Photo by Don Martin.
The early dove season is over in Arizona, it ended Friday, but in retrospect it was a good one for me and my friends.
There were some good news-bad news scenarios that played out.
The good news for me was that I finally got to hunt doves for the first time in two years.
In 2016 due to guiding commitments, I didn’t have the chance to hunt doves at all. I think it was the first time in about 20 years that I missed not only the opener, but the entire season as well.
But this year was different. I had the opportunity to go on a four different hunts with friends Steve Tague, John Schmidt and Jay Chan.
Stave and I hunted together on all four trips. John shared two trips with me and Jay hunted with me once. No matter who was along, I had a good time with them.
The bad news?
Well, I can safely say that we weren’t on target like we would have liked to be. It did get better for Steve and me on our last two hunts, but I think we all know that next year it will be a good idea to go to the Mohave Sportsman Club’s skeet range and shoot a few boxes of shells before the season starts. While most of us managed to keep our average shots per bird under the national average, we have no doubt made ammunition companies very happy.
I also learned that I need to keep a pair of waders, a fishing pole with a top water lure and a good set of clippers in the truck.
We did all of our shooting over dirt tanks and of course birds seem to always fall into the water or into the thick mesquite trees that surround these ponds. Plus, the ponds’ shorelines are all slick and muddy – a certain recipe for a fall.
This all resulted in not only losing birds, but scratches on arms and legs, and a wading trip into thigh deep, muddy water to recover downed birds that ended up on an island.
John and I have suggested that Steve buy a good bird dog, spend a lot of money getting it properly trained, and then next year we won’t have so many issues. So far he hasn’t warmed up to our “friendly” suggestion.
We also learned that there is value to using dove decoys.
Strategically placed, a dozen decoys perched on a stick while a nearby battery powered Mojo dove sits on a stake fluttering like it is going to land, can bring some good results.
Of course one should always make sure that the decoys are secure. During a windy morning on the last day we hunted, one of the wings off the Mojo electric decoy got blown off and landed in the muddy water and immediately sank out of sight 5 feet from the shore.
Then my “perch tree,” which was actually a large branch that got blown out of a tree in my front yard, fell into the pond with the dozen decoys clipped securely to it.
It was kinda funny to watch as all the decoys leaked a steady stream of water for 15 minutes after being submerged in the pond. I wondered what the doves were thinking as they came in. Here was a one winged dove fluttering and a dozen “leaking” doves sitting in front of them.
This was an unusual season in a couple of ways.
The monsoons and the cool nights in the past have always pushed the doves that were born locally down south after a day or two of shooting.
But this year there were plenty of doves where we hunted, right until the last day of the two week season.
Though none of us ever bagged a daily limit of 15 birds, there was always plenty of opportunity to put doves in the bag.
A couple of years ago the Arizona Game and Fish Department raised the daily bag limit from 10 doves to 15 per day, and changed the possession limit to 45 birds after the first three days of the season.
None of us ever reached that mark, though we got close.
Here is my own personal philosophy about the number of birds in your bag: I feel that if a bird falls as a result of your shot, then it should count as part of your daily bag limit. Even if you don’t find it, to me it still counts.
The law says you have to make a reasonable effort to locate your game, but if you can’t find it, you can shoot until you have the limit in hand. That doesn’t work for me, but everyone has to make their own choice and it is part of the ethics that we as hunters all have.
Another part of being an ethical hunter is picking up the empty shotgun shells that you’ve fired and all empty hulls as well. Cattle ingest them, and the shells can cause problems for them. Plus in Arizona it is criminal littering to leave empty hulls on the ground.
Another thing we never do is to clean the birds at a watering trough. Feathers can get inside the valves and cause precious water stored in the tanks to run out. Makes the local ranchers very unhappy when this happens.
For me and my friends, this is just common courtesy and helps foster good landowner and hunter relations.
The next dove season starts Nov. 24 and goes through Jan. 7.