There is nothing like Opening Day of dove season. We welcome dove season like a long-lost friend because it signals that fall is just around the corner and hunting will soon be in full swing. We accept that snakes lurk about and mosquitoes, ticks, and chiggers also welcome us to their world. It’s dove season, and we don’t care.
In the South, Opening Day is a huge deal, as friends and family gather together to share in the excitement. Your mouth waters as you anticipate all the traditional fare of barbeque, baked beans, and of course, a chicken bog that will be served, along with fresh hot boiled peanuts and sweet tea! As we give thanks and enjoy our food, we ask for a safe and successful season. We also recognize our host and hunt master, Dale Shelley, who has been working for months to make this hunt possible, and thank him for all his hard work and dedication.
We have been Honey Camp Dove Hunt members for about five years, and as with all clubs, there are rules relating to the time hunting starts and stops. I am always the first hunter out and the last to come in. Yes, I am like a kid in a candy store—I am thrilled to be there and don’t want it to end. Okay, maybe it’s because I’m the last to get my limit. Since I am in the field for a long time, I have put together some of my best tips for endurance and safety.
1. What gear items are must-haves in the dove fields?
Shotgun and ammo.
Dove pail or chair.
Backpack. I like to carry my shells in my backpack—it’s easier than carrying them in the dove pail.
Shooting glasses. I bring two pairs, one with yellow lenses for cloudy conditions and one with darker lenses such as bronze for sunny conditions. OR, Beretta has a great option – PUULL Shooting Glasses which offers 3 different interchangeable lenses that allow you to change it up with variable conditions while you are hunting.
Tick and mosquito repellent.
Rain jacket in your backpack.
Thermacell to keep mosquitoes away.
Cooling towel and/or fan.
Hand wipes—picking up birds can get messy without gloves.
Fingerless shooting gloves. Ventilated gloves keep your hands from sweating.
Heavy-duty brown paper bag with handle for birds. Stash your bag in a shaded spot so that the birds stay cool, are protected from ants, and have good air circulation.
2. What are the best ways to stay cool in even the hottest temperatures?
That occasional cloud teases overhead and gives way to the unforgiving sun. Know your limitations. If you feel yourself getting overheated, move to a shaded area, get hydrated, and rest. Know the signs that you may be at risk for heatstroke: fatigue, nausea, headache, excessive thirst, muscle cramps, weakness, confusion, sweats, and clammy, cold skin.
Cooling towels: These are probably the best way to cool down your body quickly. Pour water over your towel, snap it, and put it around your neck for immediate relief. My favorite cooling towel is made by Mission.com and sports a Mossy Oak camo pattern.
Handheld battery-operated fan with water spray: These small fans can be just the trick to cool you down.
Stay hydrated: Consider drinking sports drinks or coconut water rather than plain water. These replenish a balance of minerals you lose when you sweat. Believe it or not, warm drinks are better than cold drinks. Warm drinks increase your body temperature and, in turn help you sweat, which then cools you off. Cold drinks offer only temporary cooling, so stick to drinks that are not ice-cold. I am partial to Power Beets to Go. This drink promotes stamina and boosts circulation.
Avoid these drinks: Never be tempted to drink any alcoholic drinks for obvious safety reasons before or during the hunt. Likewise, limit your consumption of sweet tea, sugary sodas, and coffee, as they are dehydrating.
Sunscreen: Limit the use of heavy sunscreen—it tends to close your pores.
3. What are the best snacks to bring out to the dove field?
Lightly salted snacks are best:
Pumpkin seeds and almonds are good choices. The salt in nut snacks helps to keep you hydrated.
Consider dried fruit:
Raisins and apricots are loaded with potassium.
Fruits and veggies high in water content:
4. What should you wear while dove hunting?
A cotton or other well-ventilated hat is a great choice.
I like to wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved camo shirts made of wicking fabric. Long sleeves protect your skin from mosquitoes and the sun. Prois has introduced the best ultra-light line- Solas, perfect for hunting in hot weather!
Shorts or long pants.
Merino wool socks—their breathable fibers keep your feet dry. The warmer you get, the more evaporation takes place and the larger the cooling effect.
Leave your shiny jewelry at home.
No blaze orange.
Stay away from white or very light tan colors.
If you are wearing short sleeves, consider UV Insect Shield arm sleeves. Buff makes them, as well as neck gaiters. However, I find neck gaiters are too hot to wear hunting in the summer heat.
5. How to locate your bird when it hits the ground. On your mark, get set, go!
Doves can appear out of nowhere, and when you shoot one, the next thing you need to do is follow its trajectory as it falls to the ground. It sounds easy, but finding your bird in a field can be frustrating. We have all been there: We think we know where the dove landed, and once we start looking down, we lose our perspective and find ourselves searching in circles. Marking the bird is the best thing you can do by immediately looking for a landmark such as a tall corn stalk, a stand stick, or anything else that distinguishes that spot from the surroundings. Even if you are pretty certain where it landed, everything looks like a dove when you start looking at the ground. You can lose a lot of time searching for a bird if you are not lucky enough to have a dog, so pay very close attention to where your bird lands. I can’t stand it when I lose a bird!
6. Safety Tips
Leading up to every hunt, check and recheck the ammo you are carrying to ensure it is the correct ammo for whichever gun you are carrying to the field. Many of us rotate shotguns during the season, depending on conditions and where we are in the season. You don’t want to end up putting the wrong shell in your shotgun or not having the ammo you need. I typically start out with my 20-gauge over-and-under, and later in the season, I switch to my 12-gauge when birds are flying higher.
Always wear protective shooting glasses! This could save your eyesight—or even your life—if a pellet should strike your eye from an accidentally discharged gun or a low shot, which we hope does not happen. But better to be safe than sorry.
Be very careful when picking up your birds—the last thing you want to do is reach for a bird and get bitten by a snake.
Never, ever walk over footbridges or fences, or cross ditches with a loaded gun.
Never shoot at low-flying birds, ever.
Always wear hearing protection—hearing loss is cumulative and preventable with care.
7. Be courteous to all the other hunters
Don’t be a sky-buster—don’t take a long shot that is in another hunter’s range before they have a chance to shoot.
If you see a bird, let the other hunters know. You can’t look in every direction at all times, and it is easy to miss an opportunity. You will hear hunters hollering, “Mark!” or “Bird!” Help out your fellow hunters if you see a bird approaching a stand area so that you can alert the hunter posted there.
Have fun! Scream and yell if you want to, but limit your movement when birds are coming in, so you don’t alert them. Doves are acrobatic and will change course on a dime! I try not to curse at myself for missing a bird, but I do admit that I sometimes use some expletives!
Don’t be tempted to shoot in another hunter’s stand area when you’re retrieving your bird.
Don’t shoot at a bird unless you are certain it is a mourning dove. Be sure of your quarry. You don’t want to shoot a “tweety” bird or a protected bird unknowingly. A good rule to follow is that if you cannot distinguish the coloration of the bird, it is probably out of range.
Get out and have fun this dove season! If you are looking to reach me on a Saturday afternoon from about noon to 5 p.m., don’t text me—I will not answer. I am all about watching the sky, and there is no time to take my eyes away, even for a minute. But, on the other hand, if you want to talk to me, try calling. I might answer, and I might not.
Be safe and have fun. Happy dove season to all!
WRITTEN FOR WACCAMAW OUTDOOR MAGAZINE, SEPTEMBER 2019 ISSUE