In the course of my two plus decades of dove hunting, I think I've made about every mistake in the book.
Heck, I've probably invented a mistake or two that aren't even in the dove hunting book!
So with apologies to Dave Letterman, here are my "Top 10 Dove Hunting Mistakes to Avoid" straight from the home office of Hamilton, Texas, the self-proclaimed dove hunting capital of Texas.
Mistake No. 10 - Not Practicing Your Shooting
All I need to say here is this -- if you fail to practice your rusty wingshooting skills before dove season begins, you can trust me that the doves will more than do their part to humble you greatly on opening day.
And you'll have no one to blame but yourself as a pile of empty hulls grows with each frustrating miss. Been there, done that, and have the T-shirt to prove it!
Mistake No. 9 - Not Marking Birds Properly
When doves are flying in by the dozens, hunters -- me included -- can get greedy with visions of doubles and even triples.
Problem is that if you dispatch a dove, take your eye off of where it falls, and don't immediately go to that spot to retrieve it, you can easily lose the bird on the ground and spend a half-hour searching for it.
By the way, if you wound a bird or kill it and can't find it, in my book, that bird counts as a part of your daily bag limit whether it is in your game vest or not.
Mistake No. 8 - Not Taking Dove Hunting Seriously Enough
No one enjoys the social nature of dove hunting more than I do.
But after years of hunting, I've learned that when the law comes off the day and legal shooting time commences, it's time to hunt.
During that span, I'm going to limit my conversation and movement; I'll wear camo (sometimes including lightweight gloves and a camouflage head-net); I'll pick up my brightly shiny empty hulls; and I'll focus on the hunt at hand until I'm done.
Then, I'll eagerly move to the back of a pick-up truck bed to shoot the bull, tell wingshooting tall tales, and enjoy a cold diet Dr. Pepper.
Mistake No. 7 - Moving Too Soon
Ok, so the first 30 minutes of the dove season can see a few unsuspecting creampuffs fly by.
But let the first half hour of shooting slide by and opening day doves are getting the message. These birds will flare and hit the afterburners at Mach III if a hunter moves too soon.
Find a spot where you're hidden in the shadows and don't make your move until the dove is well within range.
Mistake No. 6 - Using Inferior Ammunition
With the national average of shotgun shells spent per dove harvested being somewhere between 7 and 12 depending on who you listen too, it's easy to see why the fast flying dipsy-doodle dove is an ammo maker's dream game bird.
Handicapping an already difficult endeavor by using bargain basement shot gun shells with less shot, less powder, and lesser quality components doesn't make sense to me.
So go ahead and spend an extra two or three bucks and buy "Heavy Trap Loads" or "Heavy Dove Loads" loaded with good powder charges and #7 * or #8 shot pellets.
Mistake No. 5 - Not Setting Up in the Right Spot
Early on in my dove hunting career, I had permission to hunt several large milo fields in North Texas.
Problem was they wee bit too large to adequately cover.
It didn't take long for me to figure out that you've got to be in the spot where the doves want to be today, even if it means sacrificing hunting time to zero in on those preferred red-hot flyways.
Mistake No. 4 - Not Scouting Prior to Hunting
If I've learned one thing about dove hunting down through the years, it's this -- you've got to be hunting today exactly where they were swarming into yesterday.
How do you find such places?
Simple -- SCOUT, SCOUT, SCOUT!
Mistake No. 3 - Not Taking a Kid Hunting
All I can say is that if you have children, grandchildren, a niece or nephew, or a neighborhood child who watches you drive away to go dove hunting, then shame on you.
Hunter's ranks are declining steadily and the best thing you -- and yours truly -- can do is to ensure that we get youngsters and newbies out into the field every September to let them experience the thrill of wingshooting and the joys of dove hunting.
If they experience a thrilling bird hunt just once, odds are, they'll be hooked for life!
Mistake No. 2 - Not Being Legal
While I've never knowingly been illegal in the field when it comes to dove hunting, I'll be the first to admit that it can easily happen to the best of us if we're not careful.
For starters, make sure that you're not hunting in a baited field or flyway -- I usually ask my host if the field is baited and make a visual inspection to confirm that it's not.
If in doubt, don't hunt there.
Next, remember to check your shotgun to make sure that the plug has been put back in it properly.
And finally, it goes without saying that you need a legal hunting license; any stamp endorsements the state you are hunting in requires; hunter safety education if required; and a free HIP certification before venturing afield.
And be sure to read up on your state’s latest hunting regulations to be sure you've got all of your bases covered.
Mistake No. 1 - Unsafe Shooting Practices
A hot dove hunting field can make for snappy shooting and quick decisions.
Make sure that such fast shooting and quick decisions don't come back to haunt either you or someone hunting with or near to you.
Some shooting safety tips include never pointing your gun in an unsafe direction; treating every gun as if it is loaded; wearing adequate eye and hearing protection and insisting that everyone hunting with you does the same; never shooting without verifying your target and what's behind it; never shooting a shotgun muzzle too close to someone's position; NEVER mixing shooting with alcohol; and never making a shot that you're unsure of.
In addition to these tips, please visit your state’s game and fish agency Web site or the NRA's Web site (www.nra.org ) for a full line-up of shooting safety tips.
And remember, once you touch the trigger in a dove field and send a shot column downrange, you can never, ever call it back.
No matter how much you might want to.