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Doves Down

Bob Anderson

September is that magical month when fall begins to let us know that she is coming. Some leaves are changing, the early flights of Canadian Geese are about 100 feet above my home headed south and my 20 gauge is beginning to rattle in the safe. If I had a bird dog, she would be pawing at the door wanting to go dove hunting. Instead, I have two very reliable friends that have the time blocked out, the packing list filled, the truck ready, and the location picked out. All I have to do is show up with my Remington 20 gauge LT and ammunition and we are ready to go.

It is the last day of August and around 8 in the morning. My car is loaded up with what I need to last three days in the high desert of Eastern Oregon. The temperatures won't be bad during the day, but at Dove Campnight they can drop into the high 30's. When I meet up with my two friends and transfer my gear, we take off for east of the mountains.  Oregon has been plagued with wild fires and the smoke is fairly prevalent in Central Oregon.  The sight that we have hunted for several years has been a prime location.  It lies between two water holes with wheat fields in between and is bounded by beautiful pine forests and cattle ranches. By 9 a.m. we were on the road east and by 5 p.m. we had arrived and set up camp. After dinner we decided to scout out the area and select our stands for the next morning.  There was a thin finger of timber separating two large fields and we found the doves funneling down and scooting through a couple of gaps. We would set up to cover those gaps from both sides.

The next morning we were up two hours before shooting hour. We cooked a solid breakfast and assembled our gear. It was 36 degrees outside and the stars were so big you could nearly touch them.  We like to use 5 gallon buckets with swivel seats from Cabela's to carry our gear. In the buckets are our ammunition, jackets, lunches and other personal items. We took the liberty of fabricating feet for the buckets to give them a couple of more inches of height and more stability. The “works” in a pail makes it so simple to get our gear organized and is easy to carry. We were in position 45 minutes early in case more hunters showed up. Sure enough, within 15 minutes a small caravan of pickups came up the road, saw us and moved on down the road to set up about a ¼ mile away. We actually welcomed the additional hunters as they would help keep the doves moving.

As daylight began to break, you could make out the birds flying through. It seemed like they were doing 60 mph and zig zagging all over the sky. Finally, the shooting hour arrived. We were positioned next to a barbed wire fence with a wheat field in front of us and woods behind. The pond on my right was about 200 yards away over a rise and not visible. The sky was hazy in the distance from the fires and the faint smell of smoke was in the air. As the sun broke over the distant mountains, the warmth of those early rays felt incredibly good. By ten that morning we were in our shirt sleeves.

A dove materialized over my head and disappeared in an instant behind a pine tree but was hit by one of my friends covering the gap in the trees. A moment later two more came into view following the fence line. I fired twice and missed both times. Someone once said that it takes a box of shells on the first day to relearn how to shoot doves. This was proving to be the case for me. I could hear a small war break out at the other end of the field to my left. The amount of shooting suggested that no one in that group was hitting anything either. Someone yelled “dove” and I looked up just in time to see one weaving through the trees.  It climbed to go over a tree next to me and I was lucky enough to dust it and it dropped in the field opposite me.

Things dropped off during midday and we broke for lunch and took naps or read books. In the afternoon, we changed our positions to take advantage of the fact that the birds were flying through the timber and not over the fields. There were plenty of doves landing in the fields to feed, but they were 100+ yards away. The afternoon shoot proved to be a little more productive as we were in a much better position to engage the birds flying right through our camp. We were literally within 50 yards of the tent. We hunted until the end of shooting hours and returned to camp. We cleaned our guns and had dinner and were in bed by 8 p.m.

Morning came early again and we were out about thirty minutes before shooting time. The expected convoy of hunters failed to show. I guess they figured that there weren't going to be any birds. It had been 36 degrees both mornings and with smoke in the air, I think the doves decided to move on. We hunted until noon and only saw two doves, both too far away to shoot.  At noon, we called it quits and ate lunch, broke camp, and by 2 o’clock were headed out. It was also archery season and we passed several camps on the way out but saw nothing hanging. As we turned the corner and headed down off the hill, four nice bucks trotted by us. One was a nice four point and the others I couldn't tell. They were healthy looking and beautiful with nice shiny fur, though in no particular hurry.

So our hunt wasn't the most productive, but the worst day hunting beats the best day in the city. There is still deer and elk season and chukars to come. And of course, there is always next year.