Thursday, August 31, 2017

The First Days of the Hunting Season

Dove hunter in a sunflower field

       I don't know if the opening weekend of dove season really is the best time to hunt doves.  Migrating doves often come later, but hunters in the Ozarks are at least getting first shots at doves hatched locally before many of them move out.  The warm weather we usually have the first week of September means most of the doves north of us are still there, and most of ours are still here.

       If you could you'd like to hunt doves when there's a nip in the air and that can happen later this month, or early next month.  But probably 80 or 90 percent of the dove hunting in our area is done and over with after the first week of the season.  Usually, the doves leave the heavily hunted areas for awhile, but in time, a new group will migrate in, and the harvested grain fields will provide more hunting.

       Successful hunters are those who find the feeding areas days before the season opens...and because doves do not perch on grain heads as other birds do, you have to find grain fields like wheat or sunflower seeds which are on the ground.  They come to any kind of grain or weed seed found on fairly open ground.  And they fly very erratically, so they are a challenge for a shotgunner, though probably not as much of a challenge as the heat.

       To hunt doves on opening day you have to get out early, wear good camouflage, and have a couple of boxes of field loads.  I advise hunters to use 7 and 1/2 shot, and shoot modified-bore shotguns.   Doves were made for modified-bored barrels, an open choke gun is O.K. on opening day if all your shooting is at 25 yards or so.  But usually, dove shooting is a 35 to 40 yard challenge.   Full chokes restrict the small shot pattern too much.

       Bring along a stool or bucket to sit on...on opening day you don't have to hide as well as you will on day two or three. The temperature at sunrise should be 20 degrees lower than it will be at 11:00 a.m.  The birds will feed early and late in the day, but if it is a good field, some will be flying in and out most all morning and all afternoon.
       Sometimes we get really lucky here in the Ozarks on opening weekend and don't have the  hot weather during the late morning and afternoon.  But when the humidity is high and it gets up in the mid 80’s, I’d druther be fishing.

       Inexperienced hunters sometimes lose a lot of crippled or downed doves because the weeds are high around grain
fields and there's lots of green undergrowth to contend with.  Mark birds down well and make a special effort to find them.  Dove numbers have been dwindling over the years, and no hunter should wink at the bag limit, nor give downed birds a half-hearted search.  If you are going to call yourself a hunter, act like one, and don't waste game nor exceed the limit.

       A dog helps reduce crippled bird losses and a panting, young retriever might gain some experience from dove hunting, if he doesn't have a heat stroke.  Be sure so you to take some water along for him if there isn't a good pond or creek nearby.  And you'll have to help him get the dove feathers out of his mouth, which may make him decide the last thing he wants to do is go retrieve another bird.

          A dog helps reduce crippled bird losses... and a panting, young retriever might gain some experience from dove hunting if it's not extremely hot. Be sure you take some water along for him if there isn't a good pond or creek nearby. And you'll have to help him get the dove feathers out of his mouth, which may make him decide the last thing he wants to do is go retrieve another. 

        That's why I like hunting small ponds in the evenings, ponds which doves use for water holes before they go to roost.  Such a pond is used as a watering hole only when there is a flat, barren, gravelly bank without weeds, where they may land and walk to the water's edge. And your dog can stay right there beside you and retrieve your birds in the kind of environment retrievers are made to hunt in.  Remember, for those who want to wait, there are plenty of new doves later in September, and cooler weather sure to come. 
       It isn’t a good idea to break a young dog in on a dove hunting trip.  Old Bolt will retrieve them but he doesn’t like to because those dove feathers get stuck in his mouth.  Right now I have a pair of ten week chocolate Labrador puppies much like the ones I have raised for 50 years.  In fact they descend from my first great Labrador, old Rambunctious.  These two are beauties, and I want to keep one.  But  it is tough to play-train them when they are together because they begin to bond to one another and it is hard to keep one chasing a dummy when it wants to go back to the kennel where it’s sibling waits.  I use to raise a lot of hunting Labradors and even today I get lots of calls from hunters wondering if I have one from that old-style heavy, hunting stock. 

        Most old time duck hunters aren’t enthusiastic dove hunters because they want to spare their dogs from hot weather and those feathers.  And us old timers wouldn’t eat doves if they had squirrels to eat.  Of course I have to admit, back in the good old days no one would eat squirrels if they had chicken.   But squirrels were easier to get than chickens, and cheaper, and squirrel hunting was a great deal more enjoyable than chasing a chicken around the barn-lot, half scared to death that the farmer would come home and catch you!

     If you would like to get our upcoming fall magazine… the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, or if you’d like to get information on any of my books, just call my office—417 777 5227.  Or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email me at

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