OMG it’s almost September 1, and that can only mean one thing—it’s dove season, the be-all-end-all kickoff to every other hunting season! Let’s get this one done right. I’ve got 10 tips that’ll help you bag your limit without (hopefully) going through a case of shells. Here we go!
1. Opening day doves aren’t the brightest bunch. They’ve had a long, hot summer to feed and breed to their heart’s content, and half of them haven’t even gotten the urge to get up and head south yet. That means there’s no need to complicate your setup via covering every last inch of you and your gun with camouflage. Sure, wear a camo or khaki shirt, and absolutely put on a baseball hat that’s also subtly colored. But you don’t need to do it up like you’re about to hit an early bow-season whitetail hunt. In most places, it’s just too damn hot to get that dressed up anyway, so don’t heatstroke yourself over the perfect coverup.
2. While it isn’t so important that you and your gun look like a corn stalk during this early season, it is important to keep your movements subtle. Nothing educates even a tiny brained bird like a mourning dove faster than gunshot and a lot of movement in a sunflower field that hasn’t seen so much as a coyote in it for months. Keep the alarm among the feathered brethren down by sticking to the easy close-up shots, and save your high-flying pass-shooting-geese techniques for the second month of the season.
3. If there’s one piece of gear you should have, it’s a swivel-seated bucket. Camp stools and small coolers are too low to the ground to let you shoot effectively. They put your knees above what should be the horizontal line of your thigh top and, thus, bind up your swing at the waist. These types of seats—especially the camp chairs and tripod-legged stools with their hammocky seat material and back supports—are also difficult to get out of if your preferred method is rise-and-stand to shoot. The real problem there isn’t so much that you’re more likely to miss the shot, it’s that this difficulty can translate directly to a safety issue. Lose your balance even slightly, when you’re making the effort to get out of one of those chairs, and you’re likely to swing your barrels across something they ought not to be swung across. Capiche? A final argument for the swivel bucket is that you don’t have to stand, which minimizes overall movement and keeps a corn or sunflower field from looking to overhead doves like it’s turned into some sort of Whack-A-Mole game.
4. Small ponds and dwindling waterholes are no-brainer go-to hunt spots when the summer’s been dry and water is in short supply. But you can’t take the crowd approach to these small havens like you should with a large agricultural spread—and you have to have something like a nearby treeline, pasture or crop field edge, or water tank/tower for some minimal concealment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a dozen shooters crowding a shrinking, mud-banked cow pound, none of them getting any action, once the first two or three birds are downed. And I’ve seen more than a few hunters just plunk themselves on the edge of the pond, right out there in the open, dog at their side. Gotta tell ya, you don’t look like a steer about to get a drink, when you do something like that. Nope, you look like an out of the norm and out of place lump of no-good, something no dove with any amount of self-preservation will risk a sip over.
5. Watch the weather. The minute the weather changes from whatever steady pattern it’s been in, grab your friends and find a field, because the birds are going to move. This is seriously important for those whose second season allows them to start shooting in the morning instead of the noon kickoff of the first month and a front comes in over night, but it’ll work any time there’s a sudden shift downward in temps or if rain shows up. Hottest field I ever shot in was narrow plot of sunflowers wedged between some thick stands of hardwoods in Virginia on a September opening day. We woke that morning to a steady rain and the mercury 15 degrees lower than it had been for nearly a month before it. I was limited out in 30 minutes, having expended a measly 14 shells, and nearly our entire group of some 40 or so shooters had stopped firing by 2 p.m. When you’ve got a field on fire like that, Katy bar the door, ’cause you’re gonna forget every other dove shoot you’ve ever had that cost you half a case of shells, seven hot hours in the field, and saw you with only three birds in your bag at sundown.
On this last note, I’m willing to bet dove hunters on the East Coast may just have some banner opening days, after Irene blew through and dumped all that rain this past weekend. Food sources will be disturbed and/or under water in many places, and that factor, in conjunction with the monumental weather disturbance that Irene was, should have birds in a tizzy. There should be some tremendous shooting opportunities out there, from Georgia north, but let me know if my hunch was right. Weigh in here with your post-opening day comments, Twitter them to me @JLSPearsall, or post them to my Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/friends/edit/?sk=requests#!/pages/Jennifer-L-S-Pearsall/114714501899681. And don’t forget to check in tomorrow for the second set of five tips, right here on GunDigets.com.
The Author Recommends: You’re gonna need a knife to get those tender dove breasts off the bone and ready for the bacon and jalapeños. The Stockman’s Pocket Classic from CRKT (Columbia River Knife Company) has a delicately curved handle and not one, not two, but three blades, making this an excellent knife to take you from dove season to duck season and on to the late goose seasons, not to mention all the quail, woodcock, grouse, huns, and pheasants in between.
About the Author: Jennifer L.S. Pearsall joined Gun Digest in summer 2011 as a books editor. She began her career selling guns in a retail gun shop and handgun range in Northern Virginia in the early 1990s. Recruited by the NRA to join its editorial staff in 1999, she then went on to succeed as a freelance writer and photographer. She's been a competitive shooter in many disciplines, including sporting clays, IPSC, and metallic blackpowder cartridge silhouette, and she has been an avid hunter for many years.
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