You might’ve heard your buddies talk about that opening weekend of dove season back in ‘15 and how they had an absolute blast even though they only bagged 3 birds. Or maybe your uncle was telling the story about the one time he limited out in under an hour saying “You just had to be there”. To me these are two extremes highlighting the same message; whether it’s the company you’re with or the hunt itself, dove hunting in Texas can give you memories to last a lifetime.
If you’ve thought about getting into dove hunting for a while now or recently decided it might be something you’re interested in then you probably have found yourself asking one simple question, “Where do I start?”, and my answer is simple. You start with the essentials. I can break down hunters into two categories, the ones who have everything they need and the ones who don’t. You do not want to be the latter. Experienced hunters will understand what I’m talking about. Not only is it embarrassing to be the guy who doesn’t have ear protection or the right clothing but it also takes away from your experience and potentially everyone else's. I intend to put you on the path to becoming a so-called “gear daddy” from day one, the guy who has everything he needs when he gets into the field. This will result in less stress and more fun in the long run.
If you don’t already have one, the first and most obvious tool you’ll need is a shotgun. There are many different types of shotguns at many different price points but I’m going to give you the knowledge you’ll need to make the right purchase for you. Shotguns come mainly in 3 varieties, semi-automatic, pump action, and break action. They all have pros and cons, most of which I will not be able to provide in detail. My advice for buying a shotgun follows a fairly simple rule: buy what feels most comfortable to you.
For the novice shooter, I would recommend a break action because they are the most simple to operate and easiest to practice gun safety with. Gun safety is a very important thing to learn properly when starting out hunting and should be taken seriously by all parties involved no matter what your experience level may be. The drawback to a break action is the shell capacity. Most break action shotguns only hold 2 shells, therefore you only get 2 shots before having to reload. This is why, for the more experienced hunter, a semi-automatic shotgun may be preferable.
If you have some experience under your belt and understand the finer points of gun safety you might want that third shell for a hasty follow up shot or even trying your luck at knocking down a triple. Either way, the security of a third shell can be nice. This is why I would put the pump action guns as a happy medium between a break action and a semi-automatic. A pump action is more safe than the semi-auto because the gun relies on you to load the next shell rather than doing so automatically but still provides you with 3 shells before having to reload. If you feel comfortable enough to want that third uninterrupted shot but would still like to keep it on the safer side then a pump action might be for you. Comfortability doesn’t strictly pertain to your confidence as a hunter. How the gun feels when you pick it up and handle it should also feel comfortable. My advice is to get into a store and pick up a few different guns. See how the weight distribution feels to you personally, or if you prefer a wooden stock over a polymer alternative. There are many different makes and models of shotguns available and finding the right one for you might take some time. Your local gun shop will have employees who can help you with specifics and things of that nature so don’t be afraid to ask them questions, they are there to answer them.
Most importantly know your skill level, understand your needs and make sure you hold the gun in your hands and like the feel before making a purchase. Though important, the right gun is not the only thing you’ll need to get out shooting in the field. There are a few other essentials that you’ll need to pick up before opening weekend.
As mentioned before safety and hunting go hand in hand and knowing gun safety isn’t the only way to protect yourself and others. If you’ve ever been to a gun range or have experience shooting you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Sometimes referred to as ear-pro and eye-pro, or simply “eyes and ears”, eye protection and hearing protection are a must have if you intend to hunt happily into your golden years.
The last thing you need while out in the field is a pellet in your eye which is why eye-pro is so important. There are a few things to look for when thinking about eye-pro. The basics include full coverage of your eyes including the sides and shatterproof lenses. You can find shooting glasses for a good price online or at your local outdoor sporting goods store but buying a pair of shooting glasses may not be necessary. If you have a pair of sunglasses that fully cover your eyes and have sturdy shatterproof lenses then you may be able to wear them. If you're unsure of the quality of the lenses or your glasses don’t quite provide full coverage then err on the side of caution and get some shooting glasses.
