by Bret Amundson
Last week we were in Ontario with Bill Sherck and Due North Outdoors and this week we were in western Minnesota at the Watson Hunting Camp with Ron Schara and his daughters for a dove hunt on Minnesota Bound.
It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it, right?
Already a fall tradition in the southern states, Minnesota began it’s first dove season 11 years ago. In the agricultural rich areas of Minnesota you can find these tasty birds in abundant numbers near small grain fields and water sources. Ron wanted to have a fun hunt with his daughters Laura and Simone, along with Raven and Simone’s yellow lab, Ryder, and felt a warm weather dove hunt might be perfect.
We’d also be joined by Steve Carney and Rick Alsen from Beavertail.
They arrived at the WHC Friday afternoon and 15 hunters and labs of varying colors piled into trucks and headed to a wheat field that had been harvested recently. The field stretched across the horizon so a big group was preferred to keep birds moving around the field. There’s nothing worse than watching them land on the north side when you’re patiently waiting on the south.
An array of spinning wing decoys-motorized and wind versions-were set up along with a pvc pipe “tree”. Plastic branches wound their way out with clip-on fakes encouraging the real ones to fly in close for a look.
While doves can be a challenge to hit, they’re usually not too difficult to decoy.
Birds started dipping and diving in each corner of the field and shots were ringing out. Sometimes you’d spot them from a hundred yards away and sometimes you’d be surprised by tell-tale whistle of their wings as they’d sneak out of range before you could shoulder a gun.
I’d be on the opposite end of the field as the Schara’s with Avery pro-staffer Richard Shamla. We’d be hiding in some wheat that was left standing. Next to the standing wheat were signs of why it was still standing. Deep muddy ruts were left by the combine and the farmer decided it was too wet to go any further that day. We’d end up muddy, but with a handful of doves each.
Just over 100 doves would be taken and the decision was made to pull out and rest the evening feed so we could hunt it again the morning. Just like hunting ducks or geese, you can burn an area out, but the large amount of birds still using the field we felt we could get on them again in the morning. Was that a good decision?
Safety In the Field
Day 2 started off with a scary moment as one of the dogs was run over.
Two Polaris Rangers were being used to cart hunters to various positions in the field and there were two of us hunters left. We both had our labs with and they happily ran alongside the UTV like usual. This time both dogs were dangerously close to the front. My lab Mika had come so close that I actually peeked around from my perch in the back end of the vehicle and yelled at her. They both made another pass near the front and the driver looked over at the other hunter-a friend of his-and said, “Don’t worry, I won’t run over your dog.”
I was about to yell at Mika once more when I felt the front end of the Ranger bounce up in the air, followed by a loud yelp. Uh-ho. I then braced myself for the he back end to bounce up as the back tires go over the poor dog.
The driver slammed on the brakes, a few “adult” words were used and we all jumped out to attend the black lab laying in the grass. She slowly rose to her feet and gingerly stretched out with her tail tucked. We approached her and she was hesitant to come close. Who could blame her? We just ran her over!
She licked her tail for a second and slowly started walking up the field. The dogs owner gave her the once over and said, “Good thing it was just a ranger.” Soon she was bouncing around and running like nothing happened.
“Labs are tough dogs,” I said as I shook my head. I grabbed my lab and pulled her inside the vehicle for the rest of the drive and got ready to hunt.
That’s Why It’s Called Hunting
The second day would prove to be a tougher hunt. Was it because we hunted it the day before? Was it a field that was used more as an afternoon feeding spot? Did the overnight temperature that dipped into the 40s cause some birds to start thinking about heading south?
Dove hunting, like any other hunting, isn’t a slam dunk every time. We’ve pulled out of fields early and hunted them again the next day and done very well. This time it just didn’t work out.
Either way, the slow morning offered us a reason to move to a new field.
We’d set up again in a cut wheat field and wait for the doves to arrive. A mid-day slow down arrived and we finally packed up with a few more doves in hand.
DOVE FOR DINNER
Back at the Watson Hunting Camp, marinated doves hit the grill and were soon gobbled up by the hungry hunters. If you’ve never eaten dove before, you’re missing out.
Stories of long shots, easy misses and good hits were shared as the sun set behind us. Both myself and one of the guides, Tony Crotty had forgotten to take our waterfowl chokes out. These chokes that are designed for tighter patterns at longer distances. That usually means hitting small, quick birds like doves can be quite the challenge. That also means longer shots can connect and he paced one off at a whopping 55 yards. In strong winds like we had, a first shot at 25 yards can quickly turn into a second shot at 50 as doves know how to turn quickly and use the wind to their advantage.
Richard Shamla took aim at a pair of doves that passes us from left to right. I had the first option and passed as I felt they just were too far away. He pulled up with his modified choke and stopped one in its tracks! I offered an incredulous “You got him!” And we paced it off-56 yards!
Sometimes two guys team up on tiny dove, and there isn’t much you can do, as was the case when Rick Alsen and I connected on a low flyer during day 2 and watched as a poof of feathers slowly fell to the ground.
Mika made a good retrieve and we realized it wouldn’t take long to clean this one.
A Good Tune Up
Overall dove hunting is a good way to tune up for the rest of the fall hunting seasons. It shakes the rust off as you can blow through shells pretty easily. In fact I expressed concern to Shamla about only bringing two boxes with me. He assured me that if we don’t have a limit with 50 shells, then we shouldn’t be hunting.
We nearly used the two boxes on the 10 birds we brought home!
It’s a fun hunt, with quick action, warm weather and minimal set up. Look for small grain fields like wheat, water sources and roosting trees. Bring kids and lots of ammo!
Watch for footage coming in a future episode of Minnesota Bound.
Here are more pictures from the hunt.