Before I moved to southern California in 1997, I had never experienced the wonderful event that is dove season. I had not even really heard of it, being from Vermont, where they didn’t even have a season. Well, a few years after being settled out here, I decided to give it a try.
I headed out and found a spot, along with many other hunters. 3 hours and 36 rounds later, I had 3 doves. Now, I normally would have been disappointed in that, until I found out that the national average for the recreational dove hunter is around 9.5 shots per bird. So, I wasn’t too bad after all.
Fast forward a couple of more years. My parents would take a trip out here every Christmas together, but they would come separately during the summer to spread out the visits. One year, after a couple of years of my Dad hearing about all of the dove hunting, plus the tuna fishing that seemed to coincide with that, we decided to plan his trip around a few different recreational activities. The plan was to come out for 5 or 6 days, and we would get in some hunting, fishing, and golfing. Basically, a great father and son weekend.
So, the plans were made, and the time came. We made our hotel reservations out in “the valley”. I made sure to purchase a couple of hundred rounds for us to have, and we headed out the day before. We checked into our hotel, and then headed to the fields that evening for a little scouting.
My father was mesmerized, both by the amount of birds and hunters. The fields we hunt are fields that are run by the California Fish and Game, and are open to the public to hunt. “The Valley” is actually the imperial valley of California, which is a 30 by 60 mile swath cut out of the middle of the desert, lined with canals bringing water from the Colorado River. There are unlimited agricultural fields, and unlimited water, perfect habitat for the birds. We scout for an hour or so, looking at all the people set up in campers already and claiming their spots, and we watch thousands of birds make their way back from the fields to their roosts. We head back to town, grab a quick dinner, and then go to bed early, awaiting the next day of fun.
The alarm goes off at 3:45 AM, and we gear up, grab our trusty Remington Wingmasters, and head out. It’s an hour and a half before light, and it’s already 85 degrees. We stop by the store and get coffee, danishes, water and ice. We make our way to the field we had chosen the night before. We get there and find a spot sort of to ourselves. Then, over the next hour, as tons of vehicle lights and flashlights fill the field, we realize we are not going to be alone. I expected this, having hunted it before, but even though I told him, my Dad was still surprised at the sheer number of hunters out there. When all was said and done, the yearly estimate is 2,500 hunters in the public fields, give or take.
Well, as shooting time approached, there was an eerie hush filling the air. You could tell that it was one of those moments where everyone was waiting for the first shot, but nobody wanted to be the one to do it. Well, one shot went off, and the floodgates just opened up. It was steady shooting for 2 plus hours. Birds are flying everywhere, behind, in front, above, and all around. If you have never hunted doves, trust me when I say that they are about one of the toughest things to hunt. They are darting and diving all over. Unlike ducks, which can frustrate you by seemingly taking 3 shots to the body, losing half their feathers, and still flying away, these little rats with wings (as we like to call them) just can’t be hit. My father almost looks dazed and confused for the first bit. However, he finally gets into it and connects on his first dove. He hit his second a few minutes later. I hear the occasional “Aw, man”, or “How did I miss that thing?”. After shooting 50 rounds or so, he has finished with 5 birds. It’s already over 90 degrees, at 8:30 in the morning.
He’s all smiles as he talks about the craziness. BB’s are raining down on us from across the field, people and dogs everywhere, and we don’t have a care in the world. It’s all part of the experience. I ended up with a few more than him. We cleaned the birds, and got them iced and ready to go. We got cleaned up, checked out of the hotel, and had a good breakfast. During the 2 hour drive home, my father could not stop smiling and talking about this bird and that bird, our hits, and more frequently, our misses. It was a great time. Since that day, with the exception of one year for the birth of a child, we have not missed a season. It’s one of the weekends that I look forward to all year.