It is usually a fun time with friends and family. Dove shoots are as much social as shooting. Many times they are preceded by a lunch on the grounds when the season starts at noon, and a chance to renew old acquaintances and make new ones. Folks gathered around truck tailgates talking about last year’s shoot. A couple of retrievers might be seen romping through the field waiting for the noon opener. Whether the season opens at daylight or noon, preparation for a successful dove shoot starts weeks ahead. Here are some things I find useful getting ready for the kickoff of hunting season.
Practice. That means sporting clays, skeet, or trap. Doves are notoriously hard to hit, not kill. I’ve seen reports that the average shooter uses five shells to bring down one dove. Their acrobatics and speed make 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 birds down. Key: focus on the birds head, not its body.
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) certificate for migratory birds. Also if you are planning to shoot a pump or auto-loading shotgun the magazine must be plugged so it doesn’t hold more than three shells total in chamber and magazine.
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. Start exercising it early mornings and late afternoon. 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 possible, visit the field the day before the hunt and you will get a look at primary dove routes in and out of the field. If it is first come/first serve or a public field then get there early and claim a spot. 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. All of these provide fast action.
Think about buying your ammo. Manufacturers produce “promotional” dove loads that 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, leading to deformed pellets. 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.
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. Keep the muzzle up on flying birds. Don’t shoot at low flying birds! Preparation leads to a safe and enjoyable hunt; leaving you with fun memories to talk about with friends at next year’s shoot!