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Youth Shoots First Dove on Season Finale Hunt

Dove hunting season extends into the middle of January, outlasting the South Carolina deer season by a full two weeks. If maintaining a dove field to hunt is a marathon, then the final two weeks of the season is more like a sprint to the finish line. At one season finale hunt an 11-year old youth made a pretty passing shot on a dove, sending the grey bird on its rainbow arc descent to the ground with feathers flying. The youth let out a whoop over this rite of passage, resonating with all the wingshooters in the field.
Many dove fields in Colleton County were active on Saturday January 12 since it was the final weekend hunt date. Many dove hunts during the season are scheduled based on the number of doves flying around, but not so for the last Saturday of the season. This hunt is more of a last chance to come together to hunt, meeting up and going into the field together using teamwork.
Putting together a patchwork of hunters that want to come hunt doves one last time can be tough since late season doves are known to be finicky. It’s not very likely that many hunters will take a limit of 15 doves, so you have got to understand mentally that you are going afield with an eye on the time spent in the outdoors. A good rule of thumb is to ask for a little help from your friends by informing them that they can bring a guest to the hunt. Your own friends tend to be your own age, but when the guests were added to the list, we ended up have a range of hunters from age 11 up to age 80.
One friend brought his father, age 80, who is an avid deer hunter. The father told me that this was a good way to get out of the house, and though the temperature was 50-degrees with a cold breeze, he shared how being outside will make him feel better. To his credit he can swing a shotgun and retrieve his birds without hesitation, and I bet everyone else in the field views his example as one we hope to achieve one day.
My longtime colleague Charles Waring elected to bring his 11-year old nephew Axel Gruber of Charleston to the dove hunt. Gruber has been with his uncle on a deer drive before, but he had never been to a dove hunt and was eager to attend. The two hunters would share a stand in the field and Waring would mentor everything from how to use hearing protection and rising up to shoot his double-barrel 20-gauge shotgun.
When the shooting started about 2 p.m. everyone saw that the doves were present. I was on the move to retrieve a dove and stopped by this duo’s stand to check in and Gruber remarked that he likes a dove hunt because of all the action. We decided to move them over about 20-yards into the field, but explained that hunters make adjustments during a hunt to get closer to where the birds are routinely flying. Every aspect of the hunt is a teachable moment for a youth, including something as simple as picking up spent shells before exiting the field.
The doves continued to fly well and it wasn’t long until Gruber got his chance. A lone dove crossed the field, flying past the powerline at his stand, and he took his shot. The bird folded and finished well away from his position, which is a sign that the bird had some momentum. Julian Clark and myself echoed Gruber’s boisterous yell because we both had a clear view of the momentous occasion. Walking down to his stand for a photo, Gruber was rightfully pleased with his result.
Gruber took advantage of this opportunity by harvesting his first dove on the last day of dove season, and just one month before his next birthday. It’s hard to believe I don’t recall the exact age when I shot my first dove, but I know that I was very young and that I was with my father, who took me dove hunting early and often. With decades of dove hunting notched on my belt now, I know that it takes effort to prepare a dove field and that each hunt opportunity is a blessing.
Some days the doves fly better than others, and that is just a part of hunting. In the long run, dove hunting reveals deeper themes in our sporting heritage. Any outdoor activity in life where people with a 70-year age range can participate together has merit. The older hunter doesn’t take a day in the field for granted, while the younger hunter often taps into a more heady experience of achievement. Traditions like these make Saturday afternoons during dove season extra special, and wingshooters will be counting the months until Labor Day restores them to the sporting calendar.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com.

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (362 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com