The opener of dove season has always been a special time for me. When I think back over the past many ‘openers’ I have enjoyed in dove fields from North Dakota to Mexico, my mind is flooded with fond memories of some barrel burning shoots and some hunts where I didn’t fire a shot but it’s the family and friends I spend time with that was really important.
I’ll never forget my first ‘real’ dove hunt. I was about eleven years old and I joined my uncle and aunt for a hunt over a cut over corn field at their place west of Houston. I grew up hunting small game in northeast Texas but we never hunted dove, I was amazed at the number of dove that were buzzing that field and to the best of my recollection, I managed to down a few birds, probably easy "going away" shots.
I also remember that meal of grilled dove breast wrapped in bacon and camp beans cooked under a live oak tree on the field’s edge. I used to bow hunt up in North Dakota each year for deer and the deer/dove season overlapped. We had some fantastic shoots in that big farm country over barley, corn and sunflower fields.
A bonus to these hunts was the opportunity to shoot feral pigeons around the grain silos. These birds were every bit as good eating as dove and about 6 times the size!
For several years, I made the trip down to Mexico to shoot white wings with my good friend the late Bob Hood, outdoors editor for 42 years for the Ft. Worth newspaper. Bob had hunted down around Lake Guerrero for many years and he had me well versed for my first white wing hunt.
We were hunting a cut over cornfield not far from the largest nesting site for white wing doves in Mexico. There were literally clouds of dove swarming that field. At the gun room at the lodge, the outfitter asked if we wished to shoot over/under or autoloaders. Bob stressed that we both needed over/unders. "Luke, we will get all the shooting we need, two shots at a time with the over/unders. We will probably shoot an average of ten to twelve boxes of shells per day," he says as he hands me a slick little 20 gauge from the rack that probably cost as much as the old truck I was driving at the time!
I still remember those fine meals and awesome shooting at Rancho Caracole. Too bad the banditos ruined access to some of the best wingshooting in the world. The good news is that white wings have gradually worked their way north and south Texas offers some great hunting opportunities.
A few dove hunting tips that will help you fill your limit come opening day
LOCATE THE BIRDS- Before we can hunt dove, we first have to scout and find a concentration. This usually equates to finding a cur over maize filed or some other agriculture crop. Individual fields may not be ‘red hot’ on any given hunt but scouting before the hunt will insure you set up where your percentages are best. From a good vantage point, use binoculars during early morning and late afternoon and determine the flight pattern used by doves.
Then, locate a good spot to ambush them. The end of treelines, grown up fence rows or even high weeds adjacent a grain field can be good spots to hunt. If you’re hunting over a pond, chances are pretty good that dove have a particular area they prefer to come to water. These "watering zones" usually are areas with clean banks that provide grit for the birds and protection from predators.
Also, pay attention to the wind when choosing a spot to hunt. All birds take off and land into the wind.
HONE YOUR SHOOTING SKILLS- For most hunters, crossing shots at dove are the most difficult to make, especially shots on fast flying birds. It’s very common to shoot behind birds flying right to left or left to right. Nothing sharpens the eye for these shots better than a few rounds of skeet or trap. Practice by beginning your shotgun swing behind the flying bird (clay target), seeing daylight behind your shotgun barrel and the flying bird and pulling the trigger.
The trick for the shotgunner is just how much daylight is required in order to put the shot string at the exact spot where the bird will be! This study in physics has challenged the wingshooter since the invention of black powder and shot; it’s also what makes dove hunting so much fun.
To my way of thinking, dove are the most challenging of all birds to knock down with a scattergun.
WEAR CAMO- Back in the early sixties when I first began hunting dove, blue jeans and a dark colored T shirt was the uniform of the day. Dove have excellent eyesight and from their elevated position, they can easily spot anything that looks out of the ordinary, (i.e. hunters) wearing solid colors.
These days, I hunt dove in the same light weight, breathable camo I use for early season bow hunting. Wear camo and avoid movement until you begin your shotgun swing and chances are very good that you will have a heavier game bag at the end of your shoot!
WATCH YOUR BIRD HIT THE GROUND AND
RETRIEVE IMMEDIATELY- Dove blend well into their surroundings and many are lost by hunters that take their eye off of a falling bird and shoot at another. Unless shooting over a recently cut grain field or an area with short grass, It’s a good idea to watch your bird hit the ground after the shot and go immediately to retrieve it, especially if you’re not hunting with a good retriever.
DOVE ARE ‘FLOCKING’ BIRDS AND THEY RESPOND
WELL TO DECOYS- Back in the day, , decoys were seldom used by dove hunters but we’ve caught on to the fact that doves are flocking birds and they respond well to decoys just like waterfowl and turkey. Motion type decoys (spinning and flapping wing) have proved to be highly effective. On many occasions, I’ve had dove actually fluttering overhead above the motion decoys.
The trick to decoying doves, as any bird, is positioning decoys so that they are not only visible to passing birds but to bring them within shotgun range.
Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton through his websitewww.catfishradio.org