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5 Ways to Ruin Your Dove Shoot
You anticipated this outing all summer, then planned and packed for it all week. So why do you want to mess up the hunt by picking a bad stand location? Here are some places to avoid.
by Bob Kornegay
You've waited all summer for this and you're ready - frothing-at-the-mouth, champing-at-the-bit ready. Tomorrow is opening day of dove season. You've earned, won or wrangled a spot on a good bird field, and you're certain a wonderful shoot is in the offing. Maybe, if the old eyes are still sharp and the reflexes haven't waned, you'll even be coming home with a limit of birds in the game bag.
By hunt's end, unfortunately, you are not the "happy camper" you were just a few hours before. Your rapt anticipation of a dream dove shoot has turned to disgust, the expected enjoyment and a chance at a limit of those little grayish-brown rockets all for naught. Back home, you mentally file your unpleasant experience away and vow never to be so optimistic again. You retire late at night, lamenting today's fate, hoping against hope that your next dove hunting opportunity may prove more fruitful.
So, what in the world was the problem? What caused this consternation? Did you suddenly find yourself unable to shoot? Were your sour grapes the crop of a pouting harvest of complaints that doves are just too darn hard to hit while on the wing?
Nope, no realistic dove shooter bothers with such. All have been passengers on that boat. You probably shoot as well as the next fellow and never have been one to gripe and moan over a poor shooting day now and again. The problem, instead, likely had more to do with where you were than what you were doing. You simply set up all wrong.
Dove hunting is a very easy sport to foul up, in ways that have little to do with missing shots. Rather, most dove hunts that go awry do so long before a shot is fired. Often this is caused by placing oneself in an improper spot or setup on the field and then doing the wrong thing after placement has been decided upon. Let's have a look at some of these fouled-up situations you might want to avoid.
Obviously, the situation must be one over which you can exercise some degree of control. You must have some input as to where your shooting spot will be. This is not always possible during certain managed public-land dove hunts or some of the pay-to-hunt shoots that have gained popularity in certain areas of the country. For our purposes, let's assume we have a choice where our set-up is concerned.
Given this, a simple but vital rule must be established. Arrive at your dove field at the earliest practical hour, or at least be secure that you have scouted out the good and bad locations on the field well ahead of time. At a first-come, first-served dove shoot, the early arrivals, who have done a bit of homework, generally experience the most success.
When you get there, think first about your cardinal directions (you know, the ones you learned in geography class). Namely, give utmost attention to where east and west are. For a morning shoot (where legal), it is wise not to set up on a field's extreme western end, especially if the eastern, or sunrise, boundary lacks at least a moderately tall screen of trees or other brushy vegetation. Conversely, try to avoid a west-facing set-up for shooting during the afternoon. Lord knows, doves are difficult enough to hit when your visibility is perfect. The sun glaring in your eyes severely hampers your shooting, not to mention the reflected glare bouncing off you to the eyes of your quarry.
If a facing-the-sun setup is impossible to avoid completely, relocate to a spot where the incoming sunlight at least strikes at an off angle. Often, indirect sun can be dealt with, whereas sunlight directly in your face is impossible. Avoiding direct sunshine is always desirable, even if other spots around a field's perimeter might afford poorer opportunities for concealment or convenience.
Dove hunting with a retrieving dog is one of the more pleasurable aspects of wingshooting. A well-trained retriever that is under proper control at all times is always a joy to watch and, if you are the owner and handler of such a canine, also quite gratifying to show off to your fellow hunters. However, let's face it: Those classic, well-behaved non-slip Labs, goldens and spaniels are the exception rather than the rule at most local dove hunting outings. There always seems to be at least one hunter in the group who owns a dog that is bound and determined to make neighboring hunters miserable. The animal is allowed to range wherever he wishes, breaking on every shot, and, worst of all, picking up every downed bird within marking distance - his "master's" and everyone else's.
If you know this to be the case beforehand, you can make your own day's shooting much more enjoyable by setting up as far away from dog and handler as possible. Forget the fact that a stand location directly adjacent to such a pair may otherwise be one of the best spots on the field. The negatives always outweigh the positives. If you have your own retriever along, relocating away from the unruly animal is also a good way to avoid an almost-inevitable canine confrontation over retrieving territory, as well as making an enemy of the two-legged portion of the offending partnership. If your dog is itself a bit out of control, isolate yourself out of common courtesy.
If at all possible, especially if you hunt without a dog, it is wise not to choose a shooting spot over thick vegetation into which birds are apt to fall when shot. Retrieving birds in such locales will likely make you strongly consider investing in a pickup pooch in the future. Briar thickets make bird-fetching an uncomfortable and downright painful proposition for humans. Even if the offending flora is nothing more than tall grass or thick scrub, there is the likelihood you'll leave downed birds lost and uncollected at hunt's end. Face it: You'll never mark falls as well as a dog and you certainly don't possess the nose for the job. Even a good Labrador loses a dove in thick cover once in a while. Think how many you'll leave behind under the same conditions.
Even if you don't particularly mind searching for birds in a briar patch or high cover and are careful to make a thorough attempt to locate each kill before taking the next shot, you still run the risk of disturbing other people's shooting by traipsing around in the field as birds flare off in a mad dash away from you and nearby hunters. Always give ample thought to where your birds are likely to fall before finally deciding on a setup.
Avoid choosing briar patches as shooting spots, too. They may offer great concealment and camouflage, but you may emerge looking like you've just gone 12 rounds with a wildcat.
When considering your setup opportunities, don't neglect the relative elevation of the terrain around the perimeter of the field. Ridges, hills, even the smallest rise can give away your location to incoming doves. If you must shoot from an elevated location, pay close attention to what is behind you. Your back should be "protected" by a screen that helps break up your outline, the basic rule of good camouflage. From a raised position with no silhouette-breaking background, you stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. Even the latest innovation in camo clothing becomes a moot point if you place yourself on a "pedestal" in full view from all directions. It won't even matter if you think you have thwarted the sun's glare. That strange new object (you) standing alone at the edge of the field is bound to send a clear warning to incoming doves, causing them to flare well out of range.
Moderately tall brush and short, leafy trees are good backgrounds for an elevated stand.
Finally, don't let yourself get blind-sided. I learned this from a dove-hunting football coach who looks at it from an ex-quarterback's perspective. Though it can't always be avoided on a playing field, a dove field is a different matter.
Scout the field beforehand and pay attention to the general flight pattern of the birds during the part of the day you intend to shoot. You do not want to sit or stand hard against a screen of trees, bushes, or a ditch bank and let the birds suddenly appear from behind you flying 500 miles per hour. Crossing shots and incoming doves are challenge enough without having to consistently shoot at birds going away from you at breakneck speed. By the same token, facing parallel to a tree line from which doves suddenly appear as crossing targets is no picnic either. Study the "flyways" and claim that clear, unobstructed shooting lane early on.
Digest all this and you'll have no excuse not to succeed during your next dove-hunting endeavor. On the other hand, maybe you ought not study these tips too hard. Excuses, after all, are the only way a lot of us dove hunters have of saving face.
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