6. If you’re an avid clay bird shooter and have been shooting tournament all summer long, take your competition gun to the field with you. Why? You’re used to it. You’ve spent the past several months swinging that gun at a lot of different flying targets, and if you’re a FITASC or sporting clays shooter, you’ve likely tackled every conceivable flight angle, incoming, outgoing, crossing, and otherwise–hmmm, just like doves. If you’ve got any kind of talent at bustin’ those orange discs, then you know consistency is the name of the game—so why wouldn’t you take that gun to the field? And, no, the argument about your tournament gun being too heavy doesn’t fly. You’ll be sitting on a stool, for goodness sakes, not hiking half of Arizona in search of a Gambel’s quail. Suck it up and stop whining about not having your golf cart already! Same goes for long barrels–while they may not be a sound choice for grouse hunting, long barrels are great for use in the more open areas doves frequent.
7. Well, now that I’ve said what I just said, I’m going to back-pedal a bit and tell you that, if you hunt doves beyond the opening two weeks or so, you might want to switch to a camouflaged semi-auto for late-season birds (just get in a couple rounds of skeet or sporting clays with any new gun before you take it to the field to refamiliarize yourself with it). They’ve been shot at, are warier of movement and out-of-place shapes and colors, and fly higher and faster than in the early season.
8. On top of perhaps transitioning to a camoed gun, late-season dove shooters will want to cover up their bodies more than they did in the early season. No need to wear a ghillie suit or go so far as to use a ground blind—seriously, these are doves, not a trophy buck or a limit of canvasbacks, pintails, and black ducks for which you spent a fortune on guns, camo, and boat to bag—but you will want to put on a camo hat, pants, shirt, and maybe even gloves. Careful with your patterns, though. Fields and trees that had a bright, colorful appearance in September will, of course, gray out, as the season progresses. You clad in a corn-stalk or cattail pattern with sunny highlights will stick out like a hair in your soup against a stubble field of corn that was harvested three months prior.
9. What to shoot, what to shoot … every sporting goods store in the world has cases of cheap dove loads ready and waiting for you. I prefer to skip these, though, instead continuing to use the target loads I’ve shot all summer. A 1-ounce and even a really fast 7/8-ounce load of No. 7 ½ or No. 8 works just fine on mourning doves, especially during the opening weeks of the first season. Sure, I’ll switch to a full 1 1/8-ounce load in a heavy target designation as the doves get faster and higher, but I have several advantages choosing factory or handloaded target loads over those factory “dove” loads. One, I know how the target loads perform, because I’ve been shooting them at clay targets forever. I know what shatters and what merely breaks or chip a target and at what distance. Second, they’re subject me to a lot less recoil than game loads, and this is a huge bump when it comes to higher, longer late-season birds that you need might need a second or third shot at. Third, target loads won't make hamburger out of these tiny birds if you hit 'em hard. And, lastly, target loads—both factory and handloads—tend to be cleaner, and anything that makes cleaning the gun easier is alright by me.
10. I kinda can’t do one of these types of list without a nudge toward being careful. Be safe out there, folks. Pass up those birds skimming the tops of the fields and call “Low bird!” so everyone else knows to hold their fire. Save the beer for after the shooting, and make sure you take every bird that’s been shot and put the breasts on the grill for appetizers before the hog is done on the pit. Keep your retrievers at home until the temps cool down—your dog dead from heatstroke at the end of the day will never be worth it. In fact, use your kids to shag birds—they’ll love it and get a great introduction to the sport at the same time. Just remember to tell everyone in your shooting party that there are going to be younguns running around and picking up birds, so that all shooters are extra careful with gunfire and the tots. Be careful, be polite. Compliment each other when great shots are made, and gently, gently rib those who miss the easy ones. Help a new youth shooter get his first bird or two down. Pick up your shotshell hulls at the end of the day. Enjoy. It’s the start of a brand new season.
Afterthought: I had a friend from Minnesota weigh in on yesterday’s post. He thought the tips were great, but were mostly geared towards folks in the south, and so wanted to know what words of wisdom I had for someone wanting to shoot doves in the north. I thought my tips were pretty applicable for anyone who shot doves, but then the writer clarified that it was a dove shortage that was a problem for him. My answer? Scout it out just like you would any other game animal.
I used to do this for pheasants in Kansas. Find a high spot somewhere in the countryside, preferably somewhere on or within binocular view of a dirt road, sometime after the early dinner hour before the sun is down and while birds are still flying. What you’re looking for is birds congregating to pick up gravel, as well as flights of birds moving between feeding areas and roosts. Now, a “flight” in a dove-deficient zone might be a single dozen or so birds, rather than streams of multiple dozens, but still, locating any group will give you a starting point.
Once you’ve established some basic roost-to-food areas, figure out where you can sit to get in some action. Now, big agriculture shouldn’t be an issue—if it was, you’d probably have the quantities of doves we in the South have. Instead, look for smaller “alleyways,” strips of food sources sandwiched between hardwood stands, for instance, and in the flight paths between roosts and water. If you come up with a couple gems, take a group of friends out, and sit just a few of you at each spot. If you take the approach we Southerners do of big party shooting, birds will quickly learn to skirt past those small plot openings and out of gun range. But if there’s just a few of you covering several small areas staggered along a flight path, you can work together much like small groups work to produce a successful deer drive—there’s just enough disturbance to keep birds moving, not so much that you scare them out of the county.
Lastly, I’d absolutely employ the use of dove decoys, most notably those action decoys like the ones from Mojo Outdoors (www.mojooutdoors.com). Doves, like so many birds, love the company of their own. A decoy or two in smaller areas can really be the ticket to drawing in the pairs and threesies that will eventually become your limit.
The Author Recommends: Since I talked about handloading shotshells for dove hunting, it seems only prudent to give you the best tool I know of to do that with. The ABCs of Reloading, 9th Edition, by C. Rodney James, has all the instruction and photos you need to get started on shotshell, handgun, and rifle reloading. This is an essential volume for any shooter’s library.