Commencing on Labor Day, opening day of dove season offered new opportunities for me. Not only was it my first opening day for dove, but I was going to hunt some promising new fields that I had scouted. As I left the beach to drive home and gear up, l got the call to see if I would like to join family for opening day. This offered less hunting pressure, but unknown dove numbers and no recon of the area. The phone rang again and Chris called to tell me that since he could not make it out, I was free to use his decoys. Things were looking up, I thought, as I pulled up to the house.
The tell tale click of the garage door locking as I turned it (the wrong way) should have been an indicator of my day to come. Arriving for the shoot sans decoys I could live with; being told there were no dove around was attention getting. I failed to see how the most abundant migratory game bird with estimates of over 500 million in the lower 48 states would not be in this airspace. Optimism springs eternal or hopefully springs from a pine bough in the shape of a dove.
We went off to jump shoot doves, around three impoundments and beside long pine tree rows. I could not have seen more wildlife that day. There were bald eagles soaring above a pine forest, and the great blue herons looked prehistoric in their graceful glide. Snapping turtles "periscoped" above the surface of the waterhole and peered menacingly toward us. Deer retreated into the forest cover at the sound of our footfalls. As my hunting guide recoiled at the sight of a large black snake, I reminded her that I had a shotgun. We laughed and kept exploring the perimeter of this wildlife refuge. Movement in the pines caught my eye as I glimpsed the fanned tail of a dove darting to the other side of the loblolly pine. As I was working around the tree, it flew between the branches, not offering a shot.
I did get a shot or, specifically, three off a short time later. As I was walking down a narrow path, with small pines on each side, I saw a bird flare from my two o'clock high position. After a quick ID, I swung and shot as it passed twenty yards overhead. Following up with two quick shots, I remembered why ammunition manufacturers love dove season. On average, one dove is taken for every seven shots fired. I had only missed with three! They are challenging quarry, but I knew before the shot hit the ground that I had stopped my swing. Practical experience develops practical knowledge.
What started off as opening day turned into one of the nicer afternoons I had spent afield. The day's guide was an excellent hunting companion, who I hope to hunt with again. While I did not take away any dove, I took away an added appreciation of that land which may be right before you, but that you do not "see" until you take the time to let it show you its beauty.