Don't wait to sharpen dove-hunting skills

OUTDOORS

August 15, 1993|By GARY DIAMOND

It's only a few more weeks until dove hunting season opens throughout Maryland, however, don't wait until opening day to begin sharpening your shooting skills. By then, it's too late.

Throughout most of the year, Harford County residents see thousands of mourning doves, especially early in the day, a time when these smaller cousins of pigeons are busy picking up tiny grains of sand and gravel, which aids them in digesting their food.

Although from outward appearances, these mid-sized game birds look like easy targets, in reality, they're considered among the most challenging birds sought by wing shooters throughout the nation.

Mourning doves feed mainly on various forms of grains and seeds, therefore, the most productive hunting areas will be hTC adjacent to recently harvested cornfields. In Harford County, this particular grain crop is harvested relatively early, usually between mid-September and early November, before the first heavy freeze.

Throughout most of the morning hours, they'll be actively feeding in the cornfields on kernels dropped by automatic picking machines. However, by noon, they've usually had their fill and are ready to enjoy a cool drink of water before looking for the afternoon meal.

By late afternoon, large flights of dove begin migrating between cornfields and watering sites, eventually flying to nearby stands of hardwoods where they'll roost for the night.

Avid dove hunters try to position themselves between one of the three locations where on opening day, wing shooters usually have little or no trouble bagging their legal limit. However, it only takes the birds a few hours to figure out that the person standing near the cornfield is shooting at them.

At this point, doves become stunt pilots. The slightest movement from below causes them to veer sharply to one side, then the other, flying erratically at speeds that boggle the mind.

With this in mind, hunters, especially those with little or no wing-shooting experience, should spend a few days shooting clay pigeons at the local skeet and trap range. Both mourning doves and skeet targets zip along at approximately the same speeds and on windy days, the clay birds can be somewhat erratic in flight.

A few rounds of skeet shooting with a seasoned shooter soon will provide novice hunters with the skills necessary to hunt doves. You'll quickly learn techniques used by professional skeet shooters who routinely break 24 of 25 clay pigeons launched from the towers.

Once these new shooting skills and techniques are acquired, you'll have little or no trouble attaining the national average -- five doves per box of shotgun shells.

Those who choose to spend more time practicing likely will see considerably higher numbers, but anything greater than 10 is considered an incredible achievement when dove hunting.

The next step is to locate a suitable area to hunt. Granted, Harford County is loaded with huge cornfields, but to hunt, you first must obtain written permission from the landowner.

Hunters will find permission forms contained in their Maryland Hunting Guide, which is issued when you purchase a hunting license. The form essentially absolves the landowner from any liability arising from injuries you may sustain while hunting on his property. Both you and the landowner must sign the form before the hunt can take place.

Although hunters will encounter a significant number of farmers who will refuse to grant them permission to hunt, there are a few who usually will grant your wish.

Agree to abide by any and all rules set forth by the landowner who often will stipulate where you can and cannot hunt. Be sure to close all gates, don't drive through fields and above all, thank him for the use of his property. A few kind gestures often will go a long way in getting a return invitation.

If you've been thinking about dove hunting, you'll find an excellent skeet and trap range just south of the Harford County line adjacent to Loch Raven Fishing Center. A little practice now can really improve your odds Sept. 1.

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