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Dove hunting in Texas constantly evolves as new technology and methodology change the game for hunters all over the state. The one thing that stays the same is the etiquette with which hunters treat each other and the sport itself.

It could be that you haven’t been hunting for long and you feel like you’re walking on eggshells around more experienced hunters. Whatever your situation may be, knowing good hunting etiquette can be helpful the next time you decide to join your friends for a South Texas weekend.

Dove hunting Etiquette

Hunting can be dangerous, and if you’ve been around it long enough, you have most likely heard a story or two of somebody getting hurt on a hunting trip. This is why gun safety is so important and is ingrained into the nature of long-time hunters. There are some good rules of thumb that you can follow to keep yourself and others safe.

Hunting etiquette does not only pertain to safety though—there are other unspoken rules of hunting that you may not have picked up on yet and that’s alright. As you hunt more, your knowledge base will grow, but I have included the things that I see as important when going out hunting.

Be Organized

It might sound like something your mom or dad would say to you, and you might think that it’s no big deal. After all, you’re not in the office or at school—this is your time to relax. And you’re not wrong, hunting is a great way to relax, but you’re not hunting yet.

This is something to think about before you even arrive at camp. When you're packing up your gear, don’t let the excitement of the weekend get to you too early. Double-check that you will have everything you need before leaving your house. This includes having your field bag organized with everything you could need, along with all the appropriate clothing you may need packed. Nobody likes the guy who gets to camp or into the field and starts asking to borrow gear.

This brings up another good point: once you’ve arrived at camp, make sure you have everything you need for the next day’s hunt organized and ready to go. You don’t want to be the guy who everyone is waiting on in the truck 10 minutes after y’all agreed to head out. You only have until the sun sets, so time is money.

The bottom line is that dove hunting is a social activity, and it’s your responsibility to cover your bases. Nobody can hunt until everyone is ready, and it just might be that you’re not hunting if you’re not ready or don’t have all your gear.

Muzzle Discipline

Nobody likes to hunt with a hunter who is unaware or careless with the direction they are pointing their gun. A good rule to follow is to never point your gun at something you do not intend to kill or destroy, loaded or otherwise. Generally there are always two acceptable, safe directions to keep your muzzle pointed: up into the air or down at the ground.

Trigger Discipline

Having good trigger discipline is crucial to gun safety. There are two notes of importance here: never put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to shoot and treat every firearm as if it’s loaded. If you abide by these two rules, you can avoid the possibility of negligent discharges.

A negligent discharge is when your gun goes off unintentionally or “by accident”. If this happens around people who hunt regularly, you will put everyone on edge and make them feel uneasy around you while you’re handling any firearm. This is because negligent discharges are a clear sign of someone who does not know what they’re doing and is a clear liability to everyone in the group. Having good trigger discipline will prevent you from being that guy.

Know Your Surroundings

This is something that cannot be stressed enough. Situational awareness is a crucial element of having a safe and successful hunt. When you and your group set up in the field, make sure you note where everybody is sitting.

Once you know everybody’s location, establish what your safe shooting zone is. Remember that just because shotguns are not lethal at long range does not mean you can fire in the direction of anyone you’re hunting with. It is acceptable to shoot over people as long as there is enough clearance underneath your muzzle.

A good rule for knowing if you can take the shot over somebody is with your gun raised at the bird, can you see the sky underneath your barrel? If you can, the shot is probably safe. At this elevation, you should not be able to hit anybody around you as long as you’re hunting on level ground.

Retrieving Your Birds

After you’ve successfully knocked down a bird, you’re going to eventually have to walk out into the field and retrieve it. It always feels like when you walk out to retrieve birds, more come flying overhead as if to taunt you.

You can bring your gun with you to retrieve birds, but there are some rules you should follow if you’re going to do so. My advice here depends on what kind of shotgun you usually hunt with. If you typically use a break action gun, then walk with your gun broken open. This will prevent a negligent discharge if you trip and fall or drop your gun. If you hunt with a semi-automatic or pump-action, carry your gun with the action open and no shell in the chamber for the same reason.

Dove Hunt Wrap Up

At the end of the hunt, everyone will be cleaning up their area and packing up their things to get ready to head back to camp. You are no exception. But before you start packing up, the first thing you should do is unload your gun, then double-check to make sure your gun is unloaded.

Once you’ve confirmed the gun is cleared, it’s appropriate to give verbal confirmation to those around you that your gun is clear before you store it. It might sound kind of cheesy, but it makes you think twice about your gun before you put it away, as well as notifies everyone else that your gun is safe.

Once your gun is cleared and stored, make sure you clean up after yourself. Get all of your gear and all of your trash up off the ground and the surrounding area. You shouldn’t be dead weight when leaving the field—make sure to take care of all your equipment and offer to help others load their gear into the truck when you’re done.

If you borrowed something from somebody, be sure to give it back, and be sure it goes back to them in the same condition that they gave it to you. One of the worst feelings is when you let somebody borrow something out of your bag and they give it back beat up and dirty, or worse, don’t give it back at all.

Respect the sport

There are some finer points of etiquette that don’t pertain as much to safety as they do sportsmanship. There is a certain respect for the sport of hunting that separates a sportsman from a savage. A savage kills for fun, a sportsman kills to eat. That’s not to say that you can’t have fun while hunting, but always maintain an element of respect for the animals you hunt.

For example, you should always put forth your best effort when looking for a bird you knocked down. Just taking a few steps out into the field and checking the ground at your feet doesn’t constitute a good effort. Look for feathers around the area you saw the bird down to, keep your eye out for movement of flapping wings or shaking bushes. Make sure you treat every bird you shoot as a part of a meal, because that’s exactly what it is: food.

This brings up another good point about respect. Always follow game laws and never waste the birds you harvest. Conservation of species is extremely important not only for the environment, but also for the longevity of the sport.

If you enjoy being able to harvest meat from nature, then you should be willing to treat nature with respect. This follows with what I mentioned in the previous section: make sure you do your part to leave no trace of your presence when you leave the hunting site. Respect the animals that you hunt and the land you hunt them on.