By Gerald Almy - firstname.lastname@example.org
Oil your scatterguns and practice shooting a few clay targets. Dove season opens September 1.
While these beautiful gray birds with long streamlined tails are reasonably abundant throughout the Shenandoah Valley, they are definitely a challenge to bag. That's why a bit of shotgun target practice is in order.
But there are a lot more pointers to keep in mind if you want to enjoy some success during the coming season. To help with this goal, here are some tricks and strategies I've picked up from hunting them for the past three decades, mostly right here in Shenandoah County, but also as far away as Mexico, where whitewings were the quarry, instead of mourning doves.
• Choose the right gun: When settling on a gun to hunt doves with, make sure it feels comfortable in your hands. It should also fit you right and throw a fairly open pattern.
Any gauge from 12 to 20 will work. Smaller-framed hunters and youngsters should go with a 16 or 20 gauge. Doubles, pumps and autoloaders are all acceptable. Even a single shot will work.
• Select the best choke: A choke that is too tight makes it hard to hit the target. Sure, they're good for shots way out there, but most doves are taken fairly close, at distances of 20-30 yards.
In that range, an open choke or improved cylinder is best. Modified is the very tightest you should ever use. In a double, a modified/improved combination is perfect.
• Use the right shot: Don't use too large a pellet size for dove hunting. Size six is too big. Choose 7 1/2 or even 8. The more pellets your shotgun throws out, the better the chance of connecting.
• Put on the right clothing: Camouflage is best. Alternately, you can wear a light tan or gray shirt and dull pants. These birds can see color and will flare off, making for a difficult shot if you wear bright clothing.
• Pinpoint some cover: One mistake hunters often commit is underestimating the dove's wariness. If you simply sit in the open, they're not going to fly very close to you.
Find a brush line, tree to sit under or cedar to hunker back against to break up your outline. But make sure it doesn't hinder your vision or obstruct your ability to shoot at birds that come in.
• Carry the right gear: Besides shells and a gun, you should bring several extra items to make dove hunts successful and enjoyable. Ear plugs are a good idea, as are a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, insect repellent, cold drinks, binoculars and a stool to sit on. A cooler with ice to put birds on is also recommended.
• Watch the field before entering: Instead of just barging into the field and taking a stand, sit back for a few minutes and watch. The majority of birds will likely take a specific route when entering and another when leaving.
Find a spot along one of these flyways and take your stand there. They often come in over points of land, dips in tree lines or corners of fields. Sometimes an old dead tree in a field will attract them. Taking a stand under it may be a good bet.
• Move if action is slow: Remember to change locations occasionally if birds are flying in areas out of reach of your shotgun. Sometimes moving just 50 yards can help. Other times you may want to go all the way across a field to a spot that's providing more action.
• Don't break your swing: One of the biggest mistakes novice dove shooters make is not following through with the shotgun barrel as they swing on a dove. Pull the gun onto the bird in a fluid motion, swing with it and squeeze the trigger as you cover the bird with the barrel.
If you keep swinging as you do this, chances are the dove will be yours. Stop your swing and the shot will likely go behind the quarry and it will continue flying unscathed.
• Jump birds if necessary: Occasionally doves fly into a field in an area that doesn't offer a shot and then just stay there. If you have a partner or two along, one of you should head out and try to sneak up on the birds. That person may get a shot, but if not, at least they'll get the doves flying and chances are they'll offer a shot to one of the other hunters on the edge of the field.
• Find downed birds quickly: Don't think you can remember where a dove falls if you wait and shoot other birds in the meantime. Sometimes you might be able to, but other times the gray birds will blend in with the ground and crop stubble and you won't be able to find them.
Head out and retrieve each dove you shoot right after it falls. Alternately, if you have a retriever, send him out to get the bird. Doves are too tasty to waste a single bird.
-- Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.