Gerald Almy

Gerald Almy

It may seem hard to believe, but hunting season is upon us. Dove hunting is always first on the list for fall sportsmen and women wanting to get afield. That’s the case this year as well with the opening at noon on Sept. 2.

Many people overlook this great bird hunting sport, thinking that they must have a large group of people to surround a dove feeding field in order to make the hunting productive.

That’s simply not the case. You can enjoy fast shooting and enriching sport on your own or with just one or two friends. If you don’t have the social connections to be invited to large dove shoots, or simply don’t care for the crowds, take heart. There’s another kind of dove hunting: going out by yourself, or with just a companion or two.

It’s true this approach requires a bit more effort and time invested. You don’t just “show up” for the big organized shoot and take your assigned position.

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 gobbler’s movements in spring. But the feeling of accomplishment when you bag birds is greater since you are using your own scouting and hunting skills.

One advantage of this type of dove hunting I particularly enjoy is that if the first location you select doesn’t produce action, you’re free to move to where more birds are flying. If a number of doves settle into a field using a flight path you haven’t covered, you can sneak up and try to jump shoot them. This will also get the birds flying again — perhaps past your partner’s location.

Doves are found throughout the Shenandoah Valley with its rich farmland. If you do some searching you can usually locate 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.

If possible, make a scouting trip before the season opens. Drive back roads in the area you hope to hunt and scout for birds flying or resting on power lines.

Pinpoint an elevated spot and search for doves with binoculars. Watch the birds long enough to determine their main flight routes and feeding destinations. Then approach the landowner and ask for permission to hunt. Be sure to indicate that you’ll only hunt with a couple of other people or alone.

Avoid 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.

Be especially alert for farms where corn has just been harvested. Other grains are also used regularly by these birds, though, such as millet, milo, and sorghum.

If there’s a pond nearby for water, plus a few evergreens for roosting and a power line for loafing, you’ve found a dove paradise. 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 the way the doves are flying. Doves will use a few flight paths or travel routes as they come into or out of a field.

Sometimes a wooded point, large tree, field corner or notch in the tree line will draw birds past as they fly in. 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.

When you get ready to 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 location by jump-shooting.

Flexibility is one of the great appeals of this type of dove shooting. If your stand site isn’t producing, switch to another spot where more birds seem to be flying.

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 bird 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, a vest to hold extra shells, earplugs, 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.