While the summer heat persists it is hard to believe that a new hunting season is starting again. September 1st marks the beginning of dove season for many states, September 17th for most of the rest and, like many others, I’ll be out chasing the little gray rockets. Doves can be devilishly hard to hit and their lightning-fast aerobatics rival that of the most talented jet pilot.
It takes a sharp eye, skilled at calculating the proper lead, to reliably drop a dove. Gil Ash teaches the Optimum Shotgun Performance or “OSP” system of scattergun shooting, and that is the system I use.
It is a both-eyes-open instinctive system where you rely on your brain’s ability to naturally calculate the proper lead, never taking your eyes off of the bird. Having a properly fitted gun is critical for this system to work.
When hunting dove using the OSP system, you track the bird with your head and shoulders while bringing the shotgun up into the firing position. When the gun stock meets your cheek and shoulder, you pull the trigger and (ideally) drop the bird. Don’t swing through the bird as with more traditional shooting.
Even with the proper lead and a good shot, I’ve seen a puff of feathers fall to the ground while the dove pulls a barrel-roll and a split-S maneuver, zooming down into the safety of nearby trees and shrubs.
One of the best ways to ensure a successful dove hunt is to buy quality shells. Nothing is more frustrating than shooting a dove and watching only feathers fall to the ground while the injured bird flies off to the safety of a nearby stand of trees.
For a 12-gauge shotgun, buy shells with at least a 1 1/8 ounce shot load. To reliably drop doves, I recommend one of the following
For a 20-gauge shotgun, a 7/8 ounce load does the job, though a 1 ounce load or more is preferred. The following should ensure a good pattern out to 30 or 40 yards
- 2 3/4″ Winchester Super-X shells loaded with an ounce of #8 shot
- 3″ Winchester Super-X shells topped off with 1 1/4 ounces of #6 shot
For hunting them, I prefer to set up along a tree line next to a crop field.
- In the early morning doves move from their roosts to the fields to feed. As the morning wears on, around 9am or so, I’ll walk through the field to scare up birds that are feeding and take them on the rise.
- A quick break for lunch and then a move to nearby stock tanks usually nets me a few more heading over for the cool shade of a tree lined pond and a quick drink.
- Early afternoon hunts can be difficult, although a sharp eye and a walk through roosting areas generally nets me a few more birds as they abandon their roosts at my approach.
- As the sun begins to set around 5:30 in the evening, if I haven’t shot my limit yet, I’ll move back to the crop fields and take some more when they move back to feed again in the evening.
Tropical Storm Hermine has rained out much of the early season in North Texas and parts of the Midwest. Since the traditional fall weather systems are returning and the doves should soon be flying over crop fields throughout the Central Flyway, keep your eyes on the tree line and your proper lead in front of the bird and you to can catch your limit of doves this year.