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By STEVE MERLO, Contributing columnist
With Sunday's September 1st opening day only two days away, hunters all over the country will be taking to the fields and deserts in hopes of taking home a 10-bird daily limit of mourning doves or adding a few unlimited Eurasian Collared doves to their overall bag. This year's prognosis seems to be better than average, with thousands upon thousands of the birds still calling the lower San Joaquin Valley home despite a recent cold snap.
Mourning doves are the most populous and most sought after game bird in North America, and the speedy gamesters are also the most difficult to consistently hit with a shotgun. Ammunition companies live for opening day, when the national average of birds hit to shots fired can be as much as one dove claimed for every seven shotshells expended.
Here's a quick list of do's and don'ts to point both novice and veteran hunters in the right direction for a safe and successful hunt:
1. Because the season begins on a weekend this year, most shooters will find crowded conditions as they jockey for positions a half-hour before sunup, and that can lead to flared tempers and occasionally, unsafe conditions. There will be plenty of birds flitting around, so let the low ones go and concentrate on taking shots at birds well above the dark, early morning horizon. Shooting low can severely hurt or blind someone, so pay attention to what