BY MERIT MCCREA
If you’re the kind of angler who loves target casting, making the launch into a hole between weeds and wash rock to nail that calico you just know is lurking there, this is for you. If you love launching the iron ahead of birds picking at bait being chased along the surface by bass, barracuda or yellows and would forego two blind jig strikes to watch a fish flash on your iron feet from the rod tip, this is your deal. And if you like the idea of finding that legal loophole in laws you see as doing more to benefit predator preservation than resource conservation, maybe this is your deal too.
Here’s the deal. Doves are coming and there’s few boat skippers or crews that wouldn’t rather be out on opening day than shagging sculpin and flensing fins.
When birds fly, there’s seconds to make that call, pull up and swing. Unlike fishing, there’s no such thing as a blind folded bird — one where you shoot a wild hole in the sky and — ojala, down falls a bird you didn’t even see up there.
It’s like slinging the iron at a boil, but better. Opportunities come within range and slip out fast — reward is instant, while illusive.
And it gets better with time and experience. Maybe you’ve been training your biscuit-eating dog all year to be the best birder on earth, your buddy in the blind, able to mark a 200-yard fall, to sniff out a feather trail through the trees into the thick brush where it fell like a feathered comet.
Dove season is the first to open of the fall, September 1, each year, weekday or weekend. Dudley the dog gets to show you how well he’s learned, chasing sticks and balls thrown by your kids.
Chances are pretty certain he’ll run one way or the other when the gun goes off — either for the bird or for the hills.
And either way, you’ll be screaming, because what you really had in mind was for the old dudmeister to come to attention, frozen in position watching that feather-comet fall, waiting anxiously for you to call DUD! so he can do his thing.
And there’s that the pride in finally downing one after blasting 3/4 of a box into the air, but twinged with remorse nevertheless.
What was once a wild and free, much revered quarry winging gracefully in the warm rays of the morning sun, is a presently a wet mop of grey feathers — a little wad of dog-slobbered grey fluff your now burr bedazzled mongrel has brought you. It’s a proud moment.
This first bird blast of the year is typically hot work. Doves seem to like it best in places where the 2 p.m. temps daily top 100 degrees, sometimes into the one-teens. Think, the Central Valley, Imperial Valley, Yuma Arizona and parts between there and Phoenix.
You can cross that line from rod to gun, and you can cross a second line — right out of lead-free California — right into knock-’em-in-the-head with #8 lead instead.
California steel is great, but on upland birds you’ll watch a few more limp off never to be found than you would in Arizona. Smaller, harder hitting shot with denser patterns is deadlier on small game.
Softer pellets are kinder to your dentistry too. Just think, you’ll be able to use a “shot-glass” as intended.
We’ll be hunting Arizona this week with good friends Simon’s Taxidermy Simon and family. And we’re hopeful for a long morning and an early afternoon start.
The mid-day heat is definitely too hidden from in the cool protection of hotel AC. As of today, temps are forecast to only barely top the century mark there.
Last season saw that heat level left in the 9 a.m. dust behind the truck as we bailed for the barn for a few hours.
Arizona bird limits are again liberal and like California’s — 15 birds per day, of which up to 10 can be the slightly larger white wing variety.
Larger yet and with no limit are the Eurasian collared doves. However, these are typically found near houses and ranches, as pigeons are.
No shooting within a quarter-mile of an occupied structure without express permission in Arizona. The rule in California is 150 yards. There are a few more rules, but nothing nearly as complex as fishing regs here are.
If you are a new hunter, I believe you can still legally borrow a friend’s shotgun in Arizona too, and be gifted/share ammo — no problem, unlike here in the Golden State anymore.
You’ll need an Arizona out-of-state “combo license” ($160 for the all-year) and an Arizona “migratory bird stamp” ($5 all year). Both are available online and can be printed instantly at home.
Dove seasons mirror California’s – an early season from Sept. 1 to Sept. 15, then a main season starting in mid November, but on dates different by a few days between the states.
For California it’s non-lead shot only and in steel, about no. 6 or 7or so is good. Lead in Arizona allows for 7.5 or 8s, even 9s.
A good starter gun is an inexpensive pump like the super solid Remington 870. Expert shotgunners still love their old pump-gun, even after they’ve got all the fancy guns in the safe.
You can do dove as a first-timer on your own but it’s more fun to team up with that friend who’s been offering to take you every year. It’ll make everything a lot more worry free with respect to learning the regs, spots and knowing when you’re good.
Hopefully you’ve got that hunter ed card already in hand, because that’s really the biggest hurdle. Without it, you’ll have to find a class, starting online and likely shooting for the main season instead.
Dove pick and clean supper easy, and make great bacon-wrapped dove poppers. As with all birds, you’ll have to leave a feathered wing attached at least until you’re out of the field and back to the barn, usually until they’re bound for the BBQ or freezer.
Coming in from out-of-state with fish or game there’s a fish and game importation thing in the back of the California reg. book (online) to fill out and keep on hand. Actually, you were supposed to fill one out for those Mexican waters fish you caught on the San Diego boats too.
Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California partyboat captain, he is a marine research scientist with the Dr. Milton Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He serves on the Groundfish Advisory sub-Panel of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, the Santa Barbara Harbor Commission, The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council and the CCA-Cal State Board. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.