Dove season opens in September and it’s time to get ready. Camouflaged hunters will soon be positioned where doves pass from roost or resting trees to food and water. The biggest key has always been bringing a lot of shotgun shells for this hard-to-hit speedster. They generally dart, dive and dip about the time you pull the trigger. The key is being ready to shoot this difficult target.
I recently talked to Jim Wilson, Senior Field Editor for NRA Publications and learned some tips for hitting the speedster. He concurs with me that you should practice before ever shooting at anything live, no matter how experienced you are.
You’ve still got time to get out to the shooting range and burn some ammo at the skeet houses. Sporting clays is also a good way to tune up, but I prefer shooting skeet.
“Working your way around the skeet stations gives you consistent angles to deal with and successful dove shooting is all about judging angles of flight,” Wilson said. “Instead of having your gun mounted when you call for your bird, try holding it at low-ready, or some other field position. You won’t bust as many clay birds, but your practice will be much more realistic.”
Wilson recommends that you begin by shooting a full round of skeet, but take special note of the stations where you miss the birds. Your misses indicate that you haven’t judged the angles properly. The rest of your practice should be at those stations where you were missing. Just remember: most misses are caused by shooting behind the bird.
“Probably the greatest mistake that shot gunners make is stopping the swing,” Wilson said. “I know that it’s certainly my biggest failing. You are on the bird and doing a pretty good job of tracking him when, just as you pull the trigger, you stop your swing. This could be caused by lack of practice and it could be due to fatigue. Either way, make yourself swing completely through the target. A good rule to remember on passing
birds is BUTT-BELLY-BEAK-BANG.”
Finally, you should remember that dove are easy to kill, they’re just hard to hit. This means that you certainly don’t need to be pounding yourself with high-velocity loads. Two or three pellets in the body of a dove will kill it.
For more information about Jim Wilson, check his web site at: www.sheriffjimwilson.com. THE IMPORTANCE OF CAMOUFLAGE: Today we have excellent camouflage available. Blending in with your surroundings and sitting still are important factors of dove hunting.
Doves can easily pick out color and movement. They survive by noting anything out of place where they intend to land. You can manage with a camouflage shirt, hat, gloves and a face mask if you wear dark colored pants. You can blend in with the surroundings, but many hunt under a camouflaged net and sit on plastic buckets. This allows comfort and the buckets are useful for transporting shotgun shells, decoys, water, snacks and other equipment. DECOYS: I have always been surprised that most dove hunters don’t use decoys. Few take advantage of this easy to transport and highly effective tool. Doves attract to other doves, watch a field full of birds and you will see several setting together. Chances are good that others will land with that group.
Decoys are confidence builders for flying doves. They will land beside your decoy if given the chance. But the chances are that they will be dead or flying away from a poor shot by the time that happens. SHOTGUNS AND SHELLS: What shotgun to use is an age-old argument between dove hunters. Many prefer pump shotguns while others use a semi-automatic version. Some swear by a 20 or 28 gauge while others only shoot a 12 gauge. I spent the first years of my hunting life shooting doves with a 16 gauge.
The best skeet shooters might even use a 4.10. I was never that good. Gauge is a matter of personal choice
“I started killing a lot more dove when I switched to guns with cylinder or improved cylinder bores and gentle cartridges,” Wilson said. “In 12 gauge a 1-ounce target load of 7 1/2s or 8s will do quite nicely. In 20 gauge
make it a light 7/8-ounce load. And, in 28 gauge the 3/4-ounce load will do the job. These target loads will kill a limit of dove in no time and they won’t mistreat you, and cause you to start flinching while you’re doing it.”
I have successfully shot dove with 7 ½, 8 or 9 shot. We occasionally shot doves with 6 shot during my youth because that was all we had. A 6 shot will drop a dove, but with too much damage.
Dove hunting is not a difficult sport, but it is fun. Doves dip and dive, often creating a frustrating target. Many miss on the first shot.
The key is to stay on your bird and shoot again. Don’t forget to take a lot of shotgun shells.