Mourning dove is popular but evasive

OUTDOORS

August 28, 1994|By LONNY WEAVER

This year's early mourning dove season, which traditionally signals the start of the fall hunting season, kicks off at noon Thursday and will continue through Oct. 22.

The second part of the three-way split season is set for Nov. 21-25, followed by the season's Dec. 26 to Jan. 7 conclusion. The daily limit is 12 with 24 in possession.

Holding with tradition, this early hunt's hours are noon to sunset. Hunting hours are expanded to a half-hour before sunrise to sunset during the final two-thirds of the hunt.

To participate in the hunt, you must possess a current Maryland hunting license and, new this year, a free Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program Permit. HIP is aimed at gathering reliable information about the annual harvest of doves, snipe, rails, woodcock, ducks, geese and coots.

Using the HIP permit and survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to learn where people hunt and the number of migratory game birds each hunter harvests. You may obtain the required permit at any outlet selling the Maryland hunting license.

The mourning dove is Carroll County's most popular game bird, and in fact, is considered the top feathered target in all of North America.

The bird is abundant, available, incredibly challenging and a joy on a dinner plate. The favored early season takes place at the prettiest, most pleasant, time of the year.

And, I am happy to report to my fellow "mid-lifers," physical exertion is practically unheard of among dove hunters. In fact, the best way to enjoy this test of shooting skill is perched atop a cooler full of sodas and sandwiches and preferably situated in a shady spot.

I am fortunate to have enjoyed a wealth of dove hunting experiences spread over some 30 years and if there is but a single thing I have learned it is that there are but two types of dove hunters -- those who miss and liars.

I am convinced that a mourning dove zipping along ahead of a healthy tailwind represents the impossible shot.

Without the benefit of wind, this bird typically hits speeds approaching 60 mph and routinely cruises at 40 mph. At the dip of a wing tip it instantly can change direction and speed.

When you think you have enough lead (the space between the end of the barrel and the head of the crossing bird), my advice is to push the end of the barrel another 10 feet before slapping the trigger. Even then you will discover that the bird is a lot more feather than flesh.

In many areas of the state, the hottest dove shooting is found around sunflower fields, gravel pits, ponds and wood lots. That holds in Carroll County, too, except that you don't see that many sunflower fields. Corn chopping operations are the key to great gunning in this county.

A chopped cornfield draws doves like a magnet and usually holds them unless they are shot over heavily and continuously.

For a number of years, Wayne Albaugh, Lantz Hyde and I enjoyed some of the finest dove shooting this county has to offer from opening day through the end of the early hunt at the same New Windsor farm.

The farm's operator spread his chopping operations over the course of a month, which helped considerably. For our part, we gunned it no more than twice a week. And, equally important, there were no comparable harvesting operations nearby, which could have drawn the birds away from our fields.

To be successful at this game, you need to scout out flight patterns and then line up gunning permission. Beginning around 3 p.m. (earlier as the weather cools), doves move from their roosting/nesting area to the feeding area.

From there they go to a graveling area, which can be nothing more than the side of a paved road, and then to water. A watering spot can be a stream, pond or even a modest mud puddle.

From there, along about 6 or 7 p.m., they begin filtering back into their roosting site. This flight path will not substantially change. Pick a spot anywhere along it and bring plenty of ammo.

The dove hunter's mark of success is to bag one bird for every three shots, but I believe that one in six is closer to most gunners' skills.

You can improve your success by sticking to shots inside of 30 yards taken with a skeet or improved cylinder-choked 12-gauge gun loaded with a good quality 1 1/8 - or 1-ounce trap load of #7 1/2 or #8 shot.

Local hunters safety classes

Maryland hunters are required to successfully complete a certified hunter safety course before purchasing a resident hunting license. Two such classes are scheduled for September locally.

Hap Baker (410 374-4360) will conduct a class at the Dug Hill Rod and Gun Club, located near Manchester, on Sept. 13, 15, 19, 22 and 25.

The Taneytown Rod and Gun Club will have a class on Sept. 13, 20, 22 and 25. Space is limited, so call to reserve a spot, (410 756-6308).

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