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10 Birds In 4 Trips
Dove Season Has Been Slow, But Nonetheless Rewarding

Friday, September 12, 2008
by John Johnson

It took me four trips, but I finally did it. I got a California limit of mourning doves.

No, I didn't collect 10 of the tasty little migrants on one excursion. Rather, I now have that many from all four trips combined. My wife and I can now get one good meal out of them; the kids usually refuse to eat them and opt for Top Ramen or something instead. That's fine just more for me.

I've bagged quite a few limits in my 32 years of dove hunting, but I haven't taken more than three birds on any single trip this year. It's not that I've shot badly I'm actually still on my first box of shells. I just haven't had many of the gray ghosts in gun range.

I've been hunting a mostly dry creek bed dotted with oaks and cottonwoods that runs through some open fields about a 15-minute drive from my home. There's a little bit of doveweed (turkey mullein) here and there, and a smattering of water in the deep bends of the stream channel. There's not enough of either, however, to attract a lot of doves.

Photo: South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
The pursuit of mourning doves can be fun even when the action is sparse.

The property encompasses 1,600 acres, and I pay an annual access fee to the owner so I can train and run my dogs out there. He's already got a nice setup for equestrian enthusiasts and hopes to host sporting dog events at some point in the near future.

If I could hunt over by the main gate, where the ground under the big trees has been scraped almost bare by the horse people, I'm sure I'd have several limits to my credit by now. Every time I drive through there I end up spooking more doves than I see in 2 hours sitting on the creek, and that includes the ones that are far out of shooting range.

There's also a man-made pond on the gate side of the property, which is part of the horse-jumping course. Lots and lots of birds drink there every morning and evening after filling their crops with seed. But the owner doesn't want me hunting over there, and that's fine.

I've taken the 13-year-old kid who lives two houses down with me on three of my four trips. He didn't buy his new license in time to hunt the opener, but he enjoyed walking the creek bed and flushing birds that were perched in the dead trees. That tactic accounted from 2/3 of my bag on opening morning.

The other two times he's gone, he's carried the same 20-gauge Ithaca Model 37 that I began my hunting career with. He took seven or eight shots and bagged one bird his first evening out, and then went 0-for-5 or so the second night. I can't be sure because we were spread apart a ways, but I don't think any of those five shots were closer than 50 yards.

He'll learn about effective killing range, as we all did. I just hope he doesn't scratch one down at that distance and get the idea that those shots can be converted routinely. Yeah, there might be shooters who can do it, but certainly not at his stage of development.

Our 15-day season wraps up Monday, and I'm going to try to get out tonight and then again on either Saturday or Sunday (or both) with the kid and Zeke, my 7-year-old yellow Lab. The action will be sparse, I'm sure perhaps considerably slower than what I've had so far.

But still, it'll be time afield with a kid, a dog and a gun. If the quarry doesn't cooperate, it'll still be time well spent.

John Johnson is ShotgunFan's editor

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