Now as you all know, I am a relatively new hunter. For those who do not know, I decided to enter the recreation/lifestyle when I was 18 during my freshman year of college. More of the story of how I got into hunting is written in the “authors” tab on my website, but I didn’t get to really get the hands on experience in the field for a year or two after taking my hunter safety course.
Where I am going with this is that despite coming into hunting with a clean slate in regards to hunting, I still came in with unwritten bias. I had fallen into the trap of romanticizing one or two types of hunting seasons and what niches I wanted to get into. Initially I really only wanted to really deer and turkey hunt as I recall. One of my family members who are really into bird hunting allowed me to go with him and to check out some walk in area around me during the late season. We never really found anything and were left skunked after many hours of driving, scouting, and walking.
This initially left a sour taste in my mouth in regards to bird hunting in my state. I felt that a lot of the walk in land was really low quality and not holding birds. I honestly felt a bit ripped off in regards to the money being put into hunting access as I kind of expected there to be lush ag fields and cover for many types of animals, which isn’t the case due to various things like drought and what farmers have to do to get by.
Since then I was skeptical of the fun that could be had in regards to bird hunting and limited myself to only larger game animals like deer and turkey and the traditional small game animals like squirrel and rabbit. Now that I am a little older and looking to get better and more serious in the field I am pushing myself to do more and try more things as to achieve this goal this fall. I will entail more of the story below and what I learned after my first time dove hunting the other day.
As I mentioned previously in the introduction, I was not really into bird hunting after my first few times going out and getting skunked without a single sign of birds despite seemingly perfect bird habitat. Beyond my previous experiences, I also listened to people really emphasizing the importance of scouting for dove and other birds to ensure that you can get a good harvest.
I understand that scouting prior to hunting is important, but it was hard to motivate myself to go drive 20+ minutes to a spot to see if dove are there even though I see them in my garden every day. There isn’t a whole lot of meat on the bird either, making it essential to shoot as many as you can so you can ensure you have enough meat for a meal to justify your efforts.
Despite my unfounded bias against hunting these animals, I was invited by a friend the other evening to go dove hunting with him the following morning. I initially debated the idea in my head as it was already late and I was planning on recording my YouTube video for the week, but I decided that the experience would be good to have and it would be fun despite the outcome.
Fast forward to 5 AM the following day and there I am turning off my 3 alarms, eating my instant oatmeal, and packing my gear into my car to go meet with my friend before leaving town. It was still dark outside and the air was cool and sweet. I follow my friend to the spot we agreed upon the night before. Once we arrived at the location we get our gear and cross the barbed wire surrounding the property.
From there we hike a little further and setup along some water and lay out the decoys that he brought along. We then sit and wait to see any doves and watch as the sun begins to rise. Even though the doves were a little late to show up, we still saw a lot of biodiversity along the way, we saw a few large herring fly above us, as well as some other small species of birds that were flying in to get a drink of water. We were also greeted by some snapping turtles and a few deer wandering near us.
After about 30-45 minutes pass, the action begins to pick up.
2. What Happened?
From there, we begin seeing small groups of doves fly above us in the sky. Initially I was struggling to properly identify doves in comparison to the other types of birds that were flying by. I refused to shoot until I knew exactly what birds I was looking at. The thing that helped me distinguish doves from other birds was their short tail and how straight they fly.
Once I figured out how they moved, I was ready to get into the thick of it. The birds showed up like a summer rainstorm, first you are met with a few drops, and then you begin to get a down pour. First, we were met with a single dove here and there, with the occasional couple thrown into the mix. Eventually it felt like we were getting huge flocks flying over us at some points.
What made the hunt so difficult was that the birds were coming in at strange angles or from behind us. They were also fast moving and would quickly fly out of range if you weren’t paying attention and ready with your gun. Sometimes the birds would land, preventing you to shoot at them, though you can just stand up and scare them and shoot them as they started to fly up.
I haven’t had the most practice with my shotgun over the past years as I haven’t prioritized hunting, especially bird hunting, until recently. I did get some sporting clay practice in about a month prior to this hunt, but it wasn’t enough. I shot about half a box of shells while out there and I missed all of my shots, except for one that maybe clipped bird’s wing, though the bird never really stopped flying.
My friend ended up shooting 3 doves, though he too was struggling to hit his mark that morning. We decided to stop hunting after the temperature started to heat up and the doves weren’t moving as much around 10:30-11 AM. For me, even though I didn’t hit any birds the trip was still successful. I learned how to find doves and was around someone shooting them. It was a great learning experience for me and a lot more fun than I thought it would be.
3. Why I Waited so Long to Dove Hunt
I am disappointed that I waited so long to try out dove hunting. I am guilty of judging a book by its cover on this activity. I imagined that this was one of those things that guys obsessed over because it was an excuse for a group of guys to go out and shoot at pigeons for fun while enjoying a beer or two between fields. I didn’t understand the fun behind it, the challenge, and the amount of birds that you can have access to if you find the right spot.
4. Would I go again?
If someone asked me if I would go dove hunting again with a friend, or on my own (though it is easier and more fun with more people) I would say yes. I think this activity would be great for people who enjoyed playing the old Nintendo game Duck Hunt, or if you enjoy shooting clays at a trap range. There is a reason they call them clay pigeons. It is exciting to watch one fly up and shoot it as it is not as easy as it looks…believe me. It is another way for me to connect with my food, learn about more ecosystems, and scout for future hunts. Most important, it is FUN and takes relatively no labor to do. I plan to be back in the field sometime this week after the weekend.
5. What I Learned
After I got in my car from hunting to drive home, I remember feeling like a damn fool. The reason I felt like this was because I was telling my friend before we started shooting how I was “knocking clays out the sky” last time I went out to practice with my shotgun this summer. Even though I did have a lot of success shooting clays this summer, a few good times doesn’t make up for lack of experience and the unexpected nature of real birds.
If you plan to get into bird hunting I can’t emphasize how important it is for you to practice as much as you can prior to hunting. Practice can range from going to an actual sporting clays range or just practicing shouldering/mounting your shotgun consistently to build up muscle memory. This was my biggest issue I believe when I was dove hunting. I was getting too excited when I saw a bird and I wasn’t putting my cheek on the stock like I normally would.
I wasn’t used to shooting at live birds either, which is a little different than shooting clays, though you only get better by practice and going out and trying to get better in the field.
Initially I had a negative perspective of bird hunting as a whole based on previous experiences and things I had read online. I was intimidated to try something new, until the opportunity arose. Now I am more than glad that I took the time to make the memories and try something new. Despite feeling humiliated from my lack of skill in regards to shooting actual doves, I feel like the experience is invaluable as it takes away the misnomer that many hunters and gun owners share.
This misnomer being that they are John Wick and that they don’t need to practice with their weapons consistently to maintain a good skill with them. I can assure you that though I was cracking a few clays, all of the doves I shot at were allowed to live another day. I recommend anyone who hunts to go out and try it for yourself if you haven’t before or just want something to get you off the couch. The worst day out hunting is typically always better than an average day at work!