatly increase your take on the day of the hunt. This aspect shouldn’t be overlooked, especially when hunting a location that is likely to have lots of other hunters.
A hunter sitting in the spot where the birds tend to enter the field gets first dibs and will have a much greater chance of filling his bag before others get many decent shots. Birds entering a field and not knowing that hunters are present are much less wary than when they leave, so knowing their flight paths coming in can be a huge asset.
Since this is likely the first time that you have used your shotgun in months, it is good to check it to be sure that it’s in good working order and is plugged correctly. Make sure you have plenty of ammo and your stool, decoys and whatever other gear you are planning on taking are in good shape.
Visiting a local shooting range or sporting clays course to tune up your skills isn’t a bad idea either. It sometimes takes a little practice to properly lead and hit those small, darting gray targets.
3. BE IN THE RIGHT SPOT
Once you arrive at the dove field, where you choose to hunt greatly influences your success. Hopefully you’ve had a chance to scout the field or have an idea of the birds’ flyways.
Weather conditions for opening day of dove season are usually quite warm, even uncomfortably so. The tendency may be to head to the nearest tree line to set up in a cool shady area. This could be a logistical mistake for spotting and shooting the birds.
Choosing a shaded spot where you are less conspicuous is a good idea, but be careful how you choose your setup. Standing with your back against a thick tree line may considerably lessen your ability to spot the doves that fly in from behind you. By the time you see them they are headed away from you and quickly out of reach. A little spot of shade from a small stand of trees or a bale of hay will work just as well and won’t block your area of vision.
Be aware of the sun and where it will be in the next few hours if you plan on sitting in the same spot. Try to position yourself with the sun at your back. It is nearly impossible to see your prey while looking into the glare, and after several hours of staring at the sky, your eyes will take enough of a beating.
Trees with bare limbs and power-lines are favorite resting spots for incoming dove. Try to position yourself in shooting range of these areas. That’s where the doves likely are headed.
Watering holes with a clean bank also attract birds, especially on a hot day. Positioning yourself within distance of water, even a small mud hole, will help to increase your odds of success.
4. SHOOTING BASICS
Doves are small with a lightweight bone structure. It doesn’t take a heavy load of shot to knock one down. The tiniest of pellets work. Shells with shot sized 7 1/2 and smaller work best. A 20-gauge shotgun is the ideal choice of weapon. Open up the choke for a more spread out pattern. A 12-gauge can be rough on the shoulder after an afternoon of shooting, but it does provide more pellets in the air.
Though it doesn’t take much to knock a dove down, their quick, erratic flight can make them challenging to hit. Don’t forget to keep your head down with your cheek snug to the stock of the gun. If you raise your head, you will shoot over the bird every time.
Birds that are incoming or outgoing are easier to hit than birds that are flying across in front of you. Don’t forget to keep the muzzle of the gun moving with the bird and continue to move the gun as you pull the trigger.
Shoot slightly in front of the bird. A good rule of thumb for knowing how much to lead the bird is to swing with the dove until you see the first spot of blue sky between the muzzle and the bird. Then, pull the trigger.
5. USE THE ENTIRE SEASON
It’s a great tradition in the South to attend a dove shoot on the opening day of the season. It’s a social occasion that usually involves a bountiful spread of food before the afternoon hunt, along with the camaraderie of fellow hunters and their dogs congregating in the field. Unfortunately many hunters make this their only dove hunt during the season. Don’t make this mistake.
Dove hunting is an enjoyable sport that should be taken advantage of during the entire season. The fall and winter months bring cooler temperatures and you have less competition from other hunters. It also provides a great opportunity to take youngsters and novice hunters out to the field for a fun introduction to the shooting sports. The holiday period from Thanksgiving to Christmas offers a good time to take family and friends out as well.
The most important thing to remember is: Don’t forget to have fun! Hunters of all ages are most likely to remember the quality-time spent together in the field, and with fewer “bad moves” you may even have plenty to throw in the stew pot once you get home!