If you’re a dove hunter, and I’d guess that you are if you’re reading this, then you’re looking for a good opening day of bird hunting success. If that's your goal when your state's dove hunting season opener arrives this fall, then avoid committing these seven wingshooting sins as you go afield.
Unsafe Shooting Practices
A hot dove hunting field can make for snappy shooting and quick decisions. Just be sure that such fast action doesn’t come back to haunt either you or someone hunting with or near you.
While not an exhaustive list, some shooting safety tips to consider when setting up shot in a dove field is to never point your gun in an unsafe direction; treat every gun as if it were loaded; wear adequate eye and hearing protection and insist that everyone hunting with you does the same.
A few more shooting safety tips include never shooting without verifying your target and what’s behind it; never shoot a shotgun muzzle too close to someone’s position; NEVER mix shooting with alcohol; and never make a shot that you’re unsure of.
For all of the fun that a wingshooter can have in a dove field, no bird is worth a shooting mistake in the field, one that injures a person or does something far worse.
Not Being Legal
Few things can ruin an outing like finding out from a game warden that you've broken the law and are about to get an expensive citation.
How can you avoid that? For starters, make sure that you’re not hunting in a baited field or flyway. Ask your 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 ensure that the plug is indeed in the gun and that it is seated properly.
And finally, it goes without saying that you need to hunt only during legal shooting hours; possess a legal hunting license; have any stamp endorsements that the state you are hunting in requires; have hunter safety education if required; and possess HIP certification before venturing afield.
Using Inferior Ammunition
With the national average of shotgun shells spent per dove harvested being somewhere between seven and 12 depending on who you listen to, it’s easy to see why the fast flying dipsy-doodle dove is an ammo maker’s dream when it comes to game birds.
Handicapping an already difficult endeavor by using bargain basement shotgun shells with less shot, less powder, and lesser quality components doesn’t make sense.
So go ahead and spend an extra two or three bucks and buy “Heavy Trap Loads” or “Heavy Dove Loads” that are loaded with good powder charges and plenty of #7 ½- or #8-shot pellets.
Not Using Spinning-Wing Decoys
I rarely go dove hunting these days without decoys. From a few “feeders” that I’ll stake in the ground to a few lookers that I’ll post on a barbed wire fence or in a dead snag, a dozen or so decoys are almost always with me on a dove hunt.
But I NEVER plan to ever go dove hunting again, where legal, without a spinning-wing decoy or two tagging along with me. Why? Because these decoys, like the ones made by Mojo, work and definitely attract doves into shooting range.
Failing to Mark Birds
When doves are flying into a field or waterhole 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 that flies off, or kill it and can’t find it, in my book, the right thing to do as an ethical hunter is to make sure that bird counts as a part of your daily bag limit, whether it is in your game vest or not.
Moving Too Soon
The first 30 minutes of the dove season can see more than a few unsuspecting cream puffs fly by.
But let the first half hour of shooting slide by and opening day doves quickly start getting the message that the season is on. These birds will quickly flare and hit the afterburners at Mach III fighter pilot speeds if they see a hunter move too soon.
To avoid that, find a spot where you’re hidden in the shadows and don’t make your move until the dove is well within shooting range.
Not Taking Dove Hunting Seriously Enough
No one enjoys the social nature of dove hunting more than I do. From hunting with groups of friends to enjoying a post-hunt tailgate snack of venison summer sausage and a cold beverage around the tailgates of pickup trucks, a good dove hunt is a lot of fun.
But after years of hunting, I’ve learned that when the law comes off the day and legal shooting time commences for doves, it’s time to get serious and 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 colored and shiny empty hulls, and I’ll focus on the hunt at hand until I’m done.
Then, I’ll case the gun, sit on the back of a pick-up truck to shoot the bull, tell wingshooting tall tales, and enjoy a cold diet Dr. Pepper with my hunting pals.
All with a limit of birds providing a satisfying heft to the back of my game vest.
While avoiding these seven dove hunting sins doesn’t guarantee a limit of birds on opening day, they certainly don’t hurt a hunter’s cause.
So cast these sins away when you go afield next month ... and see if doing so doesn’t bring wingshooting redemption in the form of limit.
With some good shooting and a little luck, maybe it will even be a limit that was earned inside a single box of shotgun shells. And that's something to smile about.