A brief, but busy dove season at hand

OUTDOORS

December 20, 1992|By LONNY WEAVER

There's a dandy little dove season bearing down on us that you may want to consider. This one lasts only six days, beginning tomorrow and continuing through Saturday.

I have to admit that I sort of stumbled onto this late dove hunt only when the pheasant hunting around Carroll County 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.

The thing to keep close to mind throughout this holiday hunt is that 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 to what you see in your backyard nests or during the earlier fall hunts. 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.

You quickly will learn, as I did, that December dove shooting differs from the lazy shoots of September and October. These are big, strong adult birds that are very wary. The weak and slow ones are long gone by now.

Migrants usually travel in compact flocks numbering up to about 36 or so. They are aggressive and opportunistic feeders who range about seeking food. They are looking for waste grain or new plantings of winter wheat. Peel your eyes 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 the 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. My 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 very 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 does separate, 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.

Remember that these birds will be pretty spooky. I don't believe that camouflage is necessary, but do encourage you to wear dull colors (brown, gray, etc.) that blend in with the landscape. Doves are not color blind, so remember that a green camo-clad hunter in a drab 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 many 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 ounces of No. 7 1/2 or 8 shot.

I used to use my standard 12-gauge bird gun for these doves, a pre-WWII Winchester 21 skeet model, 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.

Must reading on long rifles

I've stumbled across a book that will help you ease the symptoms of cabin fever this winter. "Maryland Long Rifles," by New Windsor's Dan Hartzler, expertly documents the Maryland influence on the famed Kentucky rifle design.

Hartzler, who is a nationally recognized authority on long rifles, has cramed a lot of knowledge and research into this 400-page book. Covered here are rifle-makers from Baltimore, Taneytown, Emmitsburg, the Double Pipe Creek area, Frederick, Middletown, Hagerstown and Cumberland. This is must reading for the modern buckskinner and history buff.

The cost is $45 plus $3 shipping from Daniel Hartzler, P.O. Box 249, New Windsor, Md. 21776.

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