It is also a fun time. Dove shoots are as much a social event as anything. Many times they are preceded by a lunch on the grounds (the season officially opens at noon) and a chance to renew old acquaintances and make new ones. I went to a shoot down East back in the 80’s where the head of the family sponsoring it got up and read the diary entry from a shoot in the mid-1950’s! Now that’s a tradition. Let’s start thinking about what we need to do in preparation and on the day of the shoot.
Get some shooting practice at sporting clays, skeet, or trap. Doves are notoriously hard to hit, not kill. Their aerial acrobatics and speed make them a challenging target even for the best wing shooter, which explains the celebration by shot shell manufacturers. You can improve your odds with one day at sporting clays or skeet. Practice crossing and high incoming shots if possible.
Renew your license and review the game laws. NC hunting licenses expire one year from date of purchase so make sure it’s updated and you have a HIP (Harvest Information Program) for migratory bird certification. Speaking of migratory birds, remember if you are planning to shoot a pump or auto-loading shotgun the gun magazine must be plugged so it doesn’t hold more than three shells total.
You’ll be spending long hours in the hot sun so make sure you have lightweight camouflage clothing and a stool or seat. On the day of the hunt be sure to pack plenty of cool water to drink if the host does not provide it. It’s still summer and I’ve been in a dove field on Labor Day when temperatures were over 90 degrees. Also remember shooting glasses and earplugs.
If you plan on using a dog to retrieve downed birds there are several things to remember. Foremost, the dog will perform better if it’s in good physical shape. On the day of the hunt remember the dog’s need for shade and water. Always plan for both and don’t assume you will get a good spot under a tree or there’s a creek nearby for water.
There are a few things to look for when you get to the field to position yourself for good shooting. If it’s an organized or paid shoot, there may be numbered shooting positions with stakes in the ground and you are either assigned or draw a position. If it is first come/first serve then get to the field a few hours early and claim a spot. Look for power lines, tree lines separating fields, and the perennial dove magnet, a lone tree in the middle of a field. Position yourself near one of these and you will see fast action. A few clip-ons set on the ground with a Mojo landing dove decoy will draw the birds in. If possible, visit the field between 3 and 5 p.m. the previous evening and you will get a good indication of the major routes in and out of the field. Don’t discount the importance of dove decoys.
When it comes to shells there are two prevailing thoughts. Major manufacturers produce inexpensive “promotional” loads and the boxes usually say they are for Dove and Quail and they come in 7 ½ or 8 shot size. The problem is they are made with soft lead with a paper cup instead of plastic wad and many of the pellets deform as they leave the barrel. This reduces shot string density and leaves holes in the pattern; holes that dove can fly through. The other option, which will cost extra, is to buy High Velocity loads which are made with harder lead and have better pattern density, thus increasing your chances of hitting the bird. You kill more birds with fewer shots if you do. Trust me.
So hit the sporting clays range, get your stool, shells and decoys together and get ready. The dove opener is only three weeks away!