Dove Hunting : The Ultimate Wingshooting Sport
A True Marksman's Sport
It is late summer down here in southern Georgia which means mourning dove season will open soon. Of all the wing shooting sports, this is my personal favorite. Yes, quail hunting is still around but mostly of the pen raised, guided hunt variety. No comment on those types. But a good dove shoot is one of the most exciting hunting events you can experience.
No, I’m not referring to those pretty white birds the magician produces from his hat or sleeve, but a mourning dove. They are beautiful creatures in their own way though. But what makes them so wonderful is their ability to fly fast and erratic.
For those who feel sorry for the birds I can only say I understand. But not for the reasons you might think. The reason I understand is because those who feel empathy for the dove have never attempted to shoot one. I know, you do not wish to kill this little creature and this is okay too.
But hunters understand the process of maintaining a healthy wildlife population by taking the place of the now scarce or extinct predatory species. It is possible to respect the animals we hunt, but this has been the case for thousands of years and is nothing new.
The Dove Shoot Setting
Pre-shoot Strategy and Boasting
I cannot testify for other parts of the country, but here the opening day of dove season is akin to a major holiday for the local hunters. For several weeks we have closely watched the favorite fields to ascertain what opening day may provide.
As the birds begin settling to feed many beers are partaken of and many predictions are made as to how many birds will be harvested. The excitement is slowly building and the younger men are starting to get impatient. But then,It's hard not to when the dove begin making their appearance.
Tradition has always been an important part of life in this part of the deep south and a dove shoot is no exception. There are pay-to-shoot events available but most of the shoots are private affairs with old friends and family accounting for the majority of shooters.
Not Just Bird Shooting
Some dove shoots are legendary, thus making an invitation to such an event a source of pride to the lucky hunter. It is also a reunion of sorts as some of the hunters travel long distances for the privilege of attending the shoot.
Opening day for dove season is the first Saturday in September. The season officially starts at noon but we wait until about 2 o’clock before taking our places around the field. Usually is still very hot this time of year, but we don’t care because the impending excitement is well worth it.
The hunters trickle in in ones and twos mostly, with an occasion group who traveled here together. All are wearing camouflaged hunting apparel of some sort including shorts and hats. Dove are very keen eyed and can spot movement easily.
A Dog to Retrieve the Birds
Shotguns and Shells
The type of shotgun used varies from hunter to hunter as each have their preferences as to which shotgun is the best for their particular shooting style. The majority use a 12 gauge as this shotgun fires a shell containing the most birdshot and powder as a rule. The twenty gauge shotgun is the next most used gun and has come into favor over the last few years. A successful dove shoot will require many shots fired by the shooter which can mean a sore shoulder at the end of the day. The twenty gauge shotgun, though containing less powder and shot, is easier on the shoulder of both younger and older hunters but requires more skill than the 12 gauge.
At a typical South Georgia dove shoot you will see all manner of shotguns displayed by all ages of hunters. These shotguns range from the very old traditional bird guns, to the most modern autoloaders made. Just like any other hunting sport, a hunters personal choice of firearms is a subject of constant debate. The importance of the shotgun you choose seems to be exacerbated during a dove shoot because of the speed of the birds. Knowing how far to lead a dove at a certain difference with your particular shotgun is the name of the game. Sounds easy doesn’t it?
The type of shotgun shells used in your particular shotgun is also very important to your success. Many cheaper shell have less powder and shot than the more expensive brands. Using cheap shells will cut your success rate drastically and will require more shots to obtain your limit of dove, so buy and use good quality shells. If in doubt of which shell you should use ask a veteran dove hunter which type he prefers. And buy enough, nothings worse than running out of shells when the birds are flying, especially if you haven’t reached your limit.
Dress for the Hunt!
The Excitement Begins
It’s about two o’clock and everyone is gathered under the pecan trees along the dove field. The birds are flocking into the field to feed and the new hunters are clamoring to begin the hunt, but no one will move from the shade until the host gives the okay. Finally he stops talking to the group of hunters around him and say’s “let’s go gettum boys.” Everyone picks up their shotgun and shell bucket (5 gal. bucket with swivel seat for a lid) and either starts walking into the field or loads up in the ATV’s to be ferried to the other end of the shooting area.
This is another aspect of dove hunting which differs from most other types of wing shooting. The shooters are placed around the field at intervals insuring the safety of the other hunters. Since a dove will fly high, then low, dipping and darting at remarkable speeds, the chance of having a hunter fire directly at you during the excitement is very high. You will always have shot falling around you or on you but this becomes normal after awhile. I’ve never known anyone to get “Dick Cheneyed” at a dove shoot.
The landed dove flocks flee the field as everyone takes their place across and around the field. But the flocks are returning along with more flocks just arriving. Suddenly someone shoots and all hell breaks loose. The skies seem to be filled with birds. You shoot and load as fast as you can but at first you are too excited and have trouble choosing a particular target to aim for. Unlike shooting quail, shooting amongst the flock rarely achieves results. If you are shooting a pump or autoloader you forget how many shells you have in the shotgun and hear a click instead of a bang as you pull the trigger on an empty chamber. A plug in these shotguns prevents them from holding more than three shells at any one time, two in the tube and one in the chamber per state regulations.
The birds ease up a little but sporadic firing continues all around the field. You begin looking for the birds you downed but forget exactly where they fell. You are still shooting as you pick them up and usually run out of shells before you can get back to your bucket. You are hot and so is your gun barrel but you can’t seem to relax long. After about an hour you head for some shade and rest for a bit. Watching the shoot is almost as good as being involved in it as you see the dove flocks skirt the field like fighter planes looking for a target. Suddenly, they bank steeply and begin their run over the field and over the heads of the first shooters. You see the slight smoke of the propellant coming from the barrels of a shotguns and perhaps a bird plummeting from the skies long before the sound of the shot reaches you.
Dove Shooting Books and Products
Respect for the Quarry
Occasionally, a single dove will traverse the entire field dodging and diving while shotguns rip the air around it finally making it through the lead gauntlet apparently unharmed. You can hear the other hunters yelling and whooping as they admire the aerobatics performed by this wonderful little feathered missile. But when the bird suddenly turns around and retraces its route a different kind of respect is due. Whether the hunters are shocked at the audacity of the bird or just miss, the bird usually makes it out alive. I guess this must be a dove’s idea of “in your face.”
Since the state average of birds taken for one box of shells is roughly four, getting the limit of twelve birds may take awhile for some shooters but for the marksmen of the crowd it seems to be a work of art. Finally everyone has had enough even though the birds keep flying in. A few shooters still fire as they hate to go back to the truck without their limit. The bragging begins as everyone tells their tales and all is right with the world until daybreak tomorrow morning. Yep, rub that sore shoulder as we shoot again in the morning. Good hunting Y’all!
Shotguns and Shooting Books
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