It's impressive how long rows of ripe sunflowers, broad harvested grain fields and languid farm ponds with a dead snag or two really seize your attention in late August. Early squirrel season may have already been open for a couple of weeks, but who drives by woodlots looking for a stand of hickory nut trees?
When September is near, it's not a long Labor Day weekend that creates a sense of exhilaration in the air. Nope, sorry, such anticipation can be reserved only for the opening of dove season.
The mourning dove is arguably the most widely pursued gamebird in the United States and deservedly so. Mountains of shotgun shells are expended in pursuit of this royal bird, which is all right and proper. But the tradition associated with opening day for dove is much more ceremonial than just a date on the calendar for huge swaths of the country. Especially in the South, welcoming the entry of dove season often takes on a fervor frequently reserved for religious occasions of the highest order.
In most of the country dove season opens Sept. 1 at high noon. Obviously it is usually much too hot to hunt at such an uncivilized hour. Yet noon becomes the appropriate moment for dove hunters to gather under giant shade trees and ponder the coming mission, even though the instant to actually take the field may be hours away. Noon marks the beginning of the rituals: building a fire in the battered barbecue so sizzling deer and elk burgers flavor conversation with their perfumes; admiring shotguns, old and new; enjoying good-natured banter grading shooting skills, or lack thereof; chatting with the kids attending their first dove shoot as active hunters; catching up with old friends not seen since last Sept. 1. These hours of camaraderie built upon years of shared hunts, shotguns, dogs, hunting friends long since departed and new acquaintances just discovered are precious portions of sacred ceremonies.
The magical spell stretches into late afternoon when swarms of rocketing birds beckon the chatterers into action. Activity quickens. Shooting vests are donned; shells are selected; weather-beaten pickups are boarded; shouts of excitement include the calling of dogs—all amid final blessings for "good shooting."
In the field guns bark, doves moved constantly by the strategic placement of hunters. Shouts of frustration ring out as lessons are taught over and over again by a 6-ounce critter, two-thirds tail, whipping by at 60 mph. Soon, the tattered old game bag develops a satisfactory heft. The color of the sinking sun and the feeling of the blessed, cool afternoon breeze suggest it's time to give thanks.
So camo coveralls come off, shotguns are cased and lovingly stowed. Thoughts of a big black skillet and the smell of frying doves cause mouths to water. It is the perfect end to a perfect day.
Tips to Lay Out Ol' Tom
Fly-down time at dawn
is, quite naturally, assumed by many hunters to be the best time all day to bag a tom. Trouble is, the hen or hens that old fella is visiting at that time of day may not let him off the hook long enough to pay attention to your calls and come anywhere near your setup. But during the peak of the breeding season, those hens are apt to visit their nests by noon. Your best shot at calling him close may come then, when old tom is lonely for attention.
Many times a tom hangs up
not because of an obstacle, but because he's walked far enough toward your call and, having not seen a hen, walks away. Your mistake: setting up too far outside that all-important range and never seeing him. When you call, be sure of a good line of sight through terrain and vegetation, and depending on cover, try to get within 100 yards of him before plopping down.
If you hear a gobbler moving away from you,
don't waste more time and breath trying to call him back. Instead, get up and hustle in a wide circle around him. If you need to hear him for reference, use a locator call. When you feel you are ahead of him, quickly set up and give a series of aggressive yelps with a call you haven't used yet. Many times this "fresh hen" tactic will prove successful.
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Like the fossilized skeletons of its ancestors displayed in the Smithsonian, a 12-foot alligator can be scary even when it's dead—something that Shooting Illustrated's Adam Heggenstaller learned in person during a gator hunt in Florida. Read More »
Could 2011 be the year of the work truck? If so, the Ram Tradesman is ready to clock in. Equipped with a juiced-up HEMI® engine.... Read More »
The year that Sumner, Mo., erected a statue of "Maxie" to commemorate being the "Wild Goose Capital of the World."
Maxie sports a 65-foot wingspan while resting on a cinderblock building in a community park.
The number of cackling subspecies.
The cackling goose, a smaller-bodied goose prominent in Canada and Alaska, is a tundra-breeder with considerably more black plumage than the Canada. At one time, the cackling goose was considered the smallest subspecies of the Canada, but is now recognized as a separate species.