The opening of dove season is something I look forward to. In the past 15 years, I’ve only missed opening day one time.
For me, it is a time of being in the field with friends, old ones and new ones, and a time of challenging myself to find new ways to make hunting the desert speedsters just a little more challenging.
This year on opening day I was joined in the field by friends and Havasu residents Mike Hulsey and Bobby Condit, and Kingman resident Steve Tague whom I hunted with for the first time last year.
Also in the field were fellow Hunter Education instructors John Schmidt and Jay Chan. Jay’s brother Alan, who lives in Flagstaff, also enjoyed opening day in Mohave County.
This year scouting in an area we’ve hunted before brought some insights into what to expect for the Sept. 1 opener.
Monsoon storms, with accompanying rain and high winds, had caused a reduction in the number of birds seen at a couple of desert waterholes we hunt.
However, two weeks before the season opened, I found a large group of an estimated 150 mourning doves watering in a bar ditch about a mile from a pond we planned to hunt.
Then just a few days before the opener, fellow sportsman Rad Green went out to the same area and reported that in about three hours, he had seen about 25 birds.
The rain storms had finally subsided in this area, and it had dried out, but I was worried that the majority of the desert birds which are hatched in this desert area had migrated farther south.
Or had they?
After all these are “local birds” that are hatched and fledged here, so maybe the weather wouldn’t push them away until later in September, when night time temperatures would start dropping. I have learned over the years that the birds would hang around for a few days until night time temperatures dropped into the 60s or pressure from hunting would cause them to leave.
The doves in the area we hunt typically feed as soon as it gets light. As the desert floor warms, the birds will start moving toward water holes, either stock tanks, wildlife or cattle waters for a drink. Then they will loaf for a few hours before starting to feed again, then close to sundown they will move back toward the water.
One thing you have to be careful of on an evening hunt is there are posted shooting hours. Hunters who don’t obey these can find themselves with a citation in their hands, even though they believe there is still plenty of light to safely hunt.
This is just one reason why I prefer to hunt mornings only.
This year, because of shoulder and elbow issues on my left arm, I decided that instead of using my Browning Citori 20 gauge Over/Under shotgun, I would opt for a shotgun that I purchased just a few days before the season opened.
The shotgun was a Savage model 512 Over/Under in 410. Recoil on this diminutive shotgun is almost negligible. But even with 3-inch shells, you have less shot than you do with the more popular 12 or 20 gauge shotguns. The standard 2 ½ shells hold just ½ ounce of shot, or half of what the standard 12 gauge dove load has.
This means you have to be a lot more precise when shooting at the ever darting, weaving speedsters.
To put into a different perspective, the average hunter in America fires from five to seven shots from a 12 gauge shotgun to bag one bird. I have personally seen hunters expend 4 boxes (100 rounds) to get a 10 bird limit.
In the past I shot a lot of skeet with shotguns from 410 to 12 gauge, so I used to be a fairly proficient shot when hunting doves. Using a Remington model 1100 12 gauge with a skeet barrel, my personal best was 10 birds with 12 shots.
But this year, it was back to the 410, and I challenged my friend Mike Hulsey to use another 410 Over/Under that I had. He agreed.
Bobby however, was on his first ever dove hunt and was going to use a 12 gauge semi-auto shotgun. Steve would also use a 12 gauge as would John, Jay and Alan.
When we arrived on opening morning, three other hunters were in the spot where we normally sat. So we had to have a change of plans and we hunted a little farther out away from the pond. Instead of trying for birds flying over the water, we would intercept them as they flew in.
Only Schmidt, who had arrived at the pond much earlier than we did, was where we had hunted before. And Jay and Alan hunted another nearby pond.
I set up my two Mojo motion dove decoys and my dozen hard decoys on a fence line and we waited.
Just like in years past, the action started off slow. A few birds drifted in off the desert.
There was a little shooting, but after an hour or so, it seemed like the doves were going to prevail this day. Mike had two birds, Bobby had one, and I didn’t have any.
As the temperatures started to rise, the birds started flying in.
From 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. the action was hot and heavy. Sometimes it was so fast we couldn’t keep the shotguns loaded.
Hulsey finished up first with his 15 bird limit. He had fired 47 shots from the 410. A short time later, I finally found the groove and I too finished with a limit. But it took me exactly 50 shells to do it. Condit fired a lot of shells to finish his limit, but he literally had a blast on his first ever dove hunt.
Both Steve and John ended up with 13 birds each. We all were amazed at the number of birds that flew in.
It had been a great opening morning. Almost everyone else in our group got close to a limit.
We cleaned the birds at my house and soaked the breasts in cold water. Then I filleted the breasts of the birds we had bagged, as I truly enjoy eating them.
One of my home nurses, Yvonne, told us of a recipe she uses to prepare doves. She uses olive oil, white wine and shallots, and cooks the filets slowly. I can’t wait to try them.
The first dove season ended on Monday, but hunters will once again be able to hunt these birds starting again in November.