With the cool nights and north winds we have been having the last few weeks, it is hard to not think about the fall and the fun times that come with my favorite season. Besides the best weather of the year, fall also brings us hunting season, which is the main reason why it is my favorite season.
One of the first unofficial signals of fall is the arrival of dove hunting season. If you enjoy shot gunning, you would love dove hunting. It is one of the most challenging sports for the scattergun user. These fast flying acrobatic birds can humble the most proficient marksman. This is what makes these birds the the most popular game bird in America.
The mourning dove is one of the most abundant and widespread game birds in North America. They can be found from coast to coast, ranging from Canada to Mexico. It is estimated that at least four million doves are found in Ohio each fall. Because of their high reproductive performance and their adaptability, their populations continue to soar even after the introduction of a dove hunting season just a few short years ago here in Ohio.
The great thing about hunting doves is that it doesn’t take a lot of money or equipment to enjoy the sport. All you need is your favorite shotgun; several boxes of shells, a bucket to sit on and you are ready to go. Most shot gunners prefer to use a 12 or 20 gauge shotgun rigged with an improved cylinder or modified choke along with 7-8 shot shells.
The most important key to being successful is scouting. You should begin looking for birds using feeding areas in late August. Look for freshly cut hay fields, wheat fields and the absolute best is a newly chopped cornfield. Another great spot to look for is farm ponds. The birds will come to the water for a drink in the morning and again in the evening before they roost. Once a feeding area is found, set yourself up along the field edge or along a fencerow and get ready. Try to maintain a low profile until the birds are in shooting range and it does help to wear camouflage. Decoys and especially spinning decoys can help but are not necessary for success.
It is also helpful if you hunt with several others and you spread yourselves out to keep the birds moving. Just be sure all the hunters know where every one is located to avoid any accidents. With the ease of the sport, the fast paced action, and the usually mild temperatures, it is also a great way to introduce a youngster to the sport.
Because of the tall growth that is found this time of the year, it is very important that you only shoot one bird at a time and do a good job of marking where they fall. Don’t take your eyes off the area where you saw it drop and don’t try to shoot any more until the first downed bird is retrieved. It can be beneficial to hunt with a trained retriever but be cautious as the temperature is usually in the eighties for the first few weeks of the season and pup can over heat in a hurry. It is also recommended that you get the birds on ice as soon as you retrieve them to get them cooled as soon as possible.
Opening day is always a fun time to go but the best time really depends on the weather. The birds will start grouping up as the nights cool and will hang around until we get the first cold night, then many will be gone. They are just real finicky about the weather. I can remember several years where there would be a ton of doves around the week before the opener then we get a typical early fall night where the temperature drops into the forties and it seems the birds migrated south over night. That is just the difficulty of hunting migratory birds.
One time of the year that no one seems to take advantage is the later season. There is always another big migration of doves coming from Canada when winter finally arrives. However, with other hunting seasons open by this time, most hunters don’t take advantage of these new arrivals and they go virtually untouched.
Once you have a nice mess of birds harvested, cleaning them is easy as the breast meat can be pulled off the carcass with your fingers. Rinse the breasts off, soak them in buttermilk or Italian salad dressing, wrap them in bacon, and fry in a skillet for ten minutes. Mmmmm Good! You will love it.
Dove season runs from Sept. 1 to Nov. 5 and then again from Dec. 16 to Jan. 8th. The daily bag limit is fifteen. Make sure you have your new hunting license before heading out.
Spend some time at the trap range getting ready for the shot gun seasons and until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!
Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.
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