September first is a holiday among hunters, the annual kickoff to dove season. And while these hard-flying birds are great fun to hunt and make delicious table fare, it’s also important to remember that the first priority of any trip to the field should be safety. The rules of safe gun handling apply to all hunting situations, and they should never be ignored or forgotten. All guns should be treated as if they’re loaded at all times, muzzles should always be pointed in a safe direction, and you should always know your target and what is beyond it. Never place your finger on the trigger until you are ready to fire. There are some extra considerations that apply specifically to hunting America’s favorite game bird, though. Here are six special safety concerns to remember when hunting doves.
1. Position in the Field Dove hunters typically spread out and hunker down in cover while they wait for birds, but you should always be aware of any other shooters in the field. Check to be certain that you have a clear field of view and that there are no other hunters in the proximity, and always maintain a safe distance between hunting groups. Careless shooting can result in accidents, so know where everyone is positioned before you pull the trigger and never fire in the direction of other hunters. When you set up, make certain that you have a clear lane of fire that is unobstructed, and you know that there are no other hunters in the path of fire.
2. Eye and Ear Protection at All Times Many hunters don't wear eyes and ears afield, but when I’m dove hunting I wear hearing and eye protection from the moment I step out of the truck. This isn't like big-game hunting, where you and other hunters might fire once or twice all day. An errant pellet can cost you a loss of vision, and you don’t want to risk permanent blindness because someone else is being careless. When you enter any dove field assume that there are already hunters there—even if it’s private land. If you don’t like bulky earphones there are slim, lightweight hearing protection options like Tetra https://tetrahearing.com/ that amplify normal tones and blocks out damaging noise.
3. Understand Safe Shooting Angles When you’re dove hunting you need to understand your lane of fire. In most cases that’s from the ten o’clock to two o’clock positions in front of you, and you should never shoot at birds that are flying low. Staying within your established shooting lane reduces the risk that you’ll track a bird and shoot in front of the person sitting next to you. You should determine shooting angles before guns are loaded and never stray from your established lane.
4. Don’t Load Until You’re Ready To Shoot There’s no reason to walk through a dove field with a loaded chamber. Once you’ve set up, established your shooting lanes and determined that it’s safe to shoot, then you can load your gun. By keeping the chamber unloaded you reduce the risk of an accident should you trip or fall on the way to your dove setup.
5. Keep Your Shooting Area Clear Low-hanging branches, fallen logs and buckets of gear are all hazards that can cause you to fall or knock you off balance when shooting. If you insist on bringing a bunch of extra equipment like coolers, keep those items behind you. If you bring your hunting dog along, make sure that they are trained to stay back and remain still.
6. Remember There Will Be More Birds Dove hunting is great fun, but you should always remember to stay safe and understand that hitting a single bird that’s flying low or out of your shooting lane isn’t worth the risk of injury or death. There will be more birds, so let those doves pass. You can’t take back a shot when it’s fired, and your goal of limiting out doesn’t excuse risky behavior.