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Ready for the dove opener?

By Don Mallicoat

Asheville – After a long pause in the hunting season, it’s time to kick things off with dove season on September 5th. For many hunters, the dove opener is a one-time event. They go to just spend time in the field with friends. Sometimes it can turn into a frustrating event because they miss more than they hit. I’ve seen reports that show the average hunter shoots five shells for each bird in the bag. That’s average which means some folks are shooting more. Here are some things you can do to put more birds in the bag.

First, spend some of the short time remaining at the range. It would be great to do that with an instructor but at least shoot a round of sporting clays. What does that do for you? It builds muscle memory and improves hand/eye coordination. If you haven’t picked up a shotgun for six or nine months, repetition of mounting the gun to the shoulder and getting the cheek on the stock will build muscle memory. Hand/eye coordination is important because the barrel, controlled by your hands, goes where the eyes are focused. Which should be on the bird.

Opening day arrives and you find your stand on the edge of the field. First, pace off 25 steps to the front, right and left and mark it with a pile of grass, corn stalk, or tree branch. I’ve spent many a day in dove fields and it continually amazes me how many hunters “skybust.” They shoot at birds clearly out of range, sometimes forty-five or fifty yards away. A lot of folks have difficulty judging distance, typically underestimating. Markers on the ground give you a good idea of what a reasonable distance is to shoot a bird.

When you do see a dove entering the field at a distance wait until the bird is closing on that known distance before mounting your shotgun. It should be one smooth motion: while standing the gun comes to your shoulder, you totally focus on the bird, and right after the shotgun gets to the shoulder the barrel should be on the bird and you pull the trigger. Tracking a bird as it jinks and dives across a field will only confuse your eyes. You start thinking about the shot and you miss.

Another suggestion for success. Shoot quality shotgun shells. Because of my interest in shotgun sports I’ve done a lot of reading about shotgun ballistics. I’ve also done some of my own pattern testing comparing economy loads and quality loads. There is a significant performance difference.

The reason economy dove loads are cheap is because of the quality of components. Inexpensive powder gives you inconsistent velocity. Soft lead shot deforms going down the barrel which gives you an uneven pattern which dove can fly through. 

Conversely, quality loads like the B&P Dove and Quail has harder shot and more consistent performance. My shell to bird ratio improved when I started using quality shotshells.

Let’s look at safety and regulations. Remember when you are in a dove field hunters are usually in close proximity to each other and dressed in camouflage clothing making them hard to see. The number one rule in dove hunting is do not shoot at low flying birds. Dove are coming into the field to feed and will often swoop in a few feet off the ground. Your initial reaction may be to bring you gun up and shoot. Not a good move.

You should never shoot at birds less than 45 degrees above ground level. One rule of thumb is to see the blue sky behind the bird. Along with that, make sure your safety is on during those lulls in the action when you’re not shooting. You’ll get hot and tired and mental lapses are not unusual. An accidental discharge can ruin a fun day.

There is a legal aspect to dove hunting worth mentioning. I often ask Enforcement Officers what the most common violation is. Unplugged shotguns is the leading cause of citations. All pump and semi-auto shotguns with a five-shot capacity must be plugged so they only hold three rounds: one in the chamber and two in the magazine. If you are shooting one check your magazine before going to the field and make sure it is plugged. You do not want to get caught in the dove field with an unplugged shotgun. Immediate citation. Have fun and let’s start the season off safe! 

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