James Covington and Norman Ledford Jr. are residents of York County who regularly limit out on doves using only one box of shells. The list of dove hunters who can match that feat is a short one, indeed. But this skill doesn’t come without a lot of practice in the field, concentrating on each and every shot opportunity. What allows these two hunters to limit out when others only have a handful of doves to show for their efforts? Both concentrate on the “little things,” such as concealment. In addition to wearing camouflage, they break their outline by using a blind that is often just some limbs they have stuck in the ground or a group of corn stalks.
Their eyes are constantly roving the horizon for incoming birds. From the time they spot a prospective target, they are motionless. Motion not only alerts the hunter to incoming doves, motion also alerts doves to a hunter’s position.
Being poised and ready, the gun isn’t mounted to the shoulder until the dove is in range. They are careful to make sure that their cheek is firm against the stock as they pick up the bird’s angle of flight. These "little things" amount to "big things" when it comes to success in the field.
If the shot is head-on, start tracking the dove from behind and continue moving the barrel through the bird until it is completely hidden before pulling the trigger. If the bird can be seen when the trigger is pulled, the shot will pass behind it. Be careful not to stop your swing, but continue to follow through.
If the opportunity is a going-away shot on a high bird, track the dove from behind until the barrel gets in front of the target, and shoot in the space below the bird. This will allow the dove to fly into the shot pattern as opposed to over it if you aim directly at the bird.
On crossing shots, a certain amount of lead will be required according to height, angle and distance. Think back to when you were a kid on a sweltering hot summer day: You were trying to squirt water on one of your buddies from a hose as he ran past — if he was close you wouldn’t have to aim the stream of water too far ahead to wet him down; if he was running really fast and was a good ways away, the stream of water would have to be aimed well in front to be able to hit him. The principle is the same on shooting crossing shots on doves.
Follow-through is of paramount importance. If follow-through is stopped when the trigger is pulled, the odds are high that the shot will go behind the dove.
If you miss three shots in a row, you probably aren’t giving enough lead. Try shooting a little farther in front of the bird. Distance to the target and wind velocity can drastically affect the lead required.
Covington is a master at marking down the doves he shoots. He might kill four or five birds before he goes to retrieve them. It is a rare occasion that he doesn’t return to his stand without all of them.
Not only does he mark in his mind the distance and angle a dove falls from his stand, he also picks up a landmark like a tall weed to pinpoint the spot.
Ledford usually wears a facemask in addition to camouflage clothes. He wants to let a dove get close enough for an easy kill shot.
He is also good at marking down doves he kills, and rarely leaves one on the ground. He is conscious of doves fellow hunters shoot, too, and helps them line up on a hard-to-find bird using a technique he calls "cross-marking."
Every dove hunter needs to master cross-marking; it will virtually eliminate lost birds. Here’s how it works: Once you knock down a dove, mark in your mind something to help you pinpoint the spot, such as a tall weed; then, look in the distance to locate a landmark such as a prominent tree that stands out. Go directly toward that landmark without taking your eyes off it. If you need to reload your gun, do so by feel rather than by sight, even if other doves are flying within range. If another of your hunting friends also marked your downed bird, he can yell, "Whoa!" when you cross his marked line of sight.
Carry a blaze orange cloth in your pocket, and drop it when you hear "Whoa!" Your dove will generally be within a few feet of that spot. Being conscious of where fellow hunters’ birds fall and getting a line of sight will drastically limit lost doves.
You will not always have a choice picking your stand in a dove field. If the choice is available, take full advantage of it.
The day before the hunt, go to the field to observe general flight patterns. Are doves flying through a dip in the trees as they approach? What part of the field are birds targeting to feed? Is there a power line crossing the field? What part of the power line is getting the most use? In what direction do doves fly out of the field? Is there a dead tree that seems to attract doves like a magnet? What time do birds usually show up to feed?
Knowing the answers to these questions can drastically effect the quality of your hunt. Paying attention to the little things can make a big difference. Binoculars are a huge asset in watching doves from a distance.
Dove decoys are becoming a more common sight in today’s dove fields. They run the gauntlet from silhouettes sawed from plywood in a basement shop to commercial models constructed from foam with a clothespin glued to the bottom to mount the bird on a limb or wire. "Mojo" doves with rotating wings seem to be the latest in decoys.
If positioned properly, all will have definite advantages.
You don’t actually want the dove to light in your spread of decoys; you just want the decoys to attract the attention of incoming doves so they’ll fly past to inspect the phonies you have positioned within range of your stand.
Some hunters clip their decoys on a barbed-wire fence, some use a dead tree with limbs low enough that decoys can be mounted from the ground. Some actually arrange decoys on the ground as if they were feeding. A Mojo motion decoy with rotating wings is a great addition to this type spread.
To get a realistic situation that makes your decoy appear to be sitting on a power line, a hunter needs to use a spinning rod with monofilament line that has a 2-ounce pyramid sinker attached. Cast the sinker over the power line. After pulling off a couple of yards of monofilament — which does not conduct electricity — cut the line. Attach a safety pin to the line, and pierce the pin into the back of a full bodied foam decoy. Walk away from the power line at a 90-degree angle until the back of your decoy touches the line, then drop the sinker on the ground.
Another system is to use a section of PVC pipe to make a fake a "tree." Attach a "T" joint to the pipe to attach arms to mount your decoys on.
Use three decoys: Place one on one side of the "limb," and two on the opposite end.
Mount your "tree" so that the decoys are facing into the wind for best results.
Strive to kill your limit of doves with a box of shells. If you succeed in doing so, you have entered the upper echelon of dove hunters. The average hunter takes six shots per dove killed; that works out to more than three boxes of shells for a 15-bird limit.
By perfecting these tips and strategies, you can proudly call yourself a dove hunter.