AERIAL DIPSY-DIVERS   Leave a comment

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The dove is probably the most harvested upland game bird in the country.  Hunters concealed in brush, sit on buckets in anticipation of this little birds as it dips and dives past. They land to sip from standing pools of water, and peck in the gravel.  Before and after this aerial display, they sit on power lines or bare branches of the tallest tree in the area.

Found throughout Illinois, doves migrate according to food availability and weather conditions.   Forecasting distribution and numbers is practically impossible.

Preferring cultivated areas, doves feed on corn, sunflower seeds and small grains.  Sunflower seeds are their primary food source.  To a lesser extent they will eat pigweed, crotons, panic grasses, foxtails and ragweed.

Hunters need to respect the birds, the environment as well as others in the field.  Hunt safely.  Learn to judge distance effectively.  Most of us are unable to shoot effectively beyond 20 yards.  To underestimate the distance or air speed of a bird results wasted ammunition.

The three subspecies of doves in the Midwest live in Illinois.  The Mourning dove is the most common.  In recent years the Eurasian collared dove appears in the annual fall migration numbers.  White-winged doves sometimes appear in the hunter’s bag.

A long, pointed tail which not found on the other two species distinguishes the Mourning dove.  The others have squared off tails.  The Eurasian collared dove has a thick black band with a white border around its neck.  The white-winged dove, as the name suggests, have a white wing patch.  All three species are similar in size and all are gray in color.

September dove season leads hunters to flock to private and public dove fields.  Even though the season usually runs until the end of October, the prime time is the first two or three weeks.  Hunters expend more shotgun shells each year on dove hunting than any other shotgun sport.  More hunters take to the field annually than any other wing shooting sport.

Doves migrate and many of them are long gone from the public areas after a cold snap or just a few days of shooting.  The popularity of public hunting areas often leads to over populated by hunters.  They do a lot of shooting that is often nothing more than sky busting.  The birds quickly realize that man and his trappings are a danger.  But, there are ways the smart hunter can still find good shooting.

Hunters who make no effort to conceal themselves or to remain still will not get any shots within range.  Concealment is probably the best tool the hunter has in fooling migrating birds.  The use of camouflage clothing in a pattern similar to the surroundings is important.  If one plans to sit in a wheat or soybean field then the lighter color clothing is in order.  If he is sitting in a hedgerow or predominantly green brushy area then something in green is best.

Conceal shiny surfaces, such as guns, buckets and coolers.  If one wears glasses, then the use of a head net will aid in cutting the glare from the lenses.  Hunting only on cloudy days or sitting with your back to the sun also helps to reduce the glare problem.  Hunters need to cover all exposed skin and any jewelry such as wedding rings and watches.

Consider your own safety when using decoys on public land.  All too often an unthinking hunter takes a shot at a decoy.  He does not realize that it is a decoy nor does he consider that someone might be in the line of fire.  It is advisable to place decoys about 8 to 10 feet off the ground in the branches of trees or shrubs.  Make sure they are visible to birds approaching the grain field in which you are hunting.  Remember that to a dove, the sight of other doves represents safety.  What the decoy provides a feeling of safety for the dove.  Doves will land among decoys and be quite at home.

There are some common sense things that will insure the hunt is a safe one.  Do not load your gun until you are at your assigned shooting station and shooting hours have begun.  Keep the action open.  Once shooting has begun, keep your gun on safe with the action open until ready to shoot.  Always point a gun in a safe direction.  When shooting, do not over swing so that you are pointing toward another hunter.  Know where other hunters are located.

Once a bird is down is the only time to leave your assigned station.  If possible use a dog to retrieve birds.  Be sure to keep an eye on downed birds so that you can find them and return to your shooting station quickly.  Do not take your gun with you as you go out to retrieve downed birds.  Unload it and carefully place it on the ground.  Unload as well and keep the action open when you are leaving your station.

Doves provide a great challenge. Their erratic flight provides a difficult target.  They provide an opportunity to sharpen aerial shooting skills in anticipation of later upland bird shooting.  Safety must be a consideration when hunting in a crowded situation like that found in the first couple of days in public hunting fields.

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