Bird hunters, don't look now but the start to the 2015-16 wingshooting season is just around the corner.
And that means that it's time to start making preparations – serious ones, in fact – during the dog days of late summer so that all goes smoothly on the annual opening day frenzy scheduled to arrive in many states in early September.
While it goes without saying that dove hunters need to get in some form of shotgun shooting practice over the next few weeks to knock rust from skills that have lain dormant since last winter, there's more to proper preparation than just that.
So says Plano Synergy Elite Pro Staffer and Kent Outdoors outfitter J.J. Kent of Pottsboro, Texas (www.kentoutdoors.com; 903-271-5524).
After guiding a few hundred dove hunters afield each year in the dove-rich regions of North and West Texas, Kent has seen a plethora of mistakes and comical errors made by numerous hunters. Not to mention some far more serious ones that can carry greater consequences than an embarrassing miss and a stifled chuckle among friends gathered out in a hunting field.
With that in mind, here are five tips that hunters can utilize in August in an effort to be ready for this year's early autumn dove season opener:
Check Your Plug: "The first thing I'd say is to make sure that your shotgun has the plug put back in it," said Kent. "If you went conservation season snow goose hunting this past spring or quail hunting or pheasant hunting last fall, you might have taken the plug out for that hunt. The problem is, you can't do that for fall migratory bird hunts including dove.
"In my experience as an outfitter, it's one of the most overlooked things that dove hunters forget to check as they head into a new season. And because of that, it's also one of the most frequent opening day of dove season tickets that gets issued by state game wardens. And nothing ruins an otherwise good and fun day of hunting like getting a ticket that could have been avoided."
Check Your Choke: "A lot of people use the same shotgun for hunting various birds ranging from doves to ducks to geese," said Kent. "If you went on a duck or goose hunt last fall or winter – or maybe a turkey hunt this past spring – you probably put in a full choke or maybe even a specialty choke.
"But in dove hunting, you don't want those big chokes, you want something more open like an improved cylinder, or at best, a modified choke. And now is the time to look for where you put such chokes in your garage or man cave, not as you're hurriedly scrambling to get out of the door on opening day."
Clean Your Shotgun: "For many hunters, their shotgun has not been cleaned in months, probably since the last time that they used it," said Kent. "And while modern guns can take a pretty good beating compared to older guns, the last thing you want to do is to show up in red-hot dove hunting field and pull out a shotgun that has some issues and isn't working properly.
"Whether it's some rust that has developed, grime that is preventing the gun from cycling properly or some mechanical issue that has arisen since last year now is the time to figure all of that out.
"Give it a good cleaning – taking it to a gunsmith if necessary – and make sure that it is working properly now.
"Otherwise, be prepared to have a lot of steam coming out of your ears when the doves are flying fast and furious on opening day ... and your gun isn't working properly."
Wear Eye and Ear Protection: "People might think that this one doesn't belong in such a pre-season preparation kind of a story, but it does," said Kent. "A hunter's eyes are the most common part of the body that gets injured while dove hunting.
"Dove hunting is a group kind of activity that often has plenty of shotgunners scattered around while taking aim at flighty birds zipping their way across a field. Stray pellets can and do occur in such situations, even with hunting safety measures being stressed.
"Because of that, I just can't stress this enough, you've got to – you've GOT TO – wear good eye protection each and every time you're out in the field, whether it's actually on a hunt during the season or during a practice session beforehand.
"Because when it comes to eyesight, there simply are no do-overs, none at all. Having a good pair of safety shooting glasses is an absolute must. And while I'm on the subject, don't forget to wear adequate hearing protection too."
Practice Shooting: "Once you've gotten all of the above taken care of, then it's time to hit the skeet or sporting clays range so that you can regain your shooting skills and get back on target," said Kent.
"If you want to enjoy a good hunt in early September, the kind that produces a limit of birds within a box of shells and impresses your friends, then get out now in late July and early August to knock the rust off of your shooting skills.
"And don't forget to practice the easy creampuff shots either. Honestly, as an outfitter, I've noticed over the years that the birds that are floating in and flying straight at a hunter, those are the ones that they tend to miss.
"Those hunters miss, in my opinion, because they have too much time to think about it, they don't lead them properly, they shoot two or three times and the bird flies right on by.
"It's really not the hard crossers that get missed, the ones where the birds have the afterburners kicked in. You don't really have time to think about those shots, you just mount the gun, instinctively swing the gun through the target and knock those doves down.
"It's the loafers, the ones that you see two miles out flying on a straight path towards you that people tend to miss the most on dove hunts. You pull up, you miss and they make you look bad in front of your friends as they all laugh.
"So be sure to practice hitting those kinds of shots between now and September 1. Or be prepared to get a little red-faced with some good natured and humorous jabs coming from your hunting buddies."