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I was riding down the road with my Boykin Spaniel Charlotte riding shotgun with the windows down heading back home from the season-opening Dove shoot. It was hot earlier in the afternoon, mid-’90s, but a nice breeze made it tolerable. Now, as the sun was sinking low on the horizon lighting up like a Roman candle, the cooler hint of fall sang into the windows. I had the radio rocking an old George Strait tune, “Amarillo by morning,” but I’d wished it was UGA football coverage like back in the day. I can still hear Larry Munson now talking the dawgs down with one of his famous calls like, “I know I’m asking a lot, you guys, but hunker it down one more time!” like it was yesterday. Either way, I had one hell of a grin on my face.
Then my phone rang; it was my dad. “How’d y’all do?” he asked. “I got me a limit in about an hour,” I replied. He said, “How was it? Was it a Stem Winder?” I said, “A WHAT?!” “You know, a Stem Winder,” he laughingly said. Well, between us, I’d never heard of that term. Even after hunting my whole life, my dad again proved there’s still plenty to learn.
“How about a barn burner? How good was the shoot?” he continued to poke at me. I said, “well, I got 15 in about an hour, so I reckon pretty good.” We continued to discuss the shoot, who was there, how it went, when the birds came in, how they flew, etc. He was looking for just about any information he could distill out of the hunt because he was having a shoot the following afternoon.
What’s dove hunting all about?
For anyone who hasn’t really dove hunted, specifically in the south, this is one of the most anticipated events of the year. Nowadays they are fewer and further in between because it takes months of work and dedication and even then, the birds just may not show up. There may not be a bigger faux pas in the south than this. You may as well move a couple of states over, and I mean a couple, because that news will travel at least one state over.
There’s just something unrivaled with a dove hunt. It was always a family affair in my family with my dad, his brother Ray and father, Lamar, who always had one of the best in the area. I guess it all started with my grandfather who gave all of us the bug on bird hunting. They could take half a box of shells and come back with near a limit of birds, always getting a double in there. I come from a line of dead-eye bird hunters, and maybe one day I will fill their shoes.
Well, the following day, we had an ABSOLUTE STEM WINDER. I haven’t birds flying into a field like that since being in Boliva, S.A. The birds were riding the wind and those grey missiles were NOT easy targets. Coming in droves of 4-15 or so, many times you just start waving your gun in the air only to start laughing and not even shoot. That’s when things get REALLY fun.
So, what gun do you shoot?
Well, the gauge is entirely up to you. There’s always an assortment of ABSOLUTE opinions on what you should, and, more importantly, should not use at a dove hunt. Some people, I guess, to make things more challenging, espouse that you MUST shoot a .410. I’m not on that boat, although it is fun. Now, whether it’s a pump, over-and-under, or even a side-by-side, that’s up to you. I was shooting a Mossberg Over-and-Under 12. “Two shells, please.” I’d ask Amanda, who was also doubling as my tail gunner. Reload for the next bird. She was a trooper on her first hunt in the heat of the day!
Do you wear camouflage?
Another debated topic that has endless answers. However, the people saying you don’t need it either haven’t hunted enough or can just shoot better than I can. Doves have keen eyesight and will flare when you stand up. If you’re a crack shot, this is not an issue. If you’re like me, you’ll be sporting some type of collard, button-down shirt. You know, the proper kind I personally like the Kryptek Highlander Pattern during these dry, hot late-summer hunts. You basically become invisible. Later in the season, after an area has had it’s opening weekend dove shoots, the doves will surely be wised up to your shiny face and silver barrels hunkered down in the sunflower field. Wear a hat, get in cover, and wear your camouflage.
How about a dog?
My most favorite part of a dove shoot, aside from dinner time serving these delicious morsels, is watching my dog work. Charlotte is a 4-year-old Boykin Spaniel from Brandywine Creek boykins and she’s an absolute star. She just gets it just like my last Boykin, Punkin did. If you’re going to bring your dog, make sure of a couple of things. 1) That they listen. There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of a gun battle against 1,000 silver torpedos trying to land in their feed while you’re running around after your dog. 2) That you’ve got plenty of water. No, more than that. It’s hot for us, but imagine being covered in a wool coat and running around for a couple of hours. 3) Make it fun for them. Much of the beginner hunts for my dogs, it’s more about them than dove hunting. Request sitting out of the way, in a corner, so that you can work with them 1-on-1 and they aren’t getting riled up by people shooting all-around them.
Now we’re getting to the best part. I love Doves. I can remember being very young and going to sit with my dad in the dove field with my little Red Rider to “get us some dove birds.” What I remember more though is the first time I had a jalapeño dove popper, bacon-wrapped, and stuffed with cream cheese. There really isn’t much better eating on this planet.
After breasting out all of the doves (removing the Brest from the bird) and cleaning them up, I usually marinate in one of 2 ways: classic green-top wishbone Italian dressings (the holy grail for most game meat in my opinion) and teriyaki sauce for at least 3 hours. I ended up making doves three ways. The aforementioned poppers, shishkabobs, and teriyaki glazed breasts.
The best part about a Southern Dove shoot is the fellowship and time spent together between family, friends, and loved ones. There is no better place to do that than the outdoors. When the guns are cased and put away, big stories of the hunt start rolling in, the dove cleaning commences, and cold beers crack open, you know you’ve had yourself one hell of an afternoon.