The Joys of Dove Hunting
“Mark, it’s raining hard outside,” my wife, Lisa, said. “Are you still going dove hunting?”
“Yes,” I responded. “I’ve got rain gear. Anyway, it might stop raining, and there’s no lightning.”
“Well, enjoy yourself,” she said, “though I can’t possibly see how.”
As I drove to my hunting spot through steady showers, I thought about my wife’s comment. To someone who has never hunted doves, sitting outside in the rain for several hours probably seems silly. But to dove hunters, it makes perfect sense. I could think of a lot of rewards for taking part in dove season, regardless of the weather.
Change of Seasons
Dove season opens with summer on the wane. Though still dishing out heat and drought, summer starts to lose its grip in early September. Early fall arrives with cool, north breezes. For a dove hunter, sitting on a bucket, tucked in a fencerow overgrown with sassafras and sumac, those first cool breezes are a welcome harbinger of more fall days to come.
The cooler air and shorter days also prompt the sumac and sassafras to sport hues of crimson and orange. Fields take on more color from ironweeds, goldenrods and asters.
If dove action is slow, it’s fun to watch monarch butterflies sipping nectar from fall flowers, The migrating butterflies seem in no hurry, yet on their way to overwinter in central Mexico they may travel up to 2000 miles.
Migrating nighthawks may wing overhead in loose flocks numbering more than a hundred. Below your feet, untold numbers of grasshoppers and crickets chirp and trill. Witnessing these seasonal events makes dove hunting a pleasure, regardless of whether you bag any birds.
Dove hunting is made to order for those who enjoy wing shooting. It provides fast action and lots of challenge. A dove with a stiff wind at its tail and a desire to leave the vicinity represents an extremely elusive target.
Part of the pleasure of dove hunting comes from getting ready for such shots through pre-season clay-target shooting. Friends often gather to shoot clay birds at skeet or sporting clay ranges or in back pastures.
No matter how much you practice, you’ll still shake your head over missed shots. A limit (12) of doves taken with a box and a half of shells represents good shooting for most hunters.
In Missouri, most hunters who own gun dogs own them for hunting either waterfowl or quail. Dove season opens a full two months before these seasons, providing a peerless opportunity to give the dog extra fi eld training and polish its obedience, retrieving and bird handling skills.
An adage in training bird dogs and retrievers is that bird contact, properly applied, cures practically any problem a gun dog may have. It’s true, and dove season can provide you with all the birds you need.
Taking your retriever or pointing dog dove hunting nearly doubles the time afield that you get to enjoy with your canine hunting partner. Any opportunity that offers you more time to watch your gun dog complete what it was bred for, and what it has been trained for, serves as a fine reward.
Time takes its toll on all of us. Muscles, once strong, weaken. Joints stiffen with arthritis. Eyesight fades. These infirmities make some hunting impractical.
At public duck hunting areas, you won’t see many hunters 60 years old or older. It just gets to be too much work to walk around in heavy clothing and waders, lugging decoys through freezing water and sucking mud. Following a dog around all day as it hunts for quail also can be very demanding.
DOVE HUNTING ETHICS
A good dove hunt often involves lots of shooting, resulting in plenty of spent shotgun shells. Don’t leave them on the ground. Pick up your litter. You can store them in the same boxes they came in or pick up a spent-shell bag from nomoretrash.org.
If you are hunting on private property, be sure you and the landowner are clear about exactly where you can hunt without disturbing livestock.
Young cattle are often being weaned in fall. They are already upset, and a dove hunter shooting close to their location might startle them enough that they run through a fence. Farmers appreciate your concern about their livestock.
Dove hunting is easier, making it a great activity for any senior who still has the desire to raise a shotgun to cheek and track a flying bird.
In fact, many farms that offer good dove hunting have places where you can drive up, park your rig, pull out a lawn chair and enjoy good dove action with minimal physical exertion. It’s a good way to “stay in the hunt.”
Dove hunting’s fast action and good chance of success also can stir a youngster’s interest in hunting.
For your kid’s first dove hunt, scout carefully to find dove-rich locations. If your child lacks wing-shooting experience and is struggling to bag fast-flying doves, look for areas where he or she has a chance to bag an easy dove or two.
What you want are young hunters coming home with a few doves that they bagged, doves that they can proudly show off and hold for a photograph, doves they will later enjoy at the dinner table. Handled properly, a kid’s first dove hunt should prove a positive and memorable experience for everyone involved.
Joy for the Table
Doves are a favorite menu item at our dinner table.
I clean doves by clipping off their heads and wings with poultry shears. I then “thumb” the breast from each bird, peel off any clinging skin and feathers and rinse it in cold water.
A LITTLE HOW-TO INFORMATION
Many conservation areas are managed for dove hunting. To locate these areas, contact your local conservation office or go online.
Whether you hunt on public or private ground, the key to finding concentrations of doves is food. Doves are attracted to harvested fields of wheat, sorghum, corn, millet and sunflowers, as well as fields of brush-hogged grass that support lots of foxtail.
Once you locate an area that is attracting large numbers of doves, study how the birds are using the field. They often have predictable flight patterns that can cue you to the best setup for good shooting. The best hunting is usually in early morning and late afternoon, when doves feed.
If a field offers lots of food, doves will use it for weeks. However, if a field is hunted morning and evening, two or three days in a row, doves often abandon it. To keep a spot producing, limit hunting to once a day, and hunt it every other day.
Grilling dove breasts is tough to beat. Use commercial packets of Italian, orange teriyaki or Caribbeanspiced marinades. After marinating, place the breasts on a hot, charcoal fire, basting frequently with fresh marinade until the meat is medium rare.
We also like to fillet the meat off the breastbone, cut each breast half in two and marinate the meat. We then place it, flanked by chunks of green peppers and onions, on kabob skewers. Again, grill until the meat is medium rare and savor it, as you would all the joys of dove hunting.