It is also a fun time. Dove shoots are as much a social event as anything. Many times the shoot includes lunch or dinner on the grounds, and a chance to renew old acquaintances and make new ones. Men and women gathered around truck tailgates talking about last year’s shoot. Nervous youngsters on their first outing quietly listening to all the tales. A couple of retrievers will be limbering up by running through the field waiting for that magical hour. But you can’t wait until that day to prepare. Good preparation for a successful dove shoot starts weeks ahead. Let’s look at what we need to do in preparation and on the day of the shoot.
Practice. That means 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. One day at a sporting clays or skeet range can do a lot to improve your hand, eye, gun coordination that brings the birds down.
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. Also 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.
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. In some cases you may not have a choice. 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 for a position. If it is first come/first serve then get to the field early. Look for power lines crossing the field, tree lines that separate 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. 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.
Let’s look at ammo for dove. Major manufacturers produce “promotional” loads and the boxes usually say they are for Dove and Quail and they come in 7 ½ or 8 shot size. They are cheap so you can shoot a lot of them. The problem is they are made with soft lead which leads to pellet deformation. This reduces shot string density and leaves holes in the pattern; holes that dove can fly through. The other option, which will cost a little 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. My personal preference is for the latter.
Last, but most importantly, don’t forget hunting safety. If hunting with a group it’s good to conduct a safety briefing before entering the field. Never shoot at low flying birds. Preparation leads to a safe and enjoyable hunt; leaving you with fun memories to talk about next year.