It doesn’t sound manly; Dove Hunter. Somehow it doesn’t seem to conjure up the same rough and tumble images of a deer hunter or hog hunter or duck hunter. Dove Hunter. More like images of tea time and fancy little sweets in the afternoon under an umbrella in a white suit while holding a quaint side by side double barrel shotgun. Dove Hunter, they say doves are the most hunted bird in America. I’ve questioned that before and someone suggested I shut the hell up or try it before I write it off as a pastime not worth the effort. That sounded like a challenge to me.
First of all just what is a dove? According to the dictionary it’s either a stocky seed or fruit eating bird of the pigeon family, with a small head, short legs and cooing voice, or a person who advocates peaceful or conciliatory policies… with a small head, short legs and cooing voice.
hmmm. Tell me more.
OK, doves are often seen in rural settings or farm areas or simply open areas around town where they like to feed on seeds of many types of plants. Doves are very productive breeders often producing up to six broods a year. In the fall there is a general migration south and in the spring they head north. But a lot of them simply stay in the same area all year especially in the southern states.
The next thing I had to find out was exactly where these doves hang out in large enough numbers that would justify trying to hunt them. If I lived in Texas I would have millions to shoot at. It’s considered the dove hunting Mecca of the United States. Florida is not.
I could go to a private hunting preserve but I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. Further research revealed state wildlife managed dove fields of about fifteen were scattered about Florida, the closest to me being the DuPuis dove fields just east of Lake Okeechobee.
But what the heck is a dove field? Apparently it’s a large plot of land with special seed crops being grown that will draw these birds’ attention. These particular fields at DuPuis are two fields side by side about sixteen acres apiece. In the afternoon towards the evening, the birds begin to fly out to the fields for a bite to eat. One Sunday afternoon a week during the season, hunters are allowed to shoot on the perimeter of the fields.
The gun of choice, of course, is the twelve gauge pump that will hold three shells of number 7 ½ or 8 lead shot. Two or three boxes per hunter are recommended.
There’s a permit application period where you submit your application and a drawing for the season’s spots then takes place. My son and I had drawn three permits for the season at two different fields. Beginner’s luck I guess. These are single use permits and non transferable which kind of sucks because if you want to bring a guest they have to come in as a walk-in. At three o-clock you have to be at the attendant’s shack to see if you can get in which you usually do from what the attendant told me. But if you check in at 11:00 with your permit because it’s first come first pick on the available spots, you have to drive a mile up the road from the fields back to the shack for your guest to get a permit. You have to be in a relaxed mood to hunt dove.
We arrived at ten thirty to see at least a dozen hunters dressed in full camo standing around waiting. X-man’s white t-shirt wasn’t going to cut it. We had brought Dakota, our dashing Golden Retriever, and he was happy just to get out of the truck and take a leak. I thought I would impress the other hunters with his retrieving abilities, so I tossed a stick out into the freshly mowed grass. Dakota just looked at it and proceeded to take a dump. Don’t even think I was about to pick that up. Laid is played.
Not having hunted here before we didn’t have a clue what the best spots were but I knew I didn’t’ want to face into the setting sun. I picked a spot in the center west edge of one of the fields so we would be facing east.
I had read through the WMA regulations and realized that I could technically accompany my son without waiting to go in as a walk-in because he has a mentor license which means I would have to supervise him as the permit was in his name. We would, however have to share the bag limit of 15. Somehow I didn’t think that would be a problem.
The shooting would start at noon but the birds wouldn’t be flying until after four. This is the part where you have to have a little patience and think of something to do for three hours. That’s why dove hunting can involve fishing poles. I knew that Lake Okeechobee was only a few miles down the road so we drove out there and fished from one of the access areas on the levee road. Nothing was biting for us though but a little kid caught a decent size bass.
Our next quest was to run down the road a bit to find a convenient store for some snacks. How far could it be I asked, but ended up eight miles away at a tiny rundown migrant community called Canal Point. Note to self, if you want to get anything to eat or drink before coming out to this area, stop in Indiantown on your way in first which is the last place you can get anything better than stale potato chips anywhere near the fields. This is sugar cane country. There isn’t much else out here.
At about three o clock we were back at the fields getting our gear together; guns, shells, lawn chairs, small ice cooler and, of course, snack bag. Dakota was ecstatic to get out and start sniffing and peeing, he’s like a camel in reverse. There’s just no end to the amount of pee that comes out of that dog. We walked a couple hundred yards down the dirt path to find our number. Each space was separated by about eighty yards, and I could see the various hunters in the distance going to their spots. On the opposite side I could see that someone had a couple of dove mojos set out in the field, and, what was that? A camouflaged umbrella? It was rather warm in the afternoon sun. I had given my tan hunting vest to X-man so he could be camouflaged a little bit at least. As it turns out, doves have pretty good vision and will flare away if you stand out like a white man at a P. Diddy concert.
We settled into our chairs after I mashed down the weeds for Dakota to sit and blend in. He’s already the color of dried grass so I wasn’t too worried. I sat back, popped a soda and waited. Now this was relaxing.
“What does a dove look like again?” X-man asked.
“Ah, it’s those little fluttery grey looking birds that fly kind of funny.” I replied, the eminent wildlife biologist, as I opened another bag of stale chips and started munching.
“There, right there to your left, that was one!” I exclaimed, spitting potato chips all over my shirt, watching it fly away.
“Didn’t see it.” X-man replied.
We heard some shots to the right of us. I couldn’t see if they hit anything or not. Then on the far side of the field I heard more shooting and could see everyone shooting at the same small flock of birds.
“Right over your head.” I said, watching three more doves fly away.
“Didn’t see them either.” X-man replied.
“There’s some coming in to your left.” I said.
“I see them dad.” X-man said, like I was nagging. He took two shots and missed. Then some more came in from behind us over his shoulder. “On your side again I said.” This time he hit one and it fell in the short grass.
“Was that a dove?” He asked.
” Uh, duh. OK, Dakota now, fetch.” I instructed, pointing my hand. Dakota jumped up and just wagged his tail like I was going to give him something to eat. “Go show him where it is.” I told X-man, “I swear to god that dog needs glasses.”
“He’s cross eyed, dad.” He got up and went after the bird with Dakota following. When they were close, Dakota finally saw the bird and bolted after it for the retrieve. Then he brought it all the way back to where I was sitting.
“Good boy.” I said, taking the dove from his mouth. Once he sees it, he goes right after it.
Some more flew over from behind, I shot and one sailed out into the field. I hustled out to where I thought it was with Dakota following right behind. The bird flew up suddenly, I shot and missed. Dakota looked at me like he was saying “What the hell? You suck.”
“Yeah? Well you’re blind. And you smell.”
“That was low.”
“Shut up and give me some of those potato chips you’re hoarding in that bag.”
I took the walk of shame back to my spot and cursed myself until another flock flew towards my right. I fired a couple of shots and one fell down towards the canal that marked the end of our field. I went over to find it, and could see it floating in the middle of the canal. I pointed Dakota’s head towards the dove until he saw it and plunged into the canal to retrieve the bird. I looked around paranoid of alligators.
I heard X-man shoot as I was turning around and could hear him say, “Got it.”
We were using number 7 ½ game loads and I felt that they should have enough knock down power if we didn’t shoot too far out. But, there’s the rub.
Small groups and pairs, were flying right across the guys on the opposite side of the field. We heard a lot of shooting. Some continued flying close enough for us to take some shots. Flying doves with their erratic flight made us miss a lot, but we managed to bring a couple more down.
During this shooting we could see a couple of FWC officers on the other side stopping at each hunting group to check out their licenses, I presumed. Shit, ours were in the truck, oh well. It took them about forty five minutes to reach us, and they asked to see our weapons to check the magazine capacity of my Remington pump. Your shotgun isn’t supposed be able to hold more than two shells in the magazine. They insert a little gauge up in there to measure it.
X-man was using the twelve gauge over- and- under so there was nothing to check. I explained that our licenses were back at the truck. Then the officer quizzed me on what licenses we had. I must have rattled off the correct answer because we were let off with a warning. Before they left, a small flock of doves flew right over us as the officers stood in front. I figured it would be bad form to take some shots, and watched the birds fly away.
Soon after they left some more doves flew close enough for a shot. X-man connected with one and it fell into the field. Dakota was beginning to get the hang of this thing and ran out ahead of my son and sniffed this bird out.
The sun had set over the horizon and the birds stopped flying. “I guess that’s it then.” I said, “Let’s wrap it up and go get something to eat.”
Dakota may not understand the subtleties of the English language but he knows what “eat” means and jumped up, excited about the possibilities. The only thing better than chasing after birds is scarfing down on a dollar hamburger.
The doves would be saved for another day. They don’t really taste like chicken, more like pigeon, but that’s another story.