Remember the Birds of September
By Gary Lewis
Opening day of dove season, that harbinger of autumn, is around the corner. Whether you're shooting birds over maize near Madras, or on the stubble outside of Stayton, it's hard to deny the thrill of seeing dozens of doves, sweeping toward you and beyond, the sound of the wind in their wings.
There's no more difficult wingshooting challenge than that you'll find on September's doves fields. These birds are plumb hard to hit. You need an edge if you hope to bag enough for dinner.
To optimize your odds, pick a day when the weather hovers at or above 70 degrees. Ideal habitat includes an old dead tree and muddy water with a bank free of brush. Scout for set-ups where a fencepost or a dead juniper will break up your outline.
The best way to put birds in the game bag is to improve your shooting. Train to focus on one part of one bird. Key on a dove's beak for a passing shot or the tail feathers as it goes straight away. The tighter the focus, the better your chances are of bringing birds home for dinner.
That's difficult to remember in the heat of the action, but it is easily practiced on any bird you see. In time it becomes automatic.
There are more techniques to help the bird hunter fill the game bag. The first is timing. Take it slow. I find that when I let the excitement get the better of me, I shoot before the gun is mounted against my shoulder. I always miss when I rush the shot.
With an unloaded gun, practice disengaging the safety and shouldering it. The cheekpiece should come against your cheek, with the butt anchored against your shoulder. The barrel should be in the same plane as your master eye, front bead on (or ahead of) the target.Picture the shot leaving the barrel in a string, similar to water in a hose. Imagine swinging a spray nozzle across the sky. When you swing your barrel, following through as you squeeze the trigger, your shot will ‘wash' the target in the same way.
A stool can improve your shooting. Lunging from a crouched position to shoot is awkward. Rising easily from a chair promotes good stance and shooting position.
Another essential is the earplug. There may be more shooting on one dove hunt than in all the rest of your season's bird hunts combined. Earplugs keep the shooter from flinching, but more important, they economize the auditory organs. You want to keep your hearing sharp so, on opening day of dove season 20 years from now, you can still hear the whistle of the wind in their wings.