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Dove season is about to start; are you ready?

By: George deVilbiss
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I have tracked the weather pattern for many, many years. While August is one of our hottest months, every year the local area experiences some form of a welcomed weather break, anything from a considerable cool-down to actual rain storms. Is the weather break that we experienced last week the only break we’ll receive in August? Only Mother Nature knows the answer to that question. If it is, that is the earliest break in the weather I’ve seen. I wouldn’t be surprised if another cooling occurs before the September 1 opener of the state’s dove hunting season. It was 1983, I think, when I woke up in the dark hours of the morning on opening day only to be greeted by the thunderous applause of pouring rain. I debated long and hard whether to actually go. Deciding I was already awake, I went to my favored hunting area but not expecting much of a shoot. By the time I arrived in the field, the rains had stopped and the skies were beginning to clear. It wound up being one of the hottest gunning days I had seen in years. So, you just never know. Doves are a warm weather, migratory bird. As the weather changes, they head south. The weather change we had was short and should not too adversely affect local bird populations. And even if “our” birds left the region, other birds from more north, where some storms were more active, could fill the void by those who did leave the immediate vicinity. Dove are a downright excellent table fare, but are also difficult to put on the table. Once the lead starts flying, they wise up quickly. They can turn on the afterburners, and along with their airborne twists and turns, become extremely difficult targets to hit. For many shooters, even if the population of birds is good in your area, going through numerous shots to get a single bird is more the rule than the exception. It’s embarrassing, sometimes, missing what seems to be a gimme. Dove hunting is one hunting season that occurs where you go in the field light. You don’t need any specialized clothes. All you need is a shotgun and shotshells, and of course, a current hunting license along with the attached Upland Game Bird Stamp. The habits of dove are totally predictable. They pretty much follow the same flight paths year after year, generation after generation. Once the shooting starts, however, the flight paths will vary. In order to be successful, you need to be in the field and set up, ready, before shooting time. The birds leave their tree roosts early to feed, pick up a little gravel to grind the feed in their craw, and then to water. Once that’s completed, they go right back to roost in trees. If you can’t make it in the field at the first crack of dawn, then late in the afternoon will be your best bet. If you get in the field one or two hours after the shooting has started, you may pick up a bird here and there, but you’ve missed all the prime shooting times. The more hunters there are in the field, the better it will be. Up to a point, of course, but it takes other hunters in the immediate vicinity to keep the birds moving. If you’re in the field all alone, you’ll see a lot of birds winging along way out of range, birds other hunters can try for and, if they miss, cause them to change direction – possibly towards you. The best place to set up for a hunt is near a water source. A quiet little pond is ideal. Every bird will go for water after they feed. Dove are essentially a social bird that often fly, feed and roost in groups. It doesn’t hurt to put a few decoys out. While they may not attract doves as do duck decoys, the use of decoys may cause the doves to slow down and take a look and put them more at ease as they fly in your area. Feeder decoys on the ground or clipped onto a fence line works well. Early in the morning, regardless where you go, mosquitoes come out in massive swarms. Make sure you have a can of repellant along to minimize their biting activities, especially a repellant with a high concentration of DEET. September 1 is the earliest date allowed by the feds for dove hunting, and that’s the traditional opening date. The state has had a split season for years now with the second half of the season in December, a time when not many hunters in the north state have much of an interest in dove. The first half of the season will run Sept. 1-15. Shooting hours are from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset with a daily limit of 10 birds, 20 in possession. Many of us defeather our birds in the field to save the flying feather mess at home. If you defeather your birds in the field, be sure to keep one wing intact. Only mourning doves are allowed in the take and, if you’re stopped and checked by a game warden, he can readily identify the bird you have in your bag. Fishing report Folsom Lake: Look for a lot of the water recreational boat activity to seriously decrease as boat owners have about another week to remove their boats from the Brown’s Ravine Marina due to lowering water levels. While the lake is lowering, no speed limits are yet being considered. If you have any questions, comments or concerns, contact George directly at GeorgesColumn@aol.com.