Dove hunting can be the best option for good wingshooting in the early season.
Our most memorable upland hunts are often the result of a diverse set factors coming together in harmony, some being time of year, place to hunt, access to ground, weather conditions, dog power, shooting prowess . . . and most importantly, lots of luck. And as we approach the most anticipated opening day each year, we can only hope that the stars align to make this experience just that memorable.
There are never guarantees though . . . we call this hunting, as you know.
Early to mid-September marks the beginning of the bird hunting season in many western states including the Dakotas, Wyoming and Montana. As I drove west on the eve of the prairie grouse opener with sharpies, Hungarian partridge and sugar plums dancing in my head, my mind failed to acknowledge some of the finest wingshooting opportunities I’d encounter later that weekend. I just simply didn’t think about it until the idea dawned on me afield miles from the truck.
I learned my lesson. Don’t forget about doves.
The opening day focus was sharptail coulees and stubble fields for Huns, and with the weather starting in the high 40s but escalating sharply near 80 degrees midday, I put my setters on the ground early to take advantage of the cool, dry western winds.
As the sun rose and baked the back of my neck, I pushed it hard for one last hunt just after lunch. It was quickly evident, however, that the heat was too much for my dogs. They significantly slowed, the scenting became futile, and we all just needed a break from the sun.
I hoped a cooler evening would allow for a lateday hunt, but my mind preoccupied on how to bide myself in the meantime. I wasn’t ready for a nap just yet. As we walked the mile of shelterbelts back to the truck, mourning dove after mourning dove flushed from the trees, bushes and field edges nearby.
It dawned on me that it was dove opener too. Don’t forget about doves.
I found a shady place to stake the dogs for a break, grabbed my early 20th Century Fox Sterlingworth and started walking up birds with the perceived taste of roasted dove on the tip of my tongue.
It is probably not a surprise that the mourning dove is the most widespread and abundant game bird in North America. Doves boast an estimated population of 350 million, and hunters harvest more than 20 million birds per year. Western dove numbers have been stable over the years, and the dove hunting regulations allow for rather liberal limits.
Obviously, there are some dedicated and hardcore dove hunters out there. Dove hunting is serious stuff in certain regions. However, if your mind is set on early season grouse or partridge suitable for a point or a flush, don’t forget about the prime experience of dove hunting. And, I certainly don’t need to tell you how good they taste from the oven or off the grill.
It is a perfect practice for that midday lull or easy hunt in the heat while your dogs rest, and the best time to hunt doves is generally the first few days of the season before the cool weather pushes them south on their migratory path.
Opening day, I walked up countless doves across shelterbelts and forest and field edges. It was phenomenal wingshooting, with both hits and misses from that old double-triggered Fox choked skeet and improved cylinder. I can’t express enough how pleased I was to extend my chances on game birds with that old gun.
Take advantage of the dove season – more wingshooting opportunities and delicious birds on the plate made me a satisfied hunter this year. Rest assured, I won’t forget about doves in the future.
Project Upland is an editorial initiative to capture the cultures and traditions of upland bird hunting. We seek to inspire a future generation of upland bird hunters to understand the essence of hunting traditions and the critical cause for conservation.