Off the Porch: Tips for a better dove hunt
Hunters in the south have a tradition that kicks off the hunting season. For me, it’s one of the best days in the year. A good southern dove season opener involves seeing people you haven’t seen in a while, shooting, watching dogs work, and food. Unfortunately it can also involve sweating, poison oak, chiggers and a bruised shoulder. The bruised shoulder only comes with good shoots, the others can happen when there are no birds to shoot. If there are birds, it’s still worth it. Dove hunting can be a great event in itself or it can be a warm up for other shooting later in the year. Either way it’s a challenging sport for the shotgun.
As a pure dove hunting gun, a twenty gauge works really well. 7/8 ounce loads of eights will kill any dove if you put the pattern on him and the recoil won’t beat you into the ground. Heavy loads aren’t needed for doves. I often shoot 7/8 oz. in 12 or 20. If you hunt a good field and have a good spot you can get a limit with a .410. If you’re are in one of those spots that only afford long shots you might need a 12 with a trap or skeet load. It doesn’t take much to anchor the diminutive dove but you do have to hit him. Size 7 ½ or 8 shot works well and I normally shoot the promotional loads that always show up in the newspaper before the season starts. When I was younger and more bloodthirsty than I now am, I shot 1 1/8 oz. loads in my 20 gauge, 6 lb., Winchester 101. I had a hickey on my shoulder that would have won a contest. I quit using such heavy loads after the gun doubled once.
None of the options (weight, gauge, load, or type of shotgun) we’ve discussed has a big effect on your ability to take doves, but the choke you select does. Go to the dove field with the wrong chokes, and your average and your game bag will suffer. I believe that most people make the mistake of using chokes that are too tight on doves. It’s true that some shots at doves are long, but shots that require full chokes are not generally the norm and you have to be a really good wingshooter to make them.
Fortunately, today’s modern shotguns have screw chokes. This means that you can go to the dove field with every choke you need in your pocket. Carefully consider the distance your shots are likely to be and make your choice. If, once the shooting gets underway, you feel the need to change, do it. A good rule of thumb is that improved cylinder will get you to about 25 yards, modified to about 35 yards, and full to about 40 to 45 yards. Also remember that birds are much harder to hit out there in that 40 to 45 yard range. The average dove shooter will score about twice as often at 25 yards than he will at 40 yards. If the birds aren’t getting close enough, you probably need to modify your hunting style.
Camo down Doves have sharp eyes and it’s their nature to swerve away from objects that stand out. Wear lightweight camo such as the shirts with vented backs and the light weight pants with zip off legs. Wear a cap that can help shield your eyes from the sun and keep your shiny face from reflecting light like a bumper on a ’56 Buick.
Stand in the shade There are two good reasons for this practice. The fact that it’s cooler is obvious. The main reason, though, is your level of visibility. The next time you’re on a dove field, look at the guys in the shade, and look at the ones in the sun. The ones in the sun stand out. They’re also shinier because they’re likely sweating like a pig. Remember, the dove is out in the sun looking down, and things in shadows don’t show up nearly as well.
Don’t move or mount your gun until the bird is well within range The reason doves have a reputation for twisty flight is that they see movement and avoid it. Watch a field with doves over it from a distance; they fly straight as an arrow. When doves spot movement, they try to avoid it. If you start your gun mount too early they’ll never get within modified choke range. This is another good reason to practice shooting clays with a low gun.
Use what cover you have If there’s a bush or a fence row, stand next to it. If you have a good camo pattern, you can stand in front of it as effectively as behind it. I used to hunt with my grandson and he sometimes moved at the wrong time. I bought a Hunter Specialties Backpacker Blind. It folds out into four panels that are about four feet high. I’m invisible until I stand up. It will get you more birds. If those hunting around you are visible and you’re not, birds will see your direction as an avenue of escape and fly that way.
Use decoys Add a few well placed decoys and you can get birds within cylinder choke range. If you’re hunting on a large field, decoys will improve your chances. Put the decoys where they stand out and make shadows, from the sky, a shadow is often easier to see than what makes the shadow. Decoys that move also work well. An added bonus with moving decoys is that the doves look at the decoys instead of seeing you.
Hunt early or late Don’t expect to shoot a limit of doves in the middle of the day. The birds simply don’t fly then unless there are unusual weather conditions. From first light to 8:00 a.m. and from 5:00 p.m. till sundown are the best times. There’s not much happening in between.
I’ll bet you a dove dinner that these six pieces of advice will get the birds close enough that you can switch from a full choke to a modified or improved cylinder. I’ll take mine country style with dark gravy, some mashed potatoes, carrots, and homemade biscuits.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He’s a member of the board of directors of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org