For America, for me, hunting season started yesterday. September first is the opening day of Dove Season here in central Texas. I think that’s a few days earlier than Louisiana; as far as I can tell it’s the first day of dove hunting season anywhere in the country. Dove are the most hunted animal in America, at over twenty million a year harvested. And yet, their populations remain strong. Here in Texas, we kill over 600,000 White Wing Dove a year. For much of the state, opening day of Dove Season is a family and friends affair not to be missed. Unlike deer hunting . . .
dove hunting is rarely a solitary affair. Although I will certainly spend a few days this year walking around shooting targets of opportunity, the real hunts are organized events, with hunters placed strategically along fields and watering holes. Hunters often pair up, and many a family hunt together in this way every year.
Because hunters are usually using very small shot, 7.5 to 8 with improved cylinder or modified chokes, groups don’t need to be that spread apart. You can talk to the person next to you during the whole hunt, and often you can yell back and forth to hunters in nearby locations. Sometimes that can help you coordinate a strategy, but more likely it’s just a lot of good natured ribbing and name calling. It is an outstanding tradition that is loads of fun for everyone.
This year I got to take part in that tradition with a bunch of friends in the hill country. Every year, a friend of mine who own a nearby ranch invites some of the chief members of statewide law enforcement and a few members of the military and equipment suppliers out to his place for an opening day hunt and dinner. I was more than happy to participate this year. We all work together in one way or another, and there was a mix of old friends and friends to meet for the first time. This year I also went with Jason Carter, the owner of Underground Tactical Arms, and Mr. Carter and I paired up for our spot.
We got a good one. Our location was tucked around some oak trees on the edge of a high power line, the cut for the line making a field separating the brush line in front of us, and the small pond behind us. We had a great view of the flighty bundles of tastiness darting from one location to the next. Carter picked the absolute best spot, literally just standing right next to my truck. It makes no sense to me, why dove wouldn’t just fly away from the vehicle entirely, but they didn’t. I’ve seen that work plenty of times. I’ll never understand it but it seems to work.
As we got out of the truck, we heard the first shots of the other hunters nearby. The first shot of the season never fails to get me going, and it certainly did this year as well. Within 15 minutes of walking 15 yards away from Carter and standing under an oak tree, I heard him call out “Coming from behind you”. I looked up and let a three rounds out, missing every single time. That’s pretty typical for me. At the beginning of each season, I might average 10 shots per bird. By the end of the season, and a 100 or so birds in the bag later, I’ll get it down to three per bird. I am, admittedly, a horrible shot with a shotgun.
To be fair, shotguns right out of the box don’t fit me at all. For this hunt I was shooting the gun that was already in my truck. (I am proud that I didn’t have to change or put anything extra in my truck for this hunt other than two boxes of shells.) That gun is a Mossberg 500 12 gauge, bone stock and rattle can’ed up. It was a couple of seasons of shooting and missing before I found out how important stock fit is on a shotgun. As it is, when I shoulder this gun my cheek and eyes are way above the sights, and getting my eyes in any kind of proper alignment with the bore requires me to pull the stock very high in my shoulder, lean over, and put my cheek very far down on the stock. I’ll get a better fitting gun this year.
In the meantime, I make up for accuracy with sheer volume of fire. Now, that volume has diminished a bit over the last couple of years, when I finally admitted that dove will not be hit at 60 yards away. As it is, I draw an imaginary line at 40 yards and pick out something to mark that line with in the scenery. I then make a hard and fast rule that anything in that line gets fired at, but nothing outside of it does. I still find it extremely trying on my patience to hold off shooting at that 45 yard away bird. But that discipline has certainly increased the number of birds in my bag. They’ll get close if you let ’em.
I missed my first shots, but I didn’t miss the next couple, and it was not more than five minutes later that I had more chances. Over the course of the next two and a half hours, Carter and I would change locations, stand side by side, wander around a bit, and all the while take shot after shot.
By the way, Carter is a much better shot than I am, with a much better shotgun. Say what you want about the value of a cheap shotgun, but his Bennelli Super Sport carbon fiber custom shotgun was faster to shoulder, faster to fire, lighter, dependable, and just a far better pointing gun than my Mossy. Plus, Carter is just a better shot with any shotgun. He limited out considerably sooner than I did. But hit my limit I did, and it didn’t take long.
In Texas, the bag limit is 15 dove per person, but there is no limit on the Ring Neck Pigeon, which we shot four of as well. Carter and I both limited out pretty early, sooner than many of the other members of the party. As it got closer to sunset, that’s when the dove really came out. People refer to is as “turning on the faucet” for a reason. Thirty-minutes before sunset there was an endless stream of birds.
Having already hit our bag limit, we just watched and laughed as the dove danced in the air around us. I’m pretty sure someone told them we had already limited out. So instead of shooting birds, we stood there with a few other folks who had limited out early, chit chatting and watching the sun paint the hill country sky in Technicolor pastels, and dim.
With sunset, we all went back to clean and package our birds. It was a great scene. There was a woman showing her new fiancé how to clean the birds (yes, she outshot him), a father cleaning birds with his 13-year-old daughter (she got six all on her own) and generally men and women alike of all ages together having a good time. That great time continued on to the ranch pavilion where we all had a delicious dinner of steak and potatoes. It was late at night before everyone said their goodbyes, and thanked our gracious and generous host. I’ll be hoping for an invitation next year, and looking forward to it again all year long.
In the coming days, just like we did last year, I’ll be out with my two oldest while they scour the fields and watch the skies, continuing our own traditions.