Tips for making the most of early season dove hunts.

September 23 was opening day, with hunting hours noon to sunset. Photo by FWC.

Opening day of dove season. At precisely 12:00, guns are loaded and safeties come off.

By the end of the afternoon, the hunters will have expended boxes of shells— some with little to show for their effort.

In southern Florida, doves reach their peak concentration in late September and early October. This coincides with the first phase of dove season, which begins September 23 this year and continues until October 23.

In the rest of the state, bird numbers rise in October and remain until the end of December. This means hunters will have good shooting during the second and third phases as well. The second phase begins November 11 and runs until December 4; the third phase starts December 12 and continues until January 15, 2018.

Hunters in central and north Florida have an advantage because of the row crops planted from about Ocala northward. Birds congregate in these fields in the fall, feeding on grain left behind during the harvest.

When it comes time to hunt, look for pathways that the birds are using as they move between food, water and perching habitat. Those pathways may change over the season, so observe what the birds are doing on any given day.

During dove season, you can hunt mourning doves and white-winged doves, with a daily bag limit of 15.

Watch for a “hot” corner of the field. If there’s a pond in a neighboring field and the birds roost on that same side of the field, they’ll be buzzing that one end. But if they must fly across the field to get from the pond to their roost, their pattern will be different.

When you pick a spot to sit, think about where the sun is going to travel while you’re sitting. You don’t want to be looking into the sun when birds come streaming in. Sit where you have a full view of the hunt area. Doves move fast, so you need to be able to move your gun and have room to swing.

The density of hunters on a field is important. Too many hunters will step on each other’s toes. Too few, and the birds will slip between you and settle down to feed without anyone getting a shot. You don’t want to be so close to other hunters that safety becomes a concern. A good rule of thumb is to have 100 yards between shooters.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has established public dove fields in 15 WMAs. Some are quota hunts or special opportunity hunts; others have a daily quota or are self-check areas.

The FWC also offers a Special Opportunity Dove Club Permit. This permit allows one adult and one youth hunter to participate in all scheduled hunts on a designated field. For information, go to www.myfwc.com/hunting. FS

First Published Florida Sportsman Magazine September 2017

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