The Wild South

Three Rules for the Dove Field

A few surefire tips to make the most of the opener—or any day in a dove field this season

Photo: Adobe Stock

Mourning doves in flight.

You can bet your biscuit that André Rochon-Duvigneaud would have worn a camo face mask while dove hunting. I have no idea if he ever dove hunted. But the nineteenth-century French ophthalmologist and avian eyesight researcher knew that most birds have highly specialized eyes with near superhuman qualities—they can see both distant horizons and up-close objects in focus at the same time and discern color better than a teenaged fashionista with a million Instagram followers. He called pigeons “eyes with wings.” And since doves are just kissing cousins to pigeons, he wouldn’t have shown up on an opening day dove hunt without head-to-toe camo—and neither should you.

It’s true that there are often plenty of doves to go around in a hot dove field, and you just might fill your limit even if you danced a jig in a Santa suit. But there are also plenty of days when the going is slow and the shooting spotty. That’s when you’ll wish you took your dove hunting a little more seriously. And if you return to hunt on Labor Day proper or perhaps the next Saturday, you can bet those educated gray missiles will be onto your game.

photo: T. Edward Nickens
A good day in the field.

I’ve been rightly accused of taking my dove hunting to extremes, but I love to hunt those little gray speedsters, and I love to put them on a dinner plate. And if you’ll try my recipe for Deconstructed Dove Poppers, I’m gonna bet you’ll sign on to my team. Here are the three rules we follow:

Cover up. The human eye sports two-hundred-thousand photoreceptors per square millimeter. A house sparrow has twice that many, and a hawk has a million. So yes, the doves can see you. And about an hour after legal shooting time, the smart ones will have wised up to your shiny face and silhouette in the corn rows. If you want a quick limit, wear a camouflage or dull hat with a full brim, hunker down inside of cover instead of in front of it, and have mask and gloves handy if you’re still turning birds.

Sit down. If you practice shooting while sitting on a five-gallon bucket, you’ll up your odds significantly. Standing up to take the first shot at an incoming dove can flare the bird right when the shotgun hits your shoulder. Swinging a shotgun from the seated position presents some challenges, but it’s pretty easy on overhead incomers. Try it. You’ll like it.

Share the bounty. No, not the doves you shoot. I’m selfish with mine and won’t judge you for a similar approach. But there’s always a hot corner or corridor in a dove field, a place where the birds like to fly. If you’re lucky—or smart—enough to be right where the doves want to be, act like a kindergartner and share the candy. Instead of burning through your limit while the poor sports across the field snipe away at the scraps, consider giving up the good seat partway through your limit. Or at least invite your pal to come shoot with you. You can be dead-eye serious about dove hunting and still be a good neighbor.

photo: T. Edward Nickens
A day’s bounty for the dinner plate.

Follow T. Edward Nickens on Instagram @enickens