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.
Teamwork in the Dove Field
Find the Local Buffet
Noting dove food choices available in your area pays dividends when scouting fields. Freshly harvested grains like corn, wheat and millet are always top choices. Seeds of sunflower, safflower, sesame and smartweed also rate high. If grains and seeds aren't present look for freshly harvested hay fields with clover, alfalfa or lespedeza, or cattle feed lots. Pond banks provide fine grit doves use to fulfill digestive needs after feeding.
Doves travel to and from roosting sites to feed and water, so note the direction they fly when entering and exiting the field. Tree lines, waterways, roadways and utility lines—all are common flyways. Position hunters to take advantage of them.
Pick a Stand
Any stand that allows hunters to intercept birds as they enter/exit a field will see plenty of action, but shooters on the perimeter have the advantage. Shooters inside the field must settle for birds that have "flown the gauntlet" (frightened birds test the best shooting skills). Pick a stand as close as possible to two factors—water/feed, roosting site/flyway entrance, etc.
Depending on the size of the field, it could take several dozen hunters to keep the doves flying. Most shooting is conducted just outside the range of another hunter. Doves often swoop downward and become low-flying targets. Avoid shooting at low flyers. It's wise to wear not only ear but eye protection because pellets sent up must come down.
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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.