September 1 is a popular day for those who enjoy warming up a shotgun barrel. I’d venture to say more Americans swing a gun that day than any other. Why? For a majority of states, Indiana included, it signals the opening of dove hunting season.
Nothing says it’s time to bring on the hunting seasons like a good dove hunt. It’s hard to compare anything to wingshooting and doves serve as the harbinger of the following migratory and upland bird seasons. Plus it’s easy to enjoy. Your gun, a bucket to serve as a seat and supply container and some camo clothing is all you need. Sure you can also purchase decoys and blinds but even those aren’t necessary to get started. Other than minimal equipment, you’ll also need a license, game bird habitat stamp and HIP number.
Before setting out here’s a few things to consider. Doves are seed eaters and love all types of grain. Sunflowers, corn and wheat fields all attract birds. They are bare ground feeders since their legs are too small to scratch through leaf litter and too short to navigate dense underbrush.
Have you ever noticed why you sometimes see numbers of doves along gravel roads? It’s because they are looking for grit to help grind the grain collected in their gizzard. Keep that in mind when scouting for a place to hunt.
Doves make one of the toughest targets in the sky, which make them so much fun. They streak by with their eyes and throttles wide open. Every year I hear someone boast how they collected a limit of 15 birds inside a box of shells. In case you’re wondering a standard box of shotgun shells come in quantities of 25. Personally, I have never seen it done by the average hunter. Ammo companies estimate hunters shoot three shells for every bird taken.
There is no doubt time spent shooting sporting clays and skeet is a great way to hone skills and sharpen hand-eye coordination. However, when it’s time to take your stand in a dove field things change. Clay targets, no matter where they are thrown, all fly in an arc. Doves, on the other hand, juke and jive all over the sky and can turn on afterburners like a fighter jet.
To increase your odds, camo clothing helps blend in with the surroundings, especially if you don’t silhouette yourself. Sit in the shadow of a big tree, fenceline, stands of tall weeds or corn. But don’t hide too well because you won’t see the birds coming until it’s too late, leaving your shotgun barrel wavering across the sky as they zip out of sight.
It pays big dividends if you take a few moments to learn the nuances of each filed you may hunt. “Beginning dove hunters should pay attention to what I call dove structure,” said my friend Don Wilkins, a dove hunting addict. He believes doves relate to certain types of topographic features, manmade or otherwise.
“There are always certain things that draw birds over a filed other than feed,” Said Wilkins. “It could be a ditch, grove of loafing trees or low area.” He went on to explain to always take a few minutes to see where the birds are coming from before taking your position.
Wilkins stressed the importance of remaining motionless once birds start coming in. “The best camo in the world is worthless if the person wearing it can’t sit still,” he added.
Equally important is to recover every bird, which sometimes isn’t as easy as you think. Downed doves can be difficult to find and there is no use shooting birds you can’t find. Marking birds is a wingshooting skill associated with all types of hunting.
Watch where the bird falls and don’t take your eyes off the spot where it hits the ground. Your eyes will quickly fix on a particular tall weed or tree. Walk straight to the spot without looking away.
Whenever possible, include youngsters in your endeavors. Dove hunting is tailor made for children and can set the course for a lifetime of wingshooting. The weather is pleasant, gear minimal and bag limits generous. Put a light kicking shotgun and ear protection on their small head and you’ll have a partner and memories for years to come.
In the end remember hunting doves is not about success rates or bird-to-shell ratios. It’s an opportunity to spend quality time afield with family and friends. But even more important, consider it a 21-gun salute to beginning of another glorious fall hunting season!