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Dove Opener 2018 BY Gary Howey

  The sun was beginning to makes its decent into the western sky as I pulled into the field where we would park our pickups on opening day of the Nebraska dove season.

   We had planned this hunt later in the day as the hours from about five pm to sundown is generally an excellent time of the day to set up and hunt doves near ponds.  Dove, after feeding, like to come to water to drink before going into the trees to roost for the night.

  I had not so patiently waited for this year’s dove season and was more than ready for the hunt as everything was ready the week prior to Saturdays dove hunting season.  

  I had my upland game permit & stamps, my hip number, which is required in Nebraska and a method the Game & Parks uses to get an idea on what species of migratory birds you hunted in the previous year.

  My shotgun was cleaned, I had checked its choke to make sure I would be shooting an improved cylinder choke, checked to make sure I had my plug in, as when hunt migratory birds you are not allowed to holds more than three shells in your shotgun.

  I had located my hunting vest along with the rest of my camo and hunting clothing in my back office, Camo is not terribly important when hunting doves, but it allows the hunter to blend in with the terrain he is hunting.

  My vest pockets had been loaded with AA loads and because I did not want to run out of ammo again, as I had while defending the base perimeter from a bunker we were manning during an extended firefight in Viet Nam, I had stashed an additional shotgun shells, a full case in my truck.

  As there are times when hunting doves, you need to walk a ways to get to the location you plan to hunt; it is a good idea to have a bucket or two along to transport your gear. I carry two; a six-gallon bucket filled with my decoys and ammo along with a swivel seat, which is the perfect height for me to set on as it is comfortable, allowing me to turn from side to side without much movement.

  I also bring along a five-gallon bucket  that holds the rest of my essential dove hunting gear, insect repellent, Hornady Hearing Protectors, water and a couple of salted nut rolls just in case I get hungry.

  Arriving at our designated time, Anthony Thoene, Hartington, NE. one of my hunting partners was there waiting for me, his brother Dani, would join us later, completing our threesome.

  It was the first day of the 2018 Dove season and Anthony, his brother Dani and I hoped to have a good dove shoot as we did several years back as we were hunting the same dam, with very similar hunting conditions. On that hunt, the birds started coming in early, beginning around five in groups of eight to ten and continued to come in throughout late afternoon.

  On that hunt, empty shotgun casings, both twenty and twelve gauge covered the ground around us as we did our best to drop one bird for every ten shots, which is said to about the average shells expended per bird for the average hunter.

  We were fortunate in a way, as we had received rain through the better parts of June, July and into August, filling the pond we were hunting.

   In years past, when the dam was not holding the water, the Thoene brothers installed a liner in the depression,  in hopes of getting enough water in the dam to allow the cattle as well as the doves to have a place to drink.

  For two years, the pond remained either dry or not enough water there to interest the cattle as well as the doves.

  This year, the ponds throughout northeast Nebraska all had water, giving the doves numerous of places to get a drink before going to roost.

  We knew that ponds with high line poles or dead tree close by would attract doves as they like to land and check things out before coming down to drink.

If you are hunting a water hole with a place for doves to land, before they go to water, your odds at attracting birds goes up considerably. The dam the author was hunting was bare, so the landowner took a dead tree, mounted it on the dam, giving the hunters a location not only to place decoys, it gave the birds a place to land and look over the water before getting a drink. (Gary Howey Photo)

  To improve our chances of attracting the doves to our location, Anthony had used an auger to dig a hole on the face of the dam and inserted a dead tree.  It provided us a location to attach our dove decoys,  was high enough in the air that incoming birds would have no trouble seeing them and would give the doves a place to come into to land and look over the water hole.  To add movement to our spread, we would use a MoJo motorized decoys as well as several wind driven decoys to get the birds attention.

  Anthony and I would set up on the dam early, hoping to get into any early flights, with Dan joining us later at the dam.  The dam, not overly large, was about the size of a baseball diamond; about large enough so two or three hunters could hunt it.

   The cattle had did their part to make it attractive to doves as they tromped down the shoreline vegetation, clearing the shoreline of weeds, allowing the doves to have an open area to land and then be able to walk down to the water’s edge to drink.

  As we were setting t up, I had attached two decoys on the outside edge of the dead trees piled behind us and added several others on the dead tree on the dam with the MOJO motorized and wind driven decoy placed off to the east of it.