While less pressing of an issue, ear damage can occur over time if you shoot often without hearing protection. At the same time, it’s just not fun to have your ears ringing every time you pull the trigger. There are many varieties of ear-pro and you could easily spend hundreds of dollars on shielding your ears from gunfire but there is cheap and effective equipment available. The foam ear inserts are the cheapest and easiest to find. Even if they’re not your preferred method of protecting your ears it’s always smart to keep a couple of those suckers in one of your hunting bags. As for all the other ear-pro, it comes down to personal preference. Do your research and figure out what your needs are and I’m sure you can find hearing protection that you will be satisfied with.
For reasons I could never understand, one of the challenges for newcomers to the sport is the proper clothing to wear. There are two things to keep in mind when looking for the right clothes to go dove hunting in.
An important thing to note is your surroundings and your environment. You will come to realize that birds have better eyesight than they’re given credit for. In my opinion, the best way to deal with this is to wear earth-tone colors that somewhat match your surroundings. Blanket colors that I have found to work are any combination of green, tan, and lighter browns. Your clothes don’t have to have excellent camouflage patterns or anything excessive, just make sure you’re not wearing light colors like white or blue. This holds true for your shirt, pants, and hat and will make a larger difference than you think.
Another thing to think about when putting together your hunting wardrobe is the weather. Most of the dove season in Texas is pretty hot, especially if you plan to hunt in South Texas. There are many good options for breathable clothing in many different acceptable colors. And when it comes to pants, they’re not mandatory. I hunt in khaki shorts with my boots most of the time and I have found that having that comfort in the Texas sun makes a huge difference. The only downside to shorts is that if you have to go wading through thick brush for any reason just remember that you will get burs and sticks and leaves in your boots. If this doesn’t sound like a big issue then you can rock shorts in the dove field.
The heat brings complications other than discomfort though. Rattlesnakes are native to the lands we hunt and pose a legitimate danger to the outdoorsman. In addition to a good pair of leather work boots, I would recommend a pair of snake-proof boots that are made to protect your ankles and calves from the venomous bite of a snake. The same protection can be provided with a pair of chaps that are made for the same purpose. The chaps will provide protection higher up on your leg but I find the boots to be more comfortable.
I have picked up a few things over the seasons of hunting I’ve spent in Texas that make the experience more enjoyable and while they are not mandatory for a good hunt I would recommend bringing along a few extra items.
While it might sound obvious, a good cooler is something that I have watched hunters forget time and time again and when you’re setting up for the hunt in the 100-degree heat you will wish you had one. Even something like a small plastic igloo cooler that can hold a few water bottles or anything else you may want to drink will make your afternoon more enjoyable.
Depending on how the birds are flying you could be hunting from the early afternoon until sundown. You don’t want to be on your feet that entire time which is why I always bring a stool or lawn chair. Again it seems obvious but I am always surprised when one of my buddies asks me if I brought an extra chair.
Something that will make your life a whole lot easier is having a bird bag or a shell bag. The obvious reason would be that you can have your loaded shells on one hip and the spent shells on the other. This will make it easier to reload for those hunts where you can’t seem to load fast enough as well as make your cleanup easier. The bird bag will also make your life after the hunt easier. If you just pilled them up underneath your chair on the ground chances are they’ll be crawling with ants and cleaning birds that are covered with ants is a special hell. You do not want to deal with it.
Another thing that will make your life that much easier is a good pair of bird shears. They make a world of difference when removing wings and legs and you'll save yourself time and frustration.
One final thing that can turn your hunt from good to great is a decoy. When most people think about decoys, duck hunting comes to mind but there have been innovations in decoy technology. Hunters have realized that a decoy appearing to land right in your sweet spot can be the convincing factor to bring in the weary birds. Ever since my first hunt with a decoy, I won’t sit without one.
Updated on December 6, 2022
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