FRANKFORT, Ky. – The heavy dew that soaks your shoes in the early morning is often accompanied by thick fog, signs that summer is losing its grip. Fall will be here soon, a hunter’s favorite time of year.
The start of the fall for outdoors enthusiasts coincides with the opening of dove season each Sept. 1. Here are five things to keep in mind to place more doves in your hunting vest this coming season.
1. Pick the right spot in the dove field:
Picking the right spot to set up in a dove field often determines the success of the day. A dove hunter with any experience remembers a day where one part of the field was as hot as a firecracker, usually opposite of where you chose to set up.
“I’ve found that most dove fields in Kentucky are rarely flat,” said John Brunjes, migratory bird coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “I always pick the highest spot in the field if I can.”
Brunjes explained an incoming dove may only be 20 or so yards from him in the high spot of the field. “But, by the time the dove gets to the lower end, it might be a 25- or 30-yard drop. Then, it becomes a 45- to 50-yard shot versus a 20-yard shot.”
Study the field prior to the season and watch the doves enter the field. Set up near travel corridors to improve your success. Doves use a line of trees along a fence row or other ground features as flight lines to enter fields. They often use a gap in a row of trees to enter a field as well. Use natural features such as an overhanging tree, brush pile or hay bale for concealment from incoming birds.
2. Upgrade your shotshells:
The 100 packs consisting of four boxes of shotshells often called “Universal” or “Multi-Purpose” game loads proliferate at this time of year in the sporting goods section of department stores. They sell cheaper than a comparable target or heavy field load.
As with much of outdoor equipment, you get what you pay for with shotshells. It is better to buy fewer high quality shotshells than a bunch of cheap ones. Upgrade to a heavy field load or a heavy target load for dove hunting. The difference between the value loads and a good heavy field or target load is usually less than $2 per box, sometimes just $1 per box. The extra couple of bucks are well worth it.
Many novice hunters think target loads are only for clay pigeons, but target loads work well for dove hunting. Target loads feature better powder, shotshell wads and harder shot that improve the patterns out of your shotgun.
Heavy field or heavy target loads hold more shot pellets and give hunters a better chance at hitting fast flying doves. A 12-gauge shotshell in the 100 value pack often holds just 1-ounce of shot. Heavy field or heavy target loads in 12-gauge usually have at least 1-1/8 ounces of shot, with some offering 1-1/4 ounces of shot. A shotshell with 1-1/4 ounces of No. 8 shot holds 103 more pellets than a 1-ounce shotshell and 52 more pellets than 1-1/8-ounce loads. More pellets in the shotshell increases the chances of success and decreases the chances of crippling the bird.
3. Identify the dove quickly on the wing: Properly identifying a dove on the wing can be intimidating for beginning hunters. You can spot a dove quickly once you know the distinctive nature of one in flight compared with other birds of similar size.
Doves are greyish to buffy tan in coloring with black spots on their wings. The body of a dove is rounded in the front and pointed in the rear. Dove wings form points at the ends. Doves have a sharp wing beat and don’t flutter up and down in flight. Other bird species hunters often confuse with doves, such as American robins, northern mockingbirds, black birds and woodpeckers, all move up and down in flight.
American kestrels, the smallest species of falcon, superficially look like a dove from a distance. A kestrel’s head is much larger than a dove’s. Kestrels glide in flight while doves do not. The tail of a dove is more slender and pointed than a kestrel.
People with good intentions of helping their fellow hunters often shout out birds to others in the dove field. Don’t let adrenaline and expectation goad you into a mistake when someone calls out a bird for you. Make sure of your target before pulling the trigger. It is a violation of federal and state law to accidentally shoot raptors, such as kestrels, or songbirds, such as a northern mockingbird.
4. Don’t stop your shotgun swing:
It is an easy mistake to make. You shoulder your trusty Remington Wingmaster 870 12-gauge and swing at a passing dove, only to stop your swing once you feel the shot’s recoil. Your shot string flies harmlessly behind the bird.
Pointing your lead foot in the direction you plan to shoot helps alleviate this common shotgunning error. Good footwork gives you more room to swing your shotgun in either direction, lessening the chance of stopping your swing.
Also, visualize your shot string as a large paint brush and you want to paint the bird with it. Shot pellets fired from a moving shotgun do not come out of the barrel in a pie pan shape like on old Bugs Bunny cartoons. It comes out in a fairly thick string of pellets roughly the shape of a tapered cigar. You need to place this string on the dove.
Don’t shoot from your dove stool, either. A sitting position doesn’t grant much freedom of movement, often causing shooters to pull their cheek off of the gun’s stock and stop their swing. This is a perfect recipe for a miss. Stand up and point your lead foot in the direction of the dove. Keep swinging after feeling the recoil.
Use these tips to bag more doves this coming season.