2014 —– A Season of Memories
21 Hunting Days
10 Species of Upland Gamebirds
I have long dreamed of a multi-state, multi-species upland bird hunting adventure. The works of some of our contemporary outdoorsmen fueled those dreams and several factors came together to almost mandate that 2014 needed to be the year to “just do it.” Figuring prominently in the decision to go now was my wife’s retirement and the persistent rumors that the Sage Grouse would likely be placed on the Endangered Species List. This series of Blogs will chronicles my 2014 Fall.
September 1st started like almost every other year since I went afield with my first shotgun, a used Remington Wingmaster 20 Ga, purchased from a neighbor when I was a sophomore in high school. That season began a love affair I’ve had with doves that lasts to this very day. They are my favorite “feathered target”. For the record my total bag for that inaugural season was 3 doves but I can assure everyone that I got in my fair share of shooting. No, not actually shooting, it was more like making the gun go bang and there happened to be 3 unfortunate doves who just flew in the direction I was shooting. Also, for the record there were 4 limits in my vest to start this adventure.
Dove “hunting” is more a shooting activity than it is a hunting activity. In much of the country, and most of the world, doves are associated with agricultural production and are one of the few species who benefit greatly from man’s farming and development practices. Because of their concentration around farming and ranching activity hunting them almost always takes place on private land. Access can be gained by asking for permission, paying a daily usage fee or increasingly by using commercial operators who have leased property over a large geographic region. I opt for the later since the outfitter I have used for the past several years has fields in an area approximately 70 miles long and 40 miles wide. He always has fields that hold birds.
For those who are new to dove shooting or who are considering giving it a try come September 1st, what follows are a few suggestions learned over the past 40 plus years.
- Gun and shot selection is not critical. Any gauge from 12 to 28 will work, any shot size from # 8s to # 6s will do the job with loads ranging from ¾ ounce to 1 ¼ ounce. And whatever action you have is good, it need not be expensive.
- Camo can be useful but not essential. Just wear clothes that won’t contrast with the surroundings. Note: Desert Camo is too light for most locations.
- MoJo motorized decoys (if legal in your state) are very effective on Mourning Doves but are almost detrimental to success on Whitewing Doves.
- With decoys, think like a “duck hunter” and he who has the most usually wins! All things being equal, a single dove will be more attracted to a group of 10 to 15 decoys than 1 or 2.
- Over the years I have acquired 6 MoJo motorized decoys, 2 wind activated decoys and 18 full-bodies clip on decoys. (Santa Claus has been good to me.) Like duck decoys, deployment is important so here are my secrets to differentiate my spread from the other groups of hunters in the same field. Those hunters are your competition. (1) Make a do it yourself “tree” constructed of PVC pipe so you can get at least one dove about 12 feet into the air. Adding a couple of T connectors near the top will allow you to add “limbs” to your tree and this is a big help. (2) Again, from your local home improvement store you can purchase lengths of 1 inch square tubing that can be screwed and/or glued to the top of the stakes provided with the MoJos. By staggering the length of those extensions you can give your spread diversity. (3) Your clothes-pen clip on decoys can be raised above the ground for better visibility with another trip to the home improvement store. 3/8 inch round aluminum rod can be cut into 2 feet lengths and then easily bent into a “L” shape with one leg 6 inches long and the other 18 inches. By inserting the long end into the ground you can use the short end as a limb for the decoys.
- One of the more difficult challenges for the dove shooter is judging distance. If you place your tallest decoy at a paced off 40 yards you will know any dove between the decoy and yourself is in range.
- As mentioned earlier Mourning Doves are more susceptible to moving decoys than are Whitewing Doves. On the third day I was hunting in a special Whitewing Zone. Thankfully, the Wildlife Dept. allows us to make 4 “mistakes” with Mourning Doves and still be legal. About an hour into the hunt I had made 2 “mistakes” on doves that came over from my back and headed directly for the decoy. I simply turned off the MoJos and that greatly reduced the “wrong doves” from being lured to my location. The following day in the same field I used only the full bodied decoys near the ground. Problem solved!
- A British shooting stick makes standing much easier than does the traditional bucket or shooting stool. By reducing movement as I stand to shoot, doves are less likely to spook.
- Weather in September will usually be warm so think about your dogs. Shade and water will keep them cool and prevent overheating. I use both of my Llewellin Setters and by keeping them on leads they can take turns with the retrieving chore. This was an important warm-up for the remainder of our adventure. By taking 4 limits of doves (60 birds) over a short 7 day period each dog was given 30 retrieves on real birds. They loved it!
Finally, dove shooting is a social activity and is a wonderful way to introduce youngsters, spouses, or even non-hunting friends to the outdoors. The weather is usually pleasant (compared to late season pheasants or ducks), there is a lot of action and it doesn’t matter if you miss because another target will be by very soon. Give it a try, I believe you will find it enjoyable but a word of caution ………. it can be addictive.
Phil R. Hechler, NSCA Certified Level II Instructor