Plan Now for September’s Dove Season Opener
By Gary Lewis
The afternoon heat was lessened by high clouds and a slight breeze that kept the dust from our passing hanging in the air. I walked along in the middle between James and John, well away on either side.
We kept hunting birds not because we expected to see anything, more because we were there and it was better than being at home changing the sprinklers. We’d spooked a deer from her afternoon bed, watched a covey of more than two hundred quail and taken two shots at doves jumped from the grass, but nothing had come from it.
It was a good day to be out in the field anyway.
An explosion of wings brought me back to the moment and I swung down on the dove as it leaped skyward and leveled out four feet above the tops of the thistles, wings beating whistles in the air. Going straight away now, I covered it with the end of my barrels and felt the gun push against my shoulder.
One dove for the game bag. Not like opening day when they kept flying until dark, flock after flock with the empty shells piling around our legs and the dogs kept busy finding and retrieving birds.
The sun was setting behind the mountains and the horizon glowed purple and orange, bolts of light weaving brilliance in the blanket of clouds. I emptied my gun, set it in the truck and began to clean the fresh-taken dove. I was listening to my companions talk of past hunts and I happened to glance up.
Two doves appeared above the horizon. Two dots rising from a farm pond far off in the distance, growing in size as they hurtled toward us, veering only as they were almost upon us.
We had a half hour left to shoot and so, reloading, we left the truck to set up on the edge of a gully.
On they came against the darkening sky in groups of two and three, flaring at the truck to veer off over broken ground. Six days into the season these were wary birds and they flew at top speed. They were long shots and low percentage, taken as the birds spotted us against the grass and really turned on the afterburners.
A group of three veered around me and I swung, bringing the barrel all the way through them as I touched off, seeing two of them tumble into the sage.
Three birds for the freezer now. Added to the ten already there and we almost had enough for a meal. Another one or two and we could have our annual dove feed.
The mourning dove is a highly renewable migratory game bird. It's annual mortality approaches seventy percent. That's with or without hunting. They are seed eaters, mostly ground-feeding on corn, wheat, sorghums, bristlegrass and other weed seeds. To a dove, good water is brackish and murky. In order to feel comfortable and to make it a regular watering hole the bank must be bare or at least with little cover nearby to hide predators. They water and feed in the early morning, rest at mid-day and eat again in the afternoon, going for water before heading to roost.
In a valley, the birds will fly up and down the trough, generally avoiding flying over the crest of a hill. Good stand locations can be set in the tall grass along streams or near ponds as doves like to fly over water, even when it isn't watering time. A bare, lone tree in the middle of a field is also a good location.
Depending on time of day, set up along the path you expect them to take. Pick a spot with the sun at your back, beneath a tree, between barns or behind a fence post, somewhere where you can take advantage of the concealment and still get good shots. I prefer to set up in spots where I can take them going away.
A hunter looking for a place to hunt, should contact private landowners before the season. Remember that hunting is a privilege and anyone willing to let you hunt on their property is taking a risk by letting you do so. Be gracious and polite. Thank them for their time even if they tell you no. It is our hunting heritage at stake.