About this time every year, I write in this space that with the approach of another dove hunting season, it’s time to get the scattergun out of the gun safe, grab some shotgun shells and a box of clay pigeons and proceed to the back 40.
A trip outdoors designed to knock the rust off of wingshooting skills, shooting abilities that have laid dormant for several months now.
You know, the same shotgunning skills that will be on full display come September 1 when Texas dove hunters head afield in a wingshooting tradition that keeps ammunition makers smiling big thanks to the economic windfall that the sport brings.
What windfall is that? Well, according to a 2015 report by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas hosts approximately 250,000 mourning dove hunters each year, hunters that contribute over $300 million to the Lone Star State’s annual economy.
Considering that a big part of that economic contribution comes from the purchase of shotgun shells, it’s easy to see the dollar signs flashing in the eyes of ammunition makers when you realize that the average dove hunter fires somewhere between four to eight shells per dove that is harvested.
If you’re in a good dove hunting spot, particularly on a windy day when flighty birds are flying by every few seconds, the costs of dove hunting can start adding up quickly unless you’re shooting skills can compensate.
And that’s exactly why you’ll want to spend a few days over the latter half of August getting ready for September’s wingshooting bonanza as mourning doves, white-winged doves, and invasive Eurasian collared doves whip about.
How do you do that? First, you’ll want to find a safe spot to shoot your scattergun, a place where you and a partner can work on shotgun shooting skills with no problems to others downrange.
Next, you’ll want to assemble the same tools that you’ll use out in the dove fields in a few weeks, namely a good upland bird hunting shotgun, several boxes of shells (the same kind you’re going to hunt with — more on that next week), a box of brightly colored orange clay pigeons, and a thrower of some sort.
While a hand thrower will work, it can certainly help if the clay pigeon thrower is either a spring-loaded, pull-rope version or a fancy automatic thrower that is electronically programmed. Either way, it helps a wingshooter’s cause to be able to work on multiple clay targets being thrown at once.
Then it’s simply a process of working on the type of shots that you’ll find out in the field as doves fly by, kick in the afterburners, and perform aerial maneuvers that would make a Top Gun fighter pilot blush with envy.
In working on those shot angles, start out with a few creampuff targets going straight away, enough of those to get you warmed up and work the kinks out of your shotgun shooting form. Remember to get your head down on the shotgun stock properly, looking down the barrel’s sighting plane past the bead and swinging solidly to and through the target.
But after a few of those easy shots are taken, graduate to more difficult ones that will test the shotgunning skills you thought you had last fall. Try a few hard crossers, some with the wind, some against it, some high, others low. Have the trap thrower make it difficult on you, working on shots that you’ll tend to find on a sultry September day when the birds are flying well, sweat is beading on your forehead, and a stiff wind is rising out of the south.
Then add a few overhead shots coming in from behind, a few low and going away, and still others steeply rising in front of you to simulate birds jumped up while you’re out searching for a downed dove.
Finally, work on those incoming loafers that are settling near your position, the inbound birds that try and light on dead tree limbs, barbed wire fences, or a bare spot in a feeding field or next to a waterhole.
You know, the same kind of shot opportunities that can cause the veins on the side of your neck to bulge out after you miss an easy shot and your buddy guffaws down the fenceline at your wingshooting misfortune.
In short, find the angles that you’re good at and spend a box of shells polishing up those shots. But also find the shots that you tend to struggle with and spend several boxes of shells over the next couple of weeks as you try to turn a wingshooting weakness into a dove hunting strength.
If there’s one aspect of wingshooting that most hunters need to work on in the coming days — and that certainly includes yours truly — it’s likely to be the process of getting and keeping a shotgun barrel moving in the right direction said Ronnie Davis of Remington Ammunition in a discussion we had a couple of years ago.
“If you’re going to miss, it’s always behind,” laughed Davis. “Very seldom when you miss is it on the front side (of a target), it’s always behind.”
Davis said that for most wingshooters, the reason why that happens is thanks to one of shotgun shooting’s most common errors.
“I’ve worked with a lot of people shooting (clay) targets over the years and I’ve had a lot of good shooters standing behind me and tell me the same thing (about my shooting), that it’s (the lack of a proper) follow through,” he said. “People take their gun, swing it, pull the trigger, and then stop the whole motion.”
When you do that, it’s almost guaranteed to cause a swing and a miss as a mourning dove rockets by.
“Shooting a shotgun, when you think about it, is like spraying a garden hose (at something that is moving),” said Davis. “You’ve got a stream of water going out the front of that hose and if you swing (it) right or left, it leaves a little bit of a trail behind (if you don’t push it out in front).”
In other words, don’t fall behind.
“I’m not saying it’s the exact same (in shooting a shotgun), but it’s the same thought process,” said Davis. “Once you get your shotgun bead out in front of that bird and fire your gun, you’ve got to keep moving that barrel (forward) or you’re going to fire behind it, every time.”
Davis listened to a comment I had about the process, then added: “There you go, you want to shoot where they are going, not where they are.”
Complicating this whole idea even further is that there’s often a pretty stiff southerly wind building across Texas as September’s dove season arrives on the state’s hunting calendar.
“It’s still about following through,” said Davis. “You may have to put your head down on the wood a little harder (and concentrate a little bit more). Sometimes, it’s easier to pick your head up and shoot behind things. But that’s just part of the game and what makes this hunting and not simply killing (doves).”
“But that’s also what makes it fun (too), is the challenge,” he added. “On those days that are windy, they’re going to come in and fly around like winged acrobats coming in on you. You’ve just got to really bear down (and concentrate) on those (windy) days. It can be frustrating, but it’s a hoot too and I love it.”
I love it too, along with thousands of other Texans who are chomping at the bit for the first wingshooting opportunity of a new dove season early next month.
And we’ll all love it even more when the growing pile of downed doves in the back of our hunting vests is much greater than the rattle of empty shotgun shell hulls coming from one of those vest’s front pockets.
Dove hunting is without a doubt some of wingshooting’s greatest fun each autumn season in Texas, especially when you aren’t the one causing shotgun shell stock prices to soar.