It’s the only hunting that can be done while sitting on a stool, drinking a soda, laughing at friends’ misses and yelling about more opportunities coming over the trees. It’s also the first hunting season to open in most areas across the country: dove season.
Dove season begins fall hunting season for most people. Even hunters who don’t head to fields in September can hear the popping of shotguns in the distance and know fall is just around the corner.
Dove hunting is considered by many to be a social affair. Meals are frequently prepared before or after hunters spread out to wait for the fast, maneuverable birds to soar into the field. Yelling is not only encouraged, but expected, and calls of “coming over!” and “behind you!” warn both friends and strangers of pending targets flying into range.
Dove shoots are also a great way to introduce youngsters to the joys of hunting. Kids can help spot doves, eat snacks and retrieve downed birds as they learn the basics of wingshooting safety and ethics plus it’s crucial to explain to them that with so many hunters in close proximity, safety is a necessary part of dove hunting. Be sure that everyone wears ear plugs and safety glasses to protect eyes from the inevitable pellet rain and just in case someone shoots at a low-flying bird.
Explain that shooting at low-flying birds is a major safety violation, and a quick way to get scolded or not invited back next year. There are a few ways to ensure the excitement of the hunt doesn’t ruin the day. American Hunter Editor-in-Chief Scott Olmsted says to always “keep daylight under the bird,” while other hunters always keep the gun angled up at 45 degrees. Either system keeps everyone safe on the field.
One way is to befriend farmers at the local farmers’ market. Farmers understand the need for conservation and hunting, and while they may not give you unlimited access, they might let you come out a time or two if they feel you’re a safe, ethical hunter. Hunters can also search for small, isolated fields on Wildlife Management Areas, especially fields near water. Doves need water just as much as other wildlife, and all open fields provide some food for birds in the form of grass seeds. However, be sure to check local regulations for where you can hunt on WMAs and whether you need to use non-toxic shot near water.
Fields can vary as much as the hunters sitting on them. Following traditional agriculture practices for the area usually ensures a legal field, but laws vary among states. Spreading winter wheat on broken ground as a cover crop is legal is some places and considered baiting in others. Sunflower, corn, wheat and other grain fields, both before and after harvest, bring in large amounts of doves and are very popular with hunters. However, before heading out to a dove shoot, be sure to review your state’s regulations. It is up to each hunter to know whether he or she is on a legal field, and “I didn’t know” won’t cut it with the game warden.
Taking Them Down
Both are simple in concept, and aptly named, but harder to implement in the field. For the swing-through lead, start behind the target and swing through firing as the bead crosses the proper lead in front of the target. Perform the sustained lead by taking aim in front of the bird and sustaining the proper lead as the gun is fired. Figuring the proper lead for the distance comes with experience—shells spent in misses—but the basic adage is: “The closer the bird, the shorter the lead.” Hunters often swap between leads depending on the situation, but the most important part of both leads is follow through—stopping the swing as the trigger is pulled results in a miss.
My early dove season began on Quaker Neck Gun Club in Maryland and ended on a Virginia WMA, with a farm shoot in between, using Remington’s new 105 CTi II semi-auto shotgun, which allowed me to drop 12 with just over two boxes on my best day out – my new record.
Read about Remington's 105 CTi II