Labor Day ushers in for the hunter, the favorite time of year.
Time to get the guns sighted in, turkey calls tuned, hay bales set up for archery target practice and scouting for good locations for tree stands, turkey flocks and doves. It seems that doves just magically show up this time of year and hover enticingly by your back door.
Doves are delicious table fare, but it takes about six of them to make a serving and about 30 shots to bag those six. One of the best ways to find dove hangouts is to drive the back roads looking for doves picking needed grit by the roadsides. Another is to look along power lines - doves delight in lining up on light lines. Good waterholes in proximity to grain fields are dove hotspots but you have to locate them.
Dove hunters spend a lot of time sitting along these places waiting for birds to come swirling along. Dove hunting, like turkey hunting, has picked up devotees in direct proportion to the decline of good pheasant and rabbit hunting.
Some hunters use dove decoys and dove calls. I noticed that, right now, dove decoys are on sale online. Using dove decoys breaks up the monotony of the long, quiet vigils spent straining to hear the faint whistling of wings that alerts the hunter that some doves are flying.
Addicted dove hunters place their decoys in small trees in spots visible to flying doves. The sight of the decoys seems to put nervous birds at ease and they come gliding in to join the decoys. About then, they run into a lot of flying shot, but miraculously, little of the lead hits the mark.
Doves apparently set down on light lines to look over a feeding area before they put down in it. Be reminded not to shoot at birds on power lines. That could get you into big trouble. Of course, the more any particular covey of doves is shot at, the spookier they get and the more the hunter has to camouflage himself.
Dove breasts are easy to sautee in butter or to deep-fry, if you like. Slow cooking is best because such small items will dry out if cooked too fast. Lawrys has a great marinade that is good for all poultry but especially for doves: teriyaki marinade with pineapple juice.
On late summer mornings, just after dawn, I look out my kitchen window and see doves lined up on the electric lines. Soon they will land in my yard, picking grit and whatever else they can find, and I think about what a tasty meal they would make. They are safe, however, in my yard, and probably safe, too, if I were to go afield hunting for them.
Few things are harder to hit than doves. I call them feathered rockets because their speed and aerial antics make them mighty hard to hit. It generally takes six or seven shotgun shells fired to bring down one dove and I believe it. On average, you'll miss a half dozen doves for every one you bag.
Dove hunters wear camouflage clothes and take up posts near flyways, the most likely place where doves flying from one field to another, would cross. Then, like turkey hunters, sitting still is a must. Doves will be spooked royally by fidgeting hunters. Try to position yourself so that your shots will be at birds flying horizontally to you. Shots at these speedsters are difficult enough without trying to bag birds coming straight on.
One piece of equipment that helps a lot is a portable seat. Not the cushion you use for turkey hunting but a small stoool with legs. The portable, pop-out canvas seats are perfect and lightweight. Some hunters tote along a bucket to sit on. Use whatever is most comfortable for you. Choose your set-up for doves with a good background that will help hide your silhouette. Trying to shoot at streaking birds while sitting on the ground is awkward at best. A seat gives you leverage for your feet, a great help when wing-shooting.
Most dove hunters prefer a shotgun with modified choke and shot sized from No. 7 through 9. To have any chance at all, you need a shot pattern that spreads well. When action slows down in the flyways, a group of hunters often spreads out in a field and slowly tramps through, trying to jump the birds up, much like pheasant hunting.
If you have all day to hunt, a combination of tactics probably will offer up the most chances for shots. When a dove drops, keep your eyes peeled on the drop site. Unless you have a retriever along, a dove dropped into grass can be mighty hard to locate.
Remember that to hunt doves, you must have a Migratory Game Bird License. Daily limit for doves is 12 and season hours must be memorized. Dove seasons are always split so consulting the PA, 2011-12 Migratory Game bird Hunting brochure at the Post Office where you purchase your Federal Duck Stamp is a must.