Over the years, Southern dove hunts have grown and established deep traditions of heading out into the field on a late summer afternoon with a trusty shotgun and plenty of shells. Some dove hunts begin early in the morning long before the official shooting times. Hunters gather near the field to do a little grilling to welcome the start of the season.
Fellowship among hunters and story swapping is one segment of the hunt. Old hunting buddies get reacquainted, and new friends are made. There’s more to a good old-fashioned dove hunt than just shooting.
Dove hunter safety
Dove shoots can range from just a few family and friends to more than 50 hunters on public and private hunts. The hunters position themselves around the edge of a field or tree line. They should allow plenty of room between hunters for shooting safely. Determine the location of other hunters around the field before the shooting begins.
The top safety rule is not to shoot or even think about shooting at a low-flying bird. Doves may dip and dive after being shot at, but hunters should avoid the temptation of taking a shot at a low bird over the field. A rule of thumb for many dove hunters is not to shoot at a bird below the 10 o’clock position.
Most dove hunting accidents occur when a hunter swings on a low flying bird. Make certain of your target area and what is beyond, shotgun pellets can travel farther than one might expect. Always unload your gun when crossing a fence or ditch or approaching other hunters. It is always safety first.
Hunters under 16 years old must stay within reach of the licensed hunter. The children can’t be off by themselves.
The Alabama Department of Conservation sponsors youth hunts around the state. Youth hunters must be accompanied by a licensed adult hunter 25 years old or a parent/guardian and the adult is not allowed to shoot. Hearing and eye protection is recommended on any dove hunt.
For most dove hunters it may have been awhile since they have fired a shotgun. Before heading out to the dove field, you may want to brush up on your shooting skills and check the operation of your old scattergun. Sporting clays present the shooter with various targets under different shooting situations. Youth hunters should get in some practice shooting as well before opening day. Single shot or pump action shotguns are a safe bet for young hunters on the dove field. These guns are lighter and are easier for the youngsters to handle.
Migratory bird regulations apply for dove shooting. Make sure your gun’s magazine is plugged or otherwise incapable of holding more than three shells at a time. Do not load your shotgun until you are in your hunting area and ready to hunt.
“Some dove hunters over choke their guns,” said Richard Patty, owner of Shotgun Sports in Anniston. “The first part of the season an improved cylinder choke is best for early doves.”
Patty said the tight full choke pattern is small for fast flying birds. After a couple of weeks into the season a dove shooter may want to move to a modified choke if the birds are flying higher. The best all-around shot sizes for doves are either No. 7 1/2 or No. 8 size shot.
Most dove hunters will carry a 12 gage shotgun for dove shooting. This is a popular gage for many hunters and various loads and shot sizes are readily available. However, a 20 gage with a modified choke will take its share of doves on opening day.
Area farmers and landowners offer one day pay type dove hunts. Folks can show up ready to shoot or reserve a spot with a pre-paid ticket. Generally the hunt master will have ribbons tied to tree limbs or bushes marking the locations for hunters. Usually the spots are spaced out around the field to give everyone plenty of room.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System has made changes concerning practices involving mourning dove management. There are no longer three planting zones for fall or winter plantings for wheat. Fall and winter wheat may now be top sown statewide from Aug. 1 to Nov. 30. A well-prepared seed bed is still required. Check the Alabama Hunting and fishing Digest for dove regulations.
Dove hunters should inspect and scout the field before they plan to hunt. Ask questions of how the field was prepared and what was planted in the field.
Dove day tips
Hunters may want to bring along a chair, stool or traditional dove bucket. These will allow the hunter to sit down for a rest or to help camouflage from the old eagle-eyed doves. Not only is camouflage important in dove hunting, but remaining still until the bird is in range will improve your chances of getting a shot.
Dove hunters with youth may want to wait a little later in the day if the weather is hot. The doves should be flying by mid-afternoon and the younger hunters won’t have to endure the heat waiting on the birds to get going. A comfortable dove bucket or folding chair will be welcomed.
The weather can be hot on a dove field. Hunters will want pack in some cold water or soft drinks along with a few snacks. Also, some large freezer bags to put your doves and keep them in your cooler. Doves shot early in the afternoon could spoil in hot weather.
Some hunters use dogs to retrieve downed doves. Don’t forget man’s best friend will need a drink of water during the hunt especially on a hot afternoon. A bucket or some water bottles will be welcomed by your dog.
With an early opening day for doves this year, the action and the weather could be hot.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at ChrJohn7@aol.com.