There's a dandy little dove season bearing down on us that you may want to consider now that you have your deer in the freezer, or will surely have it by Saturday's season close.
The dove season lasts only six days, Dec. 21-26.
I sort of stumbled on to this late dove hunt only when the pheasant hunting around my home territory went bust.
Hungry for some decent bird shooting close to home, I noticed that a respectable number of doves seemed to be using the recently harvested cornfield across the road from my home.
Doves are migratory. During the popular September-October season, the migration of birds from the north simply hasn't begun in earnest.
Most of those September birds are local residents, and if you shoot over them too heavily, the population is depleted and there will be few around until their northern cousins arrive in November or December.
The migrants are big, dark birds compared with what you see in your backyard nests. Usually they will wait out a few cold snaps if they have found food and roosting conditions to their liking. Even if we happen to have a hard winter storm that manages to push the visitors south, the chances are good that another group quickly will take their place.
December dove shooting differs from the lazy shoots of September and October. These are big, strong, wary adult birds. The weak and slow are long gone by now.
Migrants usually travel in compact flocks up to about 36. They are aggressive and opportunistic feeders that look for waste grain or new plantings of winter wheat.
Start looking for any recently plowed, mowed or weedy area offering fresh, exposed seeds. A late-harvested cornfield can be especially hot.
When you spot a likely area, keep an eye on it for a few days to establish whether more than one flock is using it. If you find such a field, get permission to shoot and start gathering gear quickly. I've seen doves hang around such an area for a few days, but don't count on it. A sudden weather front can move those birds out of an area fast.
I wouldn't want more than four gunners on such a field because, unlike your early shoots, these winter hunts involve smaller numbers of doves.
Dove shooting pal Wayne Albaugh and I usually do quite well, though sometimes we rustle up another gun or two if the field is large. It's important to pick a stand along a flight line that you have established.
Seldom, in my experiences, will these flocks break up and fly all over the place like the September birds. Nor are they inclined to hang around once the shooting begins. If a flock separates, you may get a period of singles and pairs shooting, but don't plan on it -- usually the whole flock is history. That's why you want to try to find an area that's being used by more than one flock.
These birds are easily spooked. Wear dull colors -- brown or gray -- that blend in with the landscape. Doves are not colorblind, so a green camo-clad hunter in a December field is going to look exactly like a green camo clad hunter to the dove.
These are big, tough birds that fly fast and won't give you may close shots. Use a 12-gauge gun on them and heavy loads of hard No. 7 1/2 shot. My choice has long been the 1 1/4 -ounce Pigeon premium target loads, followed by a good trap load like the Winchester AA or Federal. If you must use a 20 gauge, load it full of 1 1/8 ounce of No. 7 1/2 or 8 shot.
I used to use my standard 12-gauge bird gun, a pre-WWII Winchester 21-skeet model, for these doves, but now opt for the same 30-inch barreled over-under Ruger 12 gauge that I use for sporting clays. The Ruger has interchangeable choke tubes, and for this hunt I'll generally opt for improved cylinder and modified.
Early deer results
Last weekend's deer season opener was the second most successful in Maryland history.
Statewide, hunters bagged 15,561 deer compared with last year's first-day take of 12,582. The largest single-day take occurred in 1989 when 17,834 deer were taken by Maryland hunters.
By midweek, Anne Arundel shotgun hunters had checked 201 deer into the county's four official checking stations. The largest was a 10-point 185-pounder checked into D. J.'s Hunting & Fishing Center in Crofton.
The largest first-day kill is credited to hunters in Allegany with 1,565. Five other counties also topped the 1,000 first-day mark -- Washington, Frederick, Garrett, Kent and Carroll.