Rays of sun shower down across the stalks and husks of a cut corn field. Crows caw in the distance. A slight breeze is welcomed as hunters dressed in camouflage fade into the trees and brush along the field edge. Hunters make ready their shotguns as the clock ticks toward high noon.
Saturday begins a special day in most sections of the state. No, it’s not football. It is the opening day of dove season for the northern zone. And it can be more of a social event as well as hunt.
'Part of the fun'
Around many fields hunters will gather a few hours before legal shooting time for some original tailgating. Coolers with soft drinks, sport drinks and water will be unloaded with the folding chairs. Grills and cookers will be fired up.
“Part of the fun is showing up for the food,” said David Rainier, a longtime dove hunter. “It is hard to determine whether the hunters come for shooting doves or eating.”
Depending on the weather and temperatures, some hunters may delay their entry to the shooting sights. They will hang around the grill or table partaking of any leftovers. Hunting tales of old and new will be shared.
Rainer said that many traditional Southern dove hunts allow hunters to reconnect. For many it is more like a reunion. Swapping tales, meeting old friends and making new ones can be more important that the hunt itself.
Something dove hunters should do before the day of the hunt is practice shooting their shotgun. With most dove hunters, it probably has been several months since the old shotgun has seen daylight. The shotgun should be clean and checked for proper operation before opening day.
“You will want to practice and shoot a gun you are familiar with,” said Kevin Tate of Mossy Oak. “Some folks pick up a new shotgun and not practice shooting it.”
Tate suggested that a few hours at a skeet range will help hunters get tuned up for the fast flying doves. Also, the practice will help hunters get acquainted with their shotgun and dove loads.
Most dove shooters will opt for a 12-gauge shotgun in a semi-automatic action with a full choke. Also, 20- and 16-gauge models are good choices. The old 16-gauge was once popular among upland game hunters and is making a comeback. Before the dove hunt, make certain your shotgun magazine is plugged and will not hold more than three shells, the legal limit.
Some hunters may choose a double-barrel shotgun. Over-and-under models have found their way to the dove field. Some may argue a hunter only has two shots. However, with interchangeable choke tubes, dove hunters can install a modified choke tube for close in birds and in the second barrel install a full choke tube for those longer shots.
Popular shot shell sizes for doves include No. 7 1/2 and No. 8 size shot. Hunters will want to check the shot pattern on the guns and shot size they will use on the hunt. Heavier shot loads in the 1 1/8- to 1 1/4- ounce loads in 12-gauge shells should provide a better pattern.
“Try to visit the hunt location a few days prior to the hunt,” Tate said. “Look for the direction and areas where doves enter and leave the field.”
This scouting trip will help dove hunters learn the flight path of the doves and know where to set up on opening day. Areas to look for include small points of trees, openings in the tree line along side of the field and open fence lines. A setup near a watering hole is also a good choice.
Once in position on the dove field, there are certain etiquette and safety rules to follow. On most dove hunts, hunters will be asked not to load their shotguns until at their shooting position. On paid hunts, the hunt master or guide may hang bright colored ribbons around the edge of the field for hunting positions. These are spaced out for shooting safety.
Dove buckets and camo folding chairs are welcomed in the dove field. These make waiting on the birds a bit more relaxing than standing the whole afternoon. Some dove buckets can double as coolers, shell carriers and game bags for your birds.
“Don’t shoot at low flying birds,” Rainer said. “Bird shot can travel a long way and could contact other hunters in the field.”
It is the responsibility of each hunter to know where the other hunters are located and avoid shooting in their direction.
Hearing protection is wise, since there could be a lot of shooting from you and your neighbors. A quality pair of sunglasses will be welcomed in helping spot incoming birds and protecting your eyes from ultraviolet rays.
Hunters should mark the location of downed birds. Wait until the shooting has subsided before venturing into the field to retrieve your quarry.
Doves have keen eyesight and can detect the smallest amount of movement. Hunters should dress in complete camouflage to help avoid causing the doves to flare. Avoid any light or bright colored clothing that would alert the approaching doves.
Several years ago, on a local dove shoot, a hunter wore a gray T-shirt. When in the field he stuck out like beacon on a dark night. Stay concealed near a tree or brush and wait until the birds are in range. Any unnecessary movement can cause the birds to quickly divert their flight path.
If you are in a hot shooting area on the field and reach your limit of birds, move out to allow other hunters to take your spot. Give special consideration to older and young hunters. Allow them the opportunity to shoot. Part of a good dove shoot is for everyone to be safe and have fun.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at email@example.com.