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.
Do This at the Range
Start range sessions with an understudy rifle
that mimics your deer rifle. You likely haven't fired a round in earnest in months, and no doubt your skills are rusty after the winter/spring layoff. So don't beat yourself up, waste expensive ammo or grow frustrated. Use a rimfire to concentrate on breathing, relaxing, squeezing the trigger and following-through on meaningful shots. Then move to your centerfire rifle of choice.
Bore-sight a new scope at close range.
Weighing 55-70 pounds, shorthairs push size limits, but they can make charming house pets if not overly hyperactive. They may not require as much exercise as setters or pointers, but probably need more than any dog on this list.
Move off the bench.
In preparation for hunting, a bench rest is good for one thing only—assuring your rifle is zeroed. There are no shooting benches in the woods, so why use one for practice? Instead, fire from the prone, sitting, kneeling and offhand positions most likely used while hunting.
Become proficient with artificial shooting rests.
The best field-shooting position can always be enhanced with a backpack, a pair of shooting sticks or a proper sling. Practice shooting with all three, make them part of your "kit" and never leave home without them.
Identify problems with rifles and ammo now.
Extractors break. Scope erectors grow weak and stop taking adjustments. Ammo misfires. Now, not November, is the time to wring out problems with equipment.
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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.