Dove Hunting: A Warm-Up for Winter

by Jack T. Wilder

My brother who lives in Virginia likes to say that his favorite holiday of the year is the opening day of dove season. He’s not alone. Every year around Labor Day hundreds of thousands of hunters across the country put the summer boat in the garage early and head out to the cornfields and WMAs to go dove hunting.

What’s best about dove season is that it’s the first hunt of the fall and means wintertime duck and deer hunting cannot be far behind. Although when I am dove hunting the winter is the last thing I am thinking about. It is usually very, very hot and sometimes quite stormy, coming in right at the end of summer. Many a dove hunter has been pulled out of a field gasping for water and looking for shade before the birds even really start flying which is usually later in the day. It is not a sport for the timid. Take water. Take sunscreen. Wear a hat. Get in the shade when possible. These are the rules and you need to follow them to maximize the experience. 

Sitting at a post on a cut sunflower field, my eyes are peeled in a 360 degree perpetual head roll looking for the first sign of a dove coming into feed. Moving at a speed of over 55 mph, the two dove come barreling in fast and I stand to take the first one before he dips below the corn stalks and as I shoot the second dove rises, climbing for the sun as another shot rings out. My brother nails it with his first shot. We both walk out and claim our prizes and he’s quick to tell me that had I been a little faster on the draw I might have had them both. Dove hunting is like that.

Dove Hunting: Plant for Birds

Every year we like to plant a field on our farm for dove hunting that will welcome about 50 hunters. We plant about 25 acres of sunflowers surrounded by another 50-75 acres of corn. In the late summer, we will spray the sunflowers to dry them out quickly and then start to mow them down (this is legal in Virginia, check your own state’s laws and guidelines) a few rows a day until the actual hunt takes place.

We then harvest most of the corn. Feeding dove like fields with zero to no weeds growing in the rows and they like open spaces where they can land and see predators coming from afar. With a dirt driveway for grit and a nearby creek with fresh running water, our farm is almost a dove paradise. We usually invite friends and family over for a mid-day shoot followed by a BBQ and maybe some live bluegrass with a cocktail afterward. This is how it has always been done and I expect forever will be.

If you can’t plant, lease a field or join a club your next best bet is to hit a local WMA. Many public hunting areas plant specifically for dove and if you head out mid-week you can usually avoid the crowds. However, good dove hunts, unlike just about every other type of hunt, are better when you have the right amount of hunters out with you who can cover a field and not let any birds escape once they have flown in to feed. So take a friend or two.

My brother is right. I don’t know if it beats Thanksgiving, but opening day of dove season is right on up there with the best holidays of the year. Roll on September!

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