For the sportsman, no single event or time more clearly signals the end of summer and the beginning of the fall hunting season than dove season opener.
Sure, opening day more often than not is miserably hot. But somehow as a hint of a breeze blows across September fields in the late afternoon or a touch of coolness is felt while birds are cleaned at sunset, we know it isn’t long until bigger things are in the offing. In a real sense, the beginning of dove season is an uplifting reminder that deer opener isn’t far off.
Meanwhile, for pure fun and sporting enjoyment, it’s tough to beat a red-hot dove shoot. It’s a combination of what my longtime buddy Roy Turner calls “Christmas in September,” a family reunion and an all-day gathering with dinner on the grounds. It’s a chance to see friends you haven’t spoken to since the previous year’s opening day dove hunt, to reminisce about hunts past, take joy in watching a kid take his first dove while a father or grandfather looks on proudly, enjoy some of the finest cooking imaginable, and most of all, just have a jolly good time.
No small portion of enjoying dove season involves preparation. First of all, you need to make sure everything is in order legally. That means having a current hunting licenses, HIP card (free), Wildlife Management Area permit if hunting a state-managed dove field, and a gun holding no more than three shells (in other words, pumps and semi-automatics need a plug).
Other preparation involves equipment. Make sure your shotgun is clean and functioning. As I learned to my dismay a couple of years back, when my semi-automatic developed problems after I fired a single shot, you don’t want to a malfunction during a hunt. One way to avoid this, and get in practice as well, is to shoot clay pigeons at a sporting clays range or perhaps just using a simple trap machine in company with a friend or two.
Then there are matters such as having plenty of shotshells, some type of seat or stool, suitable clothing (lightweight camouflage or earth tones), plenty of moisture, a pouch or bag to hold birds, and any other helpful accessories. For example, some folks take a section of camo cloth to the field and build a makeshift blind, while others find decoys helpful.
Maybe the biggest problem facing local hunters is find a place to enjoy the delights of fast action, gray-winged speedsters, camaraderie, and the simple joys of the smell of burnt gunpowder and being afield after many months with a hunting season being open.
There are only two public dove fields in York County — 60 acres at Draper tract near McConnells and 40 acres in the Worth Mountain area in the western part of the county. Details on special regulations, location and contacts for these public fields is at dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/dove/vields.html.
At public fields, hunters are allowed to carry only 50 shells. That may seem like plenty, but with the limit being 15 birds and a national average of 5.5 shots for every bird taken, the mathematical calculations are telling. Provided there are plenty of doves —and that’s never anything approaching a certainty — only an accomplished marksman is going to fill his limit with two boxes of shells.
Other than the public dove fields, hunters are dependent on knowing someone who hosts shoots and getting invited, belonging to a hunt club that manages dove fields, finding a “pay to play” hunt, wrangling an invitation to a shoot, or maybe taking the chance of seeing the occasional bird in an area where there has been no planting or management for doves.
Whatever your situation, if you have the good fortune to be part of an opening day shoot, pause to appreciate the fact that you are participating in a timeless and treasured ritual, one deeply rooted in the South’s sporting tradition.
The season opens at noon Sept. 2. Hunting for the first three days is noon until sunset. After that, for the first season through Oct.14, it is from a half hour before sunrise until sunset. The same holds true for the second season, Nov. 11-25, and third season, Dec. 15-Jan. 15.