Preparing for dove hunting: know your birds' habits, and get ready to exercise your trigger finger.
By M.D. Johnson
If you're a wingshooting fanatic, few months are more notable than September. That month signals the start of yet another dove hunting season.
Dove hunting is a social time for many of us. We get together with friends and family, show off those just-acquired retriever pups and that brand spankin' new over/under. We also spend the day outdoors hoping to fill a cooler with a limit of one of the most prolific and most challenging game birds ever to grace the planet.
A seat in the shade, a bottle of ice water, and plenty of No. 7 1/2 shotshells are all that's truly necessary to enjoy an amazing dove hunt. Oh, and a goodly dose of humility, too.
Doves Over Water
Dove hunting and sunflower fields have traditionally been synonymous terms. However, hunters can — and should — take advantage of the mourner's daily water requirements.
Water sources need not be large or even permanent in nature. A tiny seep, a seasonal puddle in a depression, or a slow-moving creek might all hold potential. Of course, ponds, tributary streams or even small rivers can likewise provide shooting opportunities.
Regardless of the specifics, each should be relatively open in nature, with the best holding several tall dead trees at the water's edge, and the ultimate having a gently sloping sand shoreline leading into the shallows. Here the birds enjoy good visibility, their primary defense against predators, as well as access to grit and water, both of which are daily requirements.
Hunting these water sources is uncomplicated. A portable blind is nice, and yet in many instances, a seat in the shadows with good fields of fire is all that's needed. At the water's edge, a half dozen full-bodied decoys and a pair of spinners — one low and one high — add to the scenario's already-existing attractiveness. While birds can trade into and out of such spots throughout the course of the day, especially in hot weather, these water sources are often best hunted at mid-morning, or after the doves have had a chance to feed, and in the final hour or two of legal shooting time prior to the birds going to roost. Shots will generally be close at these waterholes, making an open or improved-cylinder choke and No. 7 1/2, 8 or even 9 shot a good rule of thumb.
MAKE A DOVE WIRE
DRIVE TWO 2-foot pieces of 3/4-inch metal conduit into the ground. A 10-foot section of 1/2-inch conduit slips into each section of 3/4-inch pipe, with wire stretched between them. Clip 6 to 8 decoys on the wire with a spinning-wing on one of the uprights.
Give Me a Break
While hunting a public dove field with my wife, Julia, her youngest son, Robbie, and the finest black Labrador retriever ever, Maggie, I noticed something. Oh, we were enjoying a tremendous shoot from our stools around the perimeter of the sunflowers. But I noticed that 75 percent of the doves entering, or those lucky enough to exit the field, did so between a 100-foot-wide gap in the pin oaks that ringed the area. Apparently, Robbie, new to dove hunting, noticed it, too.
"Can I go stand down there, M.D.?" he asked. With the requisite instructions to be safe, I sent him on his way. Thirty minutes and a whole lot of shooting later, I noticed him wandering back in our direction, one hand full of doves. Quietly, the boy walked over to the cooler, put the birds on ice, looked me full in the face, and asked, "Say, M.D., can I have some more shells?"
For everyone concerned, including Maggie, it was a great experience.
The point here is that even — or perhaps especially — on public-dove fields, birds will show a tendency to use one or two routes, we'll call them, to enter and exit the field. Typically, these routes are defined by breaks in the terrain or topography; a gap in a treeline, a roll or depression in ground of higher elevation nearby, or even something as subtle as a fenceline or field edge. Best and most obvious, however, are gaps or breaks in a treeline.
Ideally, the gap is narrow enough so as to make one side or the other a prime shooting location. If not, you can set up a lightweight portable blind near center to provide shooting opportunities to either side, as well as, if safety permits, to both front and back. Shots in these situations can fall on the long side, like in pass-shooting. A modified choke, probably no more, and a box of No. 6 or 7 1/2 should help you fill the Yeti.