Doves are the jet fighters of the sky

Have you noticed it? We lose a bit of daylight every day and soon mornings will begin giving up a few degrees. Even better, last Thursday opened the door for this year’s dove hunting season.

September 1 is more than likely the busiest day of the year for those who like to warm a shotgun barrel. More Americans swing a gun on that day than any other.

Nothing says it‘s time to begin hunting season like a good dove shoot. It’s hard to compare anything to wingshooting and dove season serves as the harbinger of following hunting seasons.

Hunting doves is one of the easiest to enjoy. Your licenses, gun and a bucket to carry your supplies (which also serves as a seat) is all you need. Add some camouflaged clothing and you’re set. Sure you can go the total route and purchase all types of decoys and blinds but even those items aren’t really necessary.

Although dove hunting is one of the simplest forms of recreation available, getting started can seem complicated to beginners. It shouldn’t be. Other than minimal equipment, license and migratory bird stamp, all you really need is a place to hunt.

Doves are seed eaters and love all types of grain. Sunflowers, corn and wheat fields all attract birds. Tomato, melon and pickle fields are also hard to beat. They are bare ground feeders, with legs too small to scratch through leaf litter and too short to navigate dense undergrowth.

Have you ever noticed why you see so many doves around gravel roads? It’s because they are looking for grit and small gravel to help grind the grains in their gizzard. So don’t overlook grain fields bordered by rural roads.

Normally the best shooting takes place when birds are flying from roosting to feeding areas, which usually means from 8 to 10 in the morning and again from 5:30 to 8 P.M.

There is no question doves make one of the toughest targets in the sky, making them so much fun. They streak by with their eyes and throttles wide open. Every year I hear some people brag how they collected a limit of birds inside a box of shells, although I personally have never seen it done. Ammo companies estimate hunters shoot an average of four shells for each bird taken and I believe it.

Others say time spent on the skeet range is a way to hone skills prior to the season opener. There is no doubt any time we log on the range increases our hand-eye coordination making us better marksmen - I think doves are a different story. All clay targets fly straight. Doves juke and jive all over the sky and can turn on after burners like a fighter jet.

To increase your odds, wear camo clothing that blends in with your surroundings and even then don’t silhouette yourself. Sit in the shadow of a tree, fenceline, stands of tall weeds or corn, anything to break up your outline. But don’t hide too well because then you won’t see the birds coming until it’s too late, leaving you with your shotgun barrel wavering against the sky as they zip out of sight.

It also pays to learn the nuances of each individual field. “The average dove hunter seldom pays attention to what I call dove structure,” said Don Wilkins, a self-proclaimed dove addict who hunts almost daily during the season. Wilkins believes doves, much like certain fish species, relates to certain types of topographic features, manmade or otherwise.

“There are always certain things, other than feed, that draw in birds once they’ve arrived over a field,” Wilkins explained. “It could be a grove of loafing trees, ditch, or even power lines cutting across a field,” he added. “If you have the time, take a few minutes and see how and where the birds are coming in before setting up.”

Wilkins stressed the importance of remaining motionless as his key to success. “The best camo in the world is worthless if the person wearing it can’t sit still,” he said. “A good dove hunter remains perfectly still until the very moment he decides to stand and shoot.”

It’s also important to recover every bird you take, which sometimes isn’t as easy as you think. Downed doves can be difficult to find and there is no use shooting birds you can’t find. Marking birds is a wingshooting skill associated with all types of hunting and is just as important as hitting them in the first place.

Watch where the bird falls from the sky and don’t take your eyes off the spot where it hits the ground. Your eyes will quickly fix on a particular tall weed or tree. Walk straight to it without looking away. And don’t even think about shooting another bird until you find the one you just knocked down.

Whenever possible, include a child in your endeavors. Dove hunting can set the course for a lifetime of wingshooting. The weather is pleasant, gear is minimal and bag limits generous. Put a light kicking shotgun in their hands and you’ll have a partner (and memories) for many seasons to come.

In the end, remember that hunting doves is not about success rates or bird-to-shell ratio. Think of it as an opportunity to spend time afield with family and friends. But even more important, consider it a 21-gun salute to the beginning of another glorious fall hunting season!