Here in the South, we make a big deal out of dove hunting, so it comes with a lot of fanfare! Unless you shoot clays, you probably have not picked up your shotgun in quite a while, so the anticipation is at full throttle. It’s our third year as members of Honey Camp Dove Club, and Opening Day is the time when we all gather and catch up with friends we may not have seen since last season and enjoy a pre-hunt spread with all the classic Southern favorites. Our landowner/hosts, Dale, and Hilda Shelley prepared grilled pork tenderloin, baked beans simmered on the grill, and chicken bog. As we give thanks for the day and for the beautiful food, we pray for a safe and successful hunt.
Everyone is anxious to get out in the field, but not before we each say a word or two to introduce ourselves to new members. For some, this is a good opportunity to brag about their favorite college football team. It is also a time to go back over the club rules, with safety always being the number one topic. We take turns blind drawing our stands and the excitement builds as we hope we have pulled a stand with great bird activity and some good shade!
As we walk to the field full of corn and sunflowers, it is clear that it will be an exciting day as the birds fly into the field all around us. As the first female member of the club, I was a bit nervous when I joined a few years ago. Now there are two female members, and I was so excited that two young girls are joining in the fun! They brought their BB guns and already have a keen interest in hunting, which is awesome since the main reason I started my blog, Camo365.com, was to inspire young people to hunt.
Within just a few minutes, the field was full of action—birds flying and the sounds of gunfire were coming from every direction, and I scanned the sky for a bird to shoot. The first bird down is always the most important for me, as it immediately gives me confidence. As I gathered up my bird, I knew this should be a great day. My goal was to limit out with 15 doves since the South Carolina limit has been raised from 12 birds to 15 this year. I always stand when I shoot, and I am on full alert the entire time, ignoring my phone and any other distractions. I kept counting out loud to make sure I knew how many birds I had taken. I had no idea what time it was as my eyes were peeled to the sky, looking for a bird in range.
My husband usually texts me, but when I saw that he had called me a couple of times from the other end of the field, I immediately responded. He proceeded to tell me that he fired his first shot and dropped the bird on the edge of the ditch. He saw what he believed to be two small wheels off a baby carriage. Just as he reached across the “wheels” to pick up the bird in the tall brush, one of the “wheels” moved, and as he jumped backward he realized a snake had nearly bitten him. He quickly shot the snake, and then the second one—three shots took one bird and two snakes. Whew, what a way to start a hunt! My handful of ant bites seemed to pale in comparison to his story, but the long-lasting effects of the ant bites were another reminder to watch where you reach when you are picking up birds.
My challenge this year was actually finding the birds where they dropped, as the action is so fast and furious, and good recall is required to find the birds among fallen dead heads of sunflowers, which amazingly resemble doves. When wing shooting, I abandon my monovision contact lenses for distance lenses so that my depth perception is dramatically improved. The tradeoff is that my close-up vision is not so good. I always try to mark the spot where the bird falls to attempt to walk right to my bird, but it is not that easy.
The day could not be more perfect, with good cloud cover keeping the temperatures in the 80s, and an occasional breeze put a smile on my face. As the afternoon rolled on, I was fast approaching limiting out, with plenty of time to spare. When I finally reached 15 doves, I decided it was time to rest up, so I sat on my dove pail for the first time since entering the field. It is easy to suffer from heat exhaustion when hunting doves, and with the excitement of such a great hunt, I nearly experienced that as well!
As hunters and outdoors people, we cleaned our birds, put them on ice, and took them home, knowing that some would go in the freezer and a few would our dinner!
Both my husband and I limited out and we are so happy to have a great start to filling our freezer, but not before our dinner of fresh dove breasts wrapped in bacon and stuffed with jalapenos! Truly a meal from the field to the table, these delicate dove breasts accompanied with yellow stone-ground grits and red tomatoes are a meal to love!
AS WRITTEN FOR WACCAMAW OUTDOORS MAGAZINE