I remember coming to Lampasas as a kid to go dove hunting at my grandfather’s place just south of Nix. There were three stock ponds on the place then and we would check them out to see which ones were drawing in the most dove and sit at that one for the afternoon hunt. Back then the dove hunting was pretty good as there seemed to be more sunflowers and even a few fields of milo in the area to draw dove. After feeding they would come in to the tanks to water and at times the shooting would get pretty heavy as we all tried to get our limits. It took a lot more shells per bird for me in those days than it does now but it was just as much fun.
Now that my wife I have moved onto the old place south of Nix the question this year is will we even have any dove in our area to hunt? There is only one stock pond with water left in it and if it does not rain there may not be any stock ponds to hunt over. There are very few grain or sunflower patches that have enough seed to draw in the birds. It almost always rains just before the opener or during the first week and scatters the birds. Let us hope it rains and maybe, just maybe it will draw some birds. If not, remember that the best part of dove hunting is the chance to get together with friends and share the outdoors even if the birds are fewer this year. Take a hand thrower and a few clays along and you and your friends can still shoot some flying targets if the birds don’t cooperate.
I spent many years shooting competitive Sporting Clays and also as a National Sporting Clays Association Level II shooting instructor. In my instructional shooting seminars I have helped a lot of shooters to improve their shooting skills and hit more birds. In this article I want to give you some tips to make you a better wing shot and to help you have more fun in the field. Dove hunts in Texas are often a social event and a chance to be among friends. Even if most of us will not admit it the hunt is always more fun if you can out shoot your buddies. Here are a few tips to help you drop more dove with fewer shells fired.
1. Practice: Do not just go out and blast away, have someone that is a better shooter than you watch your style and help you along. A professional lesson or two are well worth the investment. If you have no one to help you, get a good video or book to help you along. Practice your mount in front of a mirror until you become smooth and fluid. Always remember speed is not fast, smooth is fast. A few rounds of practice with clay birds can help you get on target a lot sooner this year.
2. Focus: Learn to focus on the eye of the bird or front of the target. Too many people focus on the whole target or on bird’s tail as they are easily seen. Have you ever shot at a bird and it leaves a trail of floating tail feathers and wonder why? It was because you focused on the whole bird and shot behind it just hitting the tail feathers. Focus on the head or eye of the bird; I have had people call me when they see a dove blink for the first time. It will happen if you focus on the eyes or beak of the bird and you will be amazed as your bird count goes up.
3. Mount on the target or just in front: The number one thing I find I need to correct in shooters that attend my seminar is mounting the gun behind the target. Many people practice the old style of pass through shooting where they come from behind the target and try to brush it out of the sky. No one with this method wins major competitions or becomes an above average bird shooter. Your shot string is approximately six foot long, if the first pellet in the string goes behind the target guess where the rest of them go? If half of the shot string goes in front of the target you can still hit the target. What does all this mean? It means you should always mount in front of the target and never get behind it in your swing and then follow through. Shoot to miss in front of the bird and watch the dove start hitting the ground.
4. Move, Mount, Shoot: This phrase should be engraved in your mind. Move with the flight of the bird. This means move the gun with the flight of the bird in the ready to mount position (NOT MOUNTED) when the bird reaches the area where you wish to shoot simply mount the gun on the front of the target pull out in front of the target and pull the trigger. I see hunters every year that spot a dove coming in from a long way off and mount the gun, track the bird, shoot and miss. Yet when someone yells BIRD and they look up, see the bird and shoot, they crush it. If you track the bird you will almost always try to aim and miss the bird.
5. Do Not Aim: The bead on a shotgun is not to aim with unless you hunt turkeys or shoot slugs. Compare it to the hood ornament on a car; it is simply there for your subconscious to know you are on target. Focus only on the target so you can swing smoothly and stay in front of the target. If you feel like your swing is jerky in movement it means you are changing focus from the target to the front bead and back to the target. A shotgun swing is not jerky, only your focus back and forth. This is one of the most important tips I can give you. Consider the shotgun bead the “miss me bead” and stay focused only on the front or head of the bird not the shotgun bead.
Remember that almost all misses are behind so increase your lead if you are not connecting on previous shots. If you are missing don’t keep shooting the same way. Change the amount of lead, choke or swing but change something. If you miss the first shot and do the same thing on the second shot you will miss it also.
All of the above tips will help you be a better shot but there are also other tools and methods that you can use to bring the dove in closer to you and that will help you get more shots at those flighty dove.
Clothing: White or bright clothing is definitely out as it will scare the birds. Camo or earth tones that match the terrain in which you are hunting will allow you to blend into the habitat and the dove will fly closer. As it is extremely hot this time of year remember to keep your clothing light in weight to keep cool. Make sure your hat brim does not block your vision when you lower your head to the gunstock. Remember to put on a good insect repellent as ticks and chiggers are out in force this time of year.
Decoys: I often carry a few plastic decoys that clip on to tree limbs or barbwire fences. It is amazing how many dove coming down a field will fly by and check the decoys. The new decoys with the moving wings are very effective in drawing dove within range.
Eye Wear: During the early and late shooting hours I like to wear amber shooting lenses as the contrast gives me better target acquisition. During the bright part of the day I wear brown, green or smoke lens colors to kill the glare.
Choke Choice: Unless you are shooting high flying pass over doves you should leave the modified and full chokes in the case. Improved cylinder will help most hunters increase the number of birds in the game bag. If I am sitting at a small tank or a feeding area I will shoot a skeet or cylinder choke for the more open pattern.
Shot size: Most of the time I carry two sizes with me to change the density and distance. I mostly shoot 8 shot as it has good distance and a dense pattern without many holes. If I need to extend my distance just a bit I will use 7 ½ shot. The pattern has a few more holes in it but it will get me another 10 yards of distance. Shoot the best shotgun shells you can afford. Bargain shells often have soft shot, paper wads and kick hard. High performance shot shells shoot denser, faster loads and allow you to hit more birds with dense patterns. Ask me sometime and I will tell you my favorites and why.
Barrel length: I am a fan of longer shotgun barrels as I find it is harder to mess up a good swing and follow through with a long barrel. A short barrel tends to increase poking or spot shooting. Remember to insert the barrel in front of the bird, pull out and shoot while keeping the gun moving until the target falls. Follow through is very important and hard to maintain with short barrels.
Hydration: The temperatures this time of year can be extremely hot so drink lots of water or sport drinks. Keep the alcoholic beverages locked away until after the guns are cased for the day. Don’t forget to keep fluids in your canine buddy as dogs can get heat stressed easily this time of year.
I don’t want to be a person that harps about safety, but in teaching shooting classes in the last few years I have seen two shotguns discharged accidentally. One was a mechanical failure and not caused by the shooter. The other the cause was not determined. No one was hurt because those involved were safe gun handlers and always made sure their guns were pointed in a safe direction. These two instances have let me know just how quick a life could be taken. I have a friend that lost his nephew to a duck hunt accident. He stood up in the reeds in front of his best friend just as he fired and was killed instantly. This is just a reminder to always point your firearm in a safe direction, set up to shoot safely, know where your hunting buddies are at all times and never bet your life on a mechanical device.
Be safe and have a great hunt, Wild Ed
If you are in the Central Texas area and would like to attend one of my shotgun shooting seminars or would like a private seminar feel free to fill out the contact form at the upper right hand section of this page and send me an email. I will be based out of Lampasas, Texas this year but can travel reasonable distances depending on the number of students.