An e-mail arrived in the inbox the other day, telling me that it’s National Shooting Sports Month.
A celebration by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (www.nssf.org), I can think of no better way to observe the NSSF’s emphasis than by grabbing your shotgun, a box or two of dove or trap loads, and a trap thrower of some sort.
Then head out to the back 40 and spend a few afternoons and/or evenings prepping for the Sept. 1 dove season opener next month, turning some orange clay pigeons into dust as you prep for the wingshooting season to come.
If it seems like you’ve read something like this before, well, I’m sorry, but you probably have. Since I started writing in this space back in the early 1990s, when the calendar turns to August, I just can’t help it.
When that happens, a shift takes place in the gray matter upstairs, and the proverbial clock starts ticking towards the arrival of dove season and all of the good autumn hunting seasons that are to follow.
So assuming that your mind operates in similar fashion, what can you do this month to start getting ready to head afield for mourning doves and white-winged doves next month?
First, get the shotgun out of the gun cabinet or safe and give it a good once over. Clean it up inside and out, give it a light coating of gun oil, and make sure that all of the parts are still working properly after a summer of sitting in the shadows.
Next, if your favorite scattergun is a pump action or a semi-auto, be sure that you check and make sure that the plug is still in it. Trust me, you don’t want to suddenly remember that you removed your plug last spring during turkey season…especially when you see the game warden’s truck pull into the field that you are hunting!
Once you’re sure that the plug is in your shotgun, spend a little time safely practicing — with an empty shotgun, of course — mounting the gun and swinging it properly. While some guys never seem to miss when real game birds are flying or clay pigeons are in the air, others of us struggle. And many times, it’s because we’re not getting the gun mounted on our shoulder correctly and our eyes properly looking down the barrel’s sight plane.
When you’re ready to head out into the field to actually powder some clay pigeons, wear the same kind of clothing that you’ll wear in the field come Sept. 1. And don’t forget to wear hearing protection and eye protection anytime you’re enjoying an afternoon of shooting.
When it comes to actually shooting the clay birds, you’ll also want to use the same shotshell loads and choke set-up that you’ll use when a mourning dove or white-winged dove rockets by next month.
In general, opt for a more open shotgun choke for close wingshooting, something like an improved cylinder or maybe even a skeet tube. If you use an over/under shotgun, a side-by-side, or you expect your shooting to be at longer distances, a modified choke might be exactly what the doctor ordered.
What about shotshell loads? While you can scrimp and get by in many instances with the bargain basement dove or field loads that many outdoor retailers will put on sale over the next few weeks, don’t hesitate to upgrade a little. That advice comes from my friend Jim Lillis who encouraged me years ago to pay a little something extra for shotshells that have better components, a little more powder, and a little more shot in either #7 1/2, #8, or even #9 pellets if you can find them.
While you can certainly knock down plenty of dove with the cheap stuff, upgrading to better quality heavy dove loads or even a trap or sporting clay load can pay off in the end. How is that? By requiring a few less shotshells expended in the bagging of a limit, maybe even giving you a coveted limit inside of a box. And on a day when the birds aren’t flying fast and furious, such loads might mean the difference in actually getting a limit or coming up just short.
Once you’ve gotten your shotgun, shotshells, and hunting gear situated and are ready to begin practicing, I’ve always liked someone using a hand operated clay pigeon thrower rather than the spring operated throwers or the electric ones. Why is that? Because a shooting companion — my college aged sons, for instance — can make the shooting more challenging with hard crossers, tough angles, and unexpected shots.
While early September hunts will often give dove hunters the occasional creampuff kind of shot, it doesn’t take long for the local birds to wise up and start putting on aerial maneuvers that can make a fighter pilot blush with envy.
Like NFL coaching legend Vince Lombardi once said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” In dove hunting terms, that means not only practicing the easy shots, but also becoming skilled on the tough ones too, the kind you are likely to see in the field come mid-September and on into October.
After that, repetition becomes a big key as you squeeze in as many practice sessions as you can over the next month. Such shotgunning practice sessions now — as the saying goes, wash, rinse, repeat — should make a world of difference when the law comes off in September.
Do note that busting up a few hundred clay pigeons in August doesn’t mean that you won’t miss next month. But it will almost certainly make a positive difference in September when the rocketing gray ghosts that Texas’ ample harvested grain fields, sunflower patches, and water holes are known for come swooping in low on a gathering breeze, kick in the afterburners, and try to rush on by.
With any luck, pre-season work now will help you issue a few invitations to the September dinner table, a memorable feast where you serve up the time honored Lone Star State recipe of dove breasts wrapped tightly in a blanket of bacon, jalapenos, and cream cheese, and then grilled over the glowing and smoky coals of a genuine mesquite wood fire.
Pay up now with some dedicated August scattergunning practice here in the Red River Valley, and odds are, you’ve got a September to remember waiting in the wings.
In more ways than one, that is.