Dove Days: Getting Ready for the Shooting Season

Taking the right gear to the field can make your hunt more comfortable and convenient.

Blink a few times and you could miss the kick-off to the opening day of dove season. By the time you read this, there will be less than 20 days to the first shot on opening morning.

If you are not already prepared, you don’t have much time to get that way. It is hard to believe, but the opening day of dove season is upon us. The Central and North Zones open September 1. The time has flown by faster than a mourning dove with a Texas tailwind.

Avid shotgunners have had all year to prepare for that big day, but invariably, with the excitement of a pre-dawn dove opener, essential items get left behind.

One advantage to the sport of dove hunting is that it is a casual outdoor activity in which you can travel light. With a little advance planning, you can usually pack the right accessories to make your hunt more convenient and comfortable.

For the more than 400,000 dove hunters in Texas, the opening weekend is as much of a social occasion as it is a dove hunt.

But, be sure to take along the right essentials, because there are few sporting goods stores near watering holes and dove feeding fields. Here is my checklist of necessary items:

Hunting license — a must! All Texas hunting licenses expire August 31. “I forgot!” is a weak excuse when confronted by the friendly game warden. Since the population of whitewing dove has spread across the state, it is wise to purchase the special whitewing stamp.

Shotguns — another must! I always pack two, just in caseÖin case one jams or malfunctionsÖor in case a hunting buddy didn’t read his checklist and, in the excitement, left his gun leaning against the fireplace.

Shells — lots of them! It’s better to have more than you need to put up with the harassment of your hunting buddies when you have to beg for more. It’s easy to miss a lot of shots on those fast flying little gray missiles. Regular #8 or # 7 1/2 field loads are fine for early season doves.

Attire — dress cool! When picking something to wear into the September dove fields, choose something cool and loose fitting for a smooth shotgun swing. Camo or drab khaki colors are a good choice for easily spooked wild birds. Don a pair of lightweight and comfortable hunting boots in case you have to do a lot of walking.

Hat — top off your hunting outfit with a hat to protect your face and head from the September heat. An open mesh straw safari style or broad brimmed hat works better to shade your eyes, face, and tops of your ears than a baseball style cap.
Game bag or vest — I have used both, but in the heat of the early season, I prefer the 3 pocket game bag that buckles around the waist for shells and downed birds. If you opt for the game vest, make sure it is the lightweight mesh style for cooler comfort.

Hunting stool — If you’re in the field for several hours, having a comfortable place to sit can be a great asset. A lightweight folding stool with a back and carrying strap is ideal. There are also compact coolers which serve double duty as a seat as well as storage for cold drinks and ice.

Water container — Many dove hunters enjoy packing a few “cool ones” to the field, but nothing beats the heat or quenches the thirst like cold water. A small canteen or insulated jug filled mostly with ice will hold a several-hour supply of water.
Small ice chest — A compact cooler with sandwiches or snacks can be a lifesaver when hunger pangs start about mid-morning. It is also handy to stash quickly cleaned birds on ice.

Hunting tote bags — A roomy tote bag is the ticket to carry all those small accessories you need to take with you to the field. There are many excellent hunting bags on the market with sturdy carrying straps and enough pouches and pockets to carry all those essentials.

Here are the small items I always tuck into my hunting tote bag and I find handy in the field:
Shooting glasses — I consider these essential to cut the glare of the sun and to protect my eyes from any errant shotgun pellets.

Insect repellant — it is important to ward off any critters in the wild that fly, bite, or sting.
Game shears — a quality pair can make quick work of cleaning a bag of birds in the field.

Plastic bags — a box of the small zipper-lock style is ideal for storing freshly cleaned birds.
Handy-wipe towels — they are ideal for wiping a hot forehead as well as your hands after cleaning your birds.

Sun screen — I prefer the SMART SHIELD to protect face, neck, and arms from the hot September sun.
Now that you have packed your gear and checked it twice, there’s only one thing missing. Those practice shotgunning sessions you promised yourself last year to get in this year before the dove season opens. You told yourself that you were going to practice to figure out how to hit more of those dipping and darting little gray bullets flying across a September sky.

It is amazing how after over 40 years of dove hunting, the birds seem to look farther away and tend to fly faster.

The wise hunter will try to work in a practice session or two before greeting a September sunrise and fast flying birds on opening morning.