Gerald Almy: Dove hunting without the crowds
Bring up the subject of dove hunting and many sportsmen picture images of vast fields of harvested grain surrounded by dozens of shooters waiting for birds to fly under a hot afternoon sun.
If you don’t have the social connections to be invited to such festive dove shoots, or simply don’t care for the crowds, take heart. There’s another kind of dove hunting, one I personally prefer: hunting alone or with one or two friends. That’s the type I plan to enjoy once the season opens on Sept. 3.
Contrary to common belief, you don’t need dozens of people to surround a field for a good dove hunt. Excellent shooting can be enjoyed alone or with just a few other hunters.
To succeed with this approach, time must be allotted for scouting and locating good areas to hunt. Then you have to watch the birds to see which flight routes they’re using, just like you might pattern a buck’s movements. But the feeling of accomplishment when you bag birds is greater, since you use your own hunting skills rather than simply showing up at an organized shoot.
Here’s another advantage of this type of dove hunting: if the initial spot you select doesn’t produce action, you’re free to move to where more birds are flying. If a large number of doves land in a field using a route you haven’t covered, you can sneak up and try to jump shoot them and get the birds flying again – perhaps past your partner’s location. There’s a satisfying feeling of being in control of events.
Doves are plentiful in the Shenandoah Valley with its abundant farmland. If you do some searching, you can usually find some isolated, neglected farms tucked away here and there where a solo hunter or small group can enjoy good shooting. Some smaller state public hunting areas also offer good opportunities for low-key dove hunts.
When possible, make a scouting trip before the season opens. Drive back roads in the area you hope to hunt and watch for birds flying or resting on power lines.
Find a slightly elevated spot if you can and look over quite a bit of territory using binoculars. Watch birds long enough to determine their main flight routes and feeding destinations, then approach the landowner and ask permission. Be sure to indicate that you’ll only hunt with a couple of other people or alone.
Shy away from big agricultural spreads. Chances are clubs or other groups will have already locked up those fields if they are good for dove shooting. They aren’t as easy for just a few hunters to cover anyway.
Keep an eye peeled especially for farms where corn has just been harvested. Other grains are also used regularly by these birds, though, such as millet, milo and sorghum.
A pond nearby for water, plus a few evergreens for roosting and a power line or two for loafing add to the appeal an area has for doves. If possible, also look for setups with a hedgerow along the edge of the field for cover and a couple of old leafless trees for the birds to land and rest in before swooping down into the field to feed.
Before entering the field on the day of the hunt, watch which way the doves are flying. Generally doves will use a few lanes or travel routes as they come into or out of a field. You may have discovered some of this during preseason scouting, but also watch on the day you hunt to confirm where the birds are flying.
Often a wooded point, large tree, field corner or notch in the tree line will draw birds past as they fly in to feed. Locate your stand near one of these flyways, but also where there is enough cover, such as a row of cedars, brush, or fence line so your silhouette is broken up.
As you enter the field, don’t just barge in. Instead, hunt your way to the stand location. Doves may already be in the field and you may get a good start to bagging a limit before even reaching the stand by jump shooting.
Don’t feel like you have to stay at the same spot all afternoon on a dove hunt by yourself or with a few friends. Flexibility is one of the great appeals of this type of dove shooting. If your stand site isn’t panning out, switch to another spot where more birds seem to be flying.
Don’t ignore large-scale social dove hunts if you get an invitation to one. But do yourself a favor and try some small-scale solo shoots or hunts with just a friend or two this fall.
Hundreds of small fields are waiting for a single hunter or small group to enjoy. And when you use your hunting skills instead of simply showing up and taking an assigned stand, you’ll find the satisfaction of bagging this speedy gray quarry runs especially deep.
Extra gear for dove hunts
Besides gun and shells, other gear you should bring on a dove hunt includes a hat with a brim, sunscreen, cooler for drinks and the doves you bag, shooting glasses or sunglasses, insect repellent, ear plugs, a folding stool, binoculars, and optionally, a few decoys to place in trees or on a fence wire.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.