  It was a cloudy overcast day with a slight breeze, not one of the best days to hunt doves as when it is hot; the birds need to spend more time at the dam. However, on days like this, when it is cooler, they do not heat up as quickly, not needing to go to water as often.

  As we waited for the first flight, we chatted, talking about past doves hunts, wondering if this hunt on this particular pond would be, as good as our past hunt had been.

  We did not have to wait too long as my decoys off to my right attracted the bird’s attention in the first few minutes we were there.

   I noticed movement behind me, as I turned, there were two doves just setting there beside my decoys, checking them out, wondering why these doves were so unfriendly, just stetting there, and not moving.

 Slowly, I spun around, startling the birds as they went airborne, zigging and zagging off to the east. Standing up, stepping into the open area among the dead branches, I took aim on the birds as they went into the aerobic flight pattern, doing their best putting as much distance between what had startled them.

  My first shot, was a clean miss, but my second dropped the farthest bird out and the first dove of the season was added to our game bag.

  The next group of birds caught us by surprise as they came in high and behind us, winging their way over the dam towards the other pile of dead trees piled on the opposite side of the dam. Anthony and I rose in unison, with our shotguns blast echoing across the dam. My bird, on the left, somehow made it through our volley, with the dove on Anthony’s side dropping into the pond.

    Since my hunting dog Mo-JO had passed this last year, to retrieve the birds we depended on what little breeze we had to push the bird towards shore and a long branch to drag it up through the muddy edge of the pond.

  We had assumed the majority of the doves would be coming in from the south as there was a small CRP field and a wheat planting in that area, where prior to the season, the doves were feeding.

  You know how that goes, we assumed wrong, as the majority of the birds coming our way, came in low from a shelterbelt to the north, so it was my job to watch the north fields while Anthony kept an eye on the south.

  For the next hour, a few birds made their way towards the water, several from the north with a few others filtering in from the south.   We would pick off one or two, but many of the birds coming our way were well out of range of our shotguns.

  By the time Dani arrived, we had managed to take half dozen doves between us, as so far, not many birds were flying.

  With three sets of eyes, perhaps we would have a better chance of spotting the birds and our shooting would pick up, but until then, there was a lot of talk about the Good Old Days.

  Dani would set up on the opposite side of the dead trees while Anthony and I faced east, but as daylight started to wane, it became harder to pick out the doves coming in along the hillside, so a little warning as to where the birds were coming from was a big help.

  Dani and Anthony are hunters and not much gets by them, while I am a shooter. One who picks up his guns just before the season opens,  clean them and make sure they are operating correctly and where my lack of practice shows as I need to put a few shells through my shotgun before I get on the birds. 

  Several doves made the mistake of coming in behind us in off to Dani’s right; he quickly dropped them behind the dam, and retrieved them.

  Where we were sitting, we had a good idea as to the range our modified shotguns would effectively reach, as the distance from our tree pile to the east pile was about a hundred yards with the center of the pond being as far as we were accurate.

  Dani indicated that a bird was coming in low from the north and as I looked up. he was about to land in the dead tree on the dam. As I came up, the bird realized, he goofed up, it shot out of the tree, diving towards the water and then gaining altitude as it rose over the dam. However, before he cleared the MOJO I dropped him on the face of the dam.

  It looked as if this hunt was not going to measure up to the hunt we had several years back, as several things were going against us on this hunt.

   One was the heavy rains had filled up every dam and depression in the area, so the birds had plenty of options when it came to getting a drink.

  That and one of the dove’s best food sources, ragweed and hemp was a bumper crop and done well this year as it was growing everywhere so they could feed and water in numerous locations.

  Besides that, it does not take much to start the dove migration south and several days before the opener, it had rained and the drop in evening temperature to forty-six degree weather, were  both things doves disliked,  it looked as if many of the doves we saw around the ponds the week prior had left.

  One good thing about a dove migration is that migrating birds from North and South Dakota come through, giving us additional opportunities to hunt doves.

  It was slow going, and as the eight pm hour approached, as the sun was going down behind the clouds on the western horizon, it did not look as if we would fill our three-man forty five-bird limit as we only sixteen doves lay in our bucket.

  As we picked up our decoys and gathered our empty casings, we slowly made our way back up the hill towards our vehicles.

  Yes, it had not been a super shoot, but it was a beautiful evening to be out, enough breeze so the bugs had stayed away, we spent time with good friends, enjoying just spending time in the outdoors, where we had an opportunity to once again, take part in the dove season opener.