Dove Field Safety
Hunting in all its forms is a safe and enjoyable activity. Complacency, however, can and will lead to accidents. A dove field full of hunters can become dangerous if someone gets lazy. Stick to these simple tips from Kyle Wintersteen to ensure that everyone stays safe this fall.
October 07, 2013
Hunting in all its forms is a safe and enjoyable activity. The most recent statistics indicate you are more likely to be injured playing tennis, enjoying a round of golf or jogging than while hunting with firearms.
However, often it seems the injuries that do occur often result from complacency. We feel safe, so perhaps we get a little too comfortable, a little less observant of our surroundings. Take dove hunting, for instance. So often we think of it being far safer than hunting big game, but—when doves start zipping through a field full of hunters—a diligent eye must be kept on safety. As you hit the sunflower patch or grain field this month, here are a few tips to ensure everyone has a pleasant experience.
See and Be Seen
Before I enter a field, I spend a minute or two determining the locations of others present so I can set up a safe distance from them. Usually this involves simply looking, but communication in the dove field is always a good thing.
For instance, last week I parked in a public hunting lot. Two local college students were leaving, but several other cars remained. The students were able to tell me where the other hunters were, and I chose my spot based on their intel.
Remember to keep watching for hunters as you head into the field and after you’re set up. And help them see you: Even if an orange hat isn’t required by law, it’s always a good idea, especially when you’re walking in or retrieving a dove. If you keep track of hunters—and they’re able to keep track of you—you prevent any ill-advised shots.
Setting up at a safe distance (use common sense) is also simple courtesy, as nobody wants a hunter sitting right next to them. And if hunters spread out across the field, you’ll keep the doves moving and better ensure a few shots for all.
Sky Under the Bird
Even if you’re proactive in keeping track of others afield, you may not spot someone or you may lose track of him. A failsafe is in order: Never take a shot at a dove below 45 degrees. Since protractors don’t mount easily to shotguns, a good rule of thumb is to avoid shots in which you can’t see any sky under the bird. In this way, if you mistakenly shoot in the direction of a distant hunter, your shot will merely rain on him. Rest assured, he will be very ticked off, but he won’t be injured. Especially if he followed the next tip on our list.
I consider this tip absolutely mandatory. Never hunt doves without eye protection. You’re simply too likely to encounter a stray pellet, for reasons described in the previous paragraph. Even a cheap pair of sunglasses from the local gas station are sufficient to block a low-velocity pellet from crippling your eyeball. However, keep in mind the pellet may come from your right or left. Safety glasses designed to extend around the corners of your eye are best.
The top threat to your dog is the September heat, which can remain oppressive. This is especially true if you failed to keep her in shape through the summer. However, even fit canine athletes are susceptible without proper care. Always bring plenty of cool water, not just for your dog to drink but to wet her down prior to and during the hunt. Remember, dogs can’t sweat, so a cool bath can be the difference between a happy dog and heat stroke.
On warm days, especially if the retrieves start piling up, keep an eye on your dog. A little panting is fine—lameness, disorientation and wobbly legs are not. Get that dog in cool water (with ice, if possible) right away. You need to get its internal temperature down.
I love hunting doves with a dog, which is one of the reasons I also like hunting a farm pond with grains nearby. The pond attracts thirsty doves and helps keep my dog cool and wet.
The dog could even improve your safety. Hunters may lose track of you while you’re out fetching birds, but not if you have a retriever to quickly run them down for you.
Stay In Your Zone
So, you’re in a field of hunters, all are properly spread out in a line (ideally), and everyone is a safe distance from one another. A final key step is ensuring everyone keeps their shots within their zone. You may shoot at doves directly behind or in front of you; and you may shoot a reasonable distance to the right or left. But, never take shots at doves that are about to come into range for other hunters. It’s really impolite—the equivalent of shooting ducks working another man’s decoy spread—and it’s a safety issue. Taking shots down the line of hunters, out of your zone, scatters pellets in the direction of other people, some of whom may have strayed into the field to retrieve birds.
Communication in the dove field is paramount. Wave to others around you to let them know you see them and ensure they see you. If you’re rained on, it’s okay to holler, “Hey, I’m over here!” (More colorful language is strictly optional.) And if you spot anyone violating any of the aforementioned safety rules, it’s okay to approach and politely correct them. Younger or inexperienced hunters especially may need to be advised on dove-field safety and, in fact, I consider it our responsibility to gently set them straight when necessary. If you wait until someone is injured (or just very angry), it’s too late.