OUTDOORS: Dove hunting 101

Dove hunting is a popular sport in Georgia. Photo by Danny Aller.

Dove hunting is a popular sport in Georgia. Photo by Danny Aller.

Georgia's much-anticipated 2011-2012 dove season opens Sept. 3. This year, the season's first segment runs through Sept. 18 and is followed by two more portions running Oct. 8-16 and Nov. 24 -- Jan. 7.

Opening day of dove season is traditionally considered the beginning of the fall hunting season and, as usual, will provide a wonderful opportunity to introduce children or grandchildren to the sport.

"In addition to being the kick-off to the fall hunting season, dove hunting is a prime time to introduce family and friends to hunting," said John Bowers, Georgia DNR's Wildlife Resources Division assistant chief of game management. "Opening day is typically a fun-filled afternoon that hunters of all ages thoroughly enjoy."

James Altiere, Regional Hunter Education Coordinator for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, agrees.

"Dove hunting is a great way to introduce young people to the outdoors and the activity of hunting," he said. "Most beginning hunters, no matter what age they are, immensely enjoy the fast-paced shooting and excitement of a good dove hunt. It challenges the hunter's shooting ability much more than his or her overall hunting skills. The challenge of shooting and hitting a fast-moving target provides fun and excitement for the hunter."

A dove shoot usually takes place on a large open field or a combination of smaller fields in a common area. The shoot is normally a social event that provides the opportunity for a large number of hunters to participate. It is also a good way to bring friends and family together. While this traditional type of hunting provides social interaction, fellowship and fun, it is also important that it be regulated and carried out in a safe manner.

"By law, shooting doves must be done with a shotgun that is plugged and incapable of holding more than three shotshells. Dove hunters usually gather in a common area and select or are assigned a specific location on the field. When traveling to and from this selected or assigned spot, all guns should be unloaded with the action open and the safety on. Once the hunters have spread out on the field, it becomes a game of watching and waiting. Shotguns should only be loaded when the hunters are on their stands and ready to shoot. Once a hunter enters the field, he or she should always wear eye and ear protection."

According to Altiere, during this time of alertness the hunter the most important of all firearms-handling rules.

"The shooter should keep the gun pointed in a safe direction at all times," he emphasized. "A hunter should always be aware of exactly where his or her firearm is pointed. On a dove field in particular, the hunters usually surround the field being hunted, watching for doves flying over and shooting at the birds that fly into shotgun range. Thus, by nature of the sport itself, each hunter can be very near other hunters on the field. Gun position is of vital importance."

The safe dove hunter must also practice another cardinal rule of firearms safety as he or she raises his gun to shoot at a flying dove. The hunter must be absolutely certain of what the target is and what lies beyond it. If a dove comes into the field and drops down low to fly across, Altiere instructs hunters in attendance to shout "Low bird!" in a loud voice.

At this signal, no hunter should attempt a shot at that bird under any circumstances.

"Also, on a good dove shoot there is usually a large number of birds flying into the field at the same time at any given moment," he explained. "The doves come in from different directions and at various altitudes. The action becomes fast and furious and the shooting is rapid-fire. So, too, is the reloading. At this point, the hunter must concentrate on safe shooting and reloading procedures."

For example, if hunting with another hunter who is shooting a different gauge shotgun, caution must be taken to ensure the different-gauge shotshells don't become mixed. A 20-gauge shotgun shell, during the excitement, can be mistakenly loaded into a 12-gauge shotgun and end up lodged halfway down the barrel. When that happens, not only does the hunter have a gun with an obstructed barrel, it is obstructed with a live round. The hunter should also be careful not to get dirt or other natural obstructions into the barrel that might create an unsafe situation.

Altiere then concluded: "By all means, if you are invited to a legal dove shoot, go. Dove shooting provides an extreme amount of fun and exhilaration. While you're having fun, though, be courteous to other hunters and please handle your firearm safely. Safety is largely a matter of attitude. Be sure you take the right attitude onto the field with you."

Take the right hunting attitude and ethics with you as well. Georgia's statewide dove limit is 15 birds per day and 30 in possession.

For further information on dove season in Georgia and other state hunting seasons and regulations, pick up a free copy of Georgia DNR's Wildlife Resources Division 2011-2012 Hunting Seasons and Regulations Guide, available in stores now. Or, visit WRD's website at www.georgiawildlife.com/hunting/regulations.