With the dove opener in September, a little prep now can go a long way to having a great day in the field. Some simply show up on Opening Day and start banging away. Prudence shows that, with a little prep, your next expense will be some bacon to wrap your doves and put on the grill the next day!
Most big-game hunters scout before hunting. The same practice should be used for all hunting—to include doves. Scouting ahead of time will place you in the flyway over a field. Doves have preferred flight routes that they use. Many times they will fly along ridgelines or rows of trees for security, particularly after being shot at. Finding out where these flyways are will improve your chances at getting shots. When I scout a field, I find the three top flyways and then I remain flexible, because once the shooting starts, pressure can change things up. So, always have a backup spot or two handy.
Location, location, location! Sound familiar? Well, it applies to dove hunting too. Obviously you want to be along the flight route or flyway, but you also want to be in a spot where you blend in. Sitting on a white bucket on the edge of the field in the open is not going to earn you many chances to put a dent in your limit.
Find a row of trees with some overhanging limbs that might mask your location a bit, or find a spot where you can “tuck” into the terrain. This can be between two cedar trees or other brushy cover, or it could be a strip of corn that was left in the field just below the skyline. Both locations allow you to see incoming birds but put you out of their obvious line of sight. Your outline should blend in to the background. The bonus is that such a location will probably offer you some shade too. After all, the opening week of dove season is usually on the warm side!
We all want to dress in shirt sleeves and keep as cool as we can. In spots where the numbers of doves are not incredibly high or the hunting pressure is off the charts, you will do better to camo up and even consider wearing a lightweight mask to fool the doves into coming well within range. Consider the colors of your hat and other clothing. White socks in brown boots are a dead giveaway when your pants hike up as you sit on a dove stool!
I have seen the scenario time and again when a hunter is completely camouflaged (to include a mask), and they limit out in half the time or less than the rest of the group. So, the lesson learned is sweat a little bit and then go get in the shade and watch the others scratch out their shots for a few hours while you enjoy a cool beverage in your shorts and T-shirt.
Doves and most game are keenly aware of movement. That said, enjoy your dove shoot, talk and joke, but when a bird breaks into the airspace over the field, even if it is on the other side, remain completely still until the bird is well within range. Then, make one fluid move to mount the gun and take the bird. Doing so will sharply increase your harvest.
Prior to the opening day, get the shotgun out and shoot some clays. But, pattern your gun before shooting that first clay. A white sheet of paper, such as the back of a desk calendar, will work. Find out if the shells you intend to use have “holes” in the pattern. Play with the chokes a bit. Some guns are great with a full choke, but others are even better with a modified choke for doves. Some hunters are good about waiting for closer shots and use an improved choke to help with doves that abruptly turn.
Gets some of your dove hunting friends to come over the weekend before the opener and shoot some clays. Take turns working the clay thrower and start out with a few easy ones. Then turn the practice into some friendly fun by throwing clays from various angles and speeds to mimic what you might see on the dove field.
If you are taking your dog along for the retrieving, you should have already been working the dog to get him back into shape. Remember that heat can be brutal on dogs, particularly if they are working thick cover to find downed birds. Limit their work, keep a close eye on them and have plenty of cool water and shade nearby for them to recuperate. The heat can take a dog down very quickly, so at the first sign of any heat related stress, cool the dog off and take him out of the lineup.
This season, enjoy a successful dove hunt by following the above tips. You will save some money on shells, earn some respect, and if so inclined, chalk up some bragging rights too. Safe hunting!