Last week, I wryly noted in this space that when August rolls around on the calendar each year, I start thinking about the upcoming prospects of dove hunting season.
After I penned that idea, I opined that once again, with the approach of Sept. 1, it was time for another story that encouraged readers to get their shotguns out of moth balls, to grab a box of orange clay pigeons, and head for the back 40 to get in a little preseason wingshooting practice.
You know, the wingshooting version of the old adage of “Pay me now!” (on the practice range) or “Pay me later!” (with a growing number of missed shots) when the dove season is actually open.
But that was then and this is now, with the calendar showing even fewer days until the start of this year’s dove season even while there are still some preseason chores left on the “To Do” list.
Including the incredibly important chore of preseason scouting.
Truth be told, no matter how superb your shooting is on Sept. 1st, if you show up to a field or waterhole devoid of doves, well, get ready to pull through the fast food drive through on the way home if you’re hungry. Because odds are, you won’t be firing up the grill for your favorite dove recipe.
As the old real estate saying of “Location, location, location!” suggests, your shooting success on September doves goes way up when you are in a spot that presents plenty of quality shooting opportunities to begin with.
To make sure you’re hunting in the right location in a few weeks, effective scouting in mid and late August is a must.
While it’s too soon to begin zeroing in on exactly where you’ll be hunting on opening day, it is time to start seeing the countryside for what agricultural fields (corn, milo and wheat)have been planted and harvested in your hunting area, along with finding several natural hotspots of sunflowers and croton. And while August rains might scramble this idea, ditto for trying to find the busiest waterhole location.
As you drive back roads and use binoculars to search for concentrations of mourning doves and maybe even a few white-winged doves too, look for birds that are perched on power lines, sitting on barbed wire fences or dead tree snags, or even just using a flyway in the general area.
As you make these observations, take a moment to jot down in a notebook or hunting journal some of your general thoughts about the best locations, what time of day you see birds flying, feeding, and watering, along with their preferred flight paths and approach patterns.
Basically, this far out from the season opener, you’re simply trying to gain the proverbial 30,000-foot view of the area that you lease or where you have a landowner’s permission to hunt.
At the end of August, you’ll then want to begin fine tuning your scouting a bit more as you dial in your opening weekend game plan. Do so by discerning where the so-called “X” is, the primary location where birds are tending to fly the best.
In those final scouting missions later this month, pay close attention to the little things that make a difference in a hunting spot like gaps in a tree line or a fence line, a dead snag sitting next to a waterhole, the hard edge between a harvested field and CRP grass, a natural valley or a high spot, the kinds of manmade or naturally occurring things that might influence where and how a dove flies by.
Since farm chores can alter the hunting prospects of a spot within a matter of days, not to mention changes in weather (rain), wind direction (an early fall cold front), and hunting pressure too, scout for your primary“Plan A” spot along with a few “Plan B” and “Plan C” options too.
And never make the mistake of just assuming that because a hunting spot was red hot last September — and maybe for several years prior to that — that it will be the same way once again this fall. A lot can change in 12 months time from land being cleared, a new building being built, a small waterhole that gets bulldozed, crops that are rotated, and so on and so on.
Meaning that unless you’ve scouted and confirmed current conditions on the ground, a hunting hot spot that was great a year ago can suddenly be crickets this year.
Since Grayson County and surrounding locations aren’t nearly as consistent for dove hunting success now as they were even a decade ago, all of this attention to scouting chores is critically important as the 2018 season approaches.
“If you’re wanting to have a good hunt this season, then obviously, you’re going to need to hunt where the birds are currently,” said my friend Jim Lillis, a Sherman resident with more than 40 years worth of dove hunting experience here in the Red River Valley.
“Doves are little game birds that respond quickly to hunting pressure, to food and water changes, and of course, to fall weather as storms and fronts move through,” added the retired senior regional director for Ducks Unlimited.
“So to have a good hunt, you need to get out and look beforehand to find where they are feeding, where they are roosting, what flyways they are using, and in dry years, where they are watering.”
In other words, do your scouting homework now in the dog days of late summer, and your August sweat equity should bring a wingshooting bonanza as September rolls into the area.
Because like most everything else in the world, when it comes to dove hunting success in North Texas and southern Oklahoma, you usually get back in direct proportion to what you’ve already put in.