By Jill J Easton
Opening day of dove season was a great way to spend a near-perfect outdoor day with good friends. The doves were not as plentiful as experienced wingshooters with credentials might like, but there were plenty enough for the three of us hunting at Honey Hole Hill to stay busy and focused.
Blake Moseley, our son-in-law, had set up the hunt on a paper company lease that had been clear-cut several years ago. The land was a mixture of second season planted pines and trash on the ground waiting for a burn. The gigantic field was surrounded by a mix of hardwoods and pines. The ‘field’ was probably close to 800 acres with a dirt road running around it and several cross roads through the center.
Scott and Blake were hunting down the road and several more hunters were across the cut.
Light was late coming up, finally around seven the doves started flying. I shot my first dove and went off to find it. Wyatt, our grandson, was expending lots of shells on the other side of the hill. I couldn’t tell if doves were falling his way or not.
Occasionally, what sounded like anti-aircraft fire came from across the field. When I heard pow-pow-pow, ting-ting, or pop-pop, I knew another dove or two were heading our way.
We all shot with abandon whenever one of the jinking sky rockets came over and many more loads of eights were sent into the sky than came down in the gray mourning doves. By lunchtime, the doves had stopped flying and there were enough dead doves on the ground for a grand grilling.
I shot seven and didn’t run through a box of shells. Not bad for my first group dove hunt. Jim, Blake and Scott all got about that number. Eleven-year-old Wyatt who was shooting as soon as he saw movement, shot two. He was sad, but took his lack of success with a mostly stiff upper lip. Practice with skeet is no replacement for shooting these flying aerialists of the sky.
The next day, the stupid doves were gone, dead or educated. In their place were flyers that were much more wary. We had to work for every shot and the few doves that were taken went into a soup pot, not on the grill wrapped in bacon.
Dove season was over, right? NO! It was time for a totally different dove hunt. Start thinking Eurasian collared doves.
These illegal aliens and how they got here
The first collared doves to enter the United States came from a pet store in the Bahama Islands in 1974. They soon migrated across the 50 mile stretch of ocean to Florida, and by 1982 a breeding colony was found in Dade County. Since their first illegal entry, they have hopscotched across the country. In less than 40 years they have become one of the most common bird species in Colorado, more than 2,000 miles from the bottom of Florida. For many years they were the most invasive bird species in the world.
There is little to love about collared doves except the way they taste. They are aggressive, terrorizing other bird species away from bird feeders and the best nesting areas, and they are one of the few feeder birds that regularly poops in the feeder bird seed. They can also hold thousands of small seeds in their crops. When collared doves leave a flat feeder there is nothing left but a mess.
Hunting collared doves
The Eurasian invaders are different in appearance and behavior from mourning doves. They are creatures of towns and built up areas. These birds are bigger than mourning doves with a smaller head, black bill and most have a black collar around their necks that usually has some white on either side. The easiest identifier is their squared off tails when they fly. (Mourning dove tails are pointed.)
As invasive species these doves are not protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, like the native mourning doves. In every state I checked, there is no limit on the collared doves you can take, but check your state’s regulations. Under most circumstances this means you can shoot all you want at any time during the year.
I used to shoot the Eurasian invaders with a Daisy pellet gun off of the bird feeder at about 12 feet. This was a satisfactory way to get supper and rid the feeder of the querulous, dominating birds. Only the red wing blackbird and crows stood up to them and won.
But my shooting didn’t begin to control the collared doves that showed up at the feeder each spring, summer and even into fall. It was mostly a small way to get even with them for all the scat they left on the feeding tray.
Now I hunt them with a shotgun, working the edges of our subdivision on power lines and around the nearby ranch. Although they are not exceptional flyers like mourning doves, they are far from easy to hit. It seems they are everywhere hanging out in twos and threes, all it takes is some careful looking.
They breast out just like doves, and the taste is just as good. (Pigeons are excellent too and are also invasive species in the no limits category.)
Hunting doves beyond opening weekend may seem like it’s a lot of trouble, but by expanding your horizons to include collared doves you may open up a new world of hunting experiences and improve your wing shooting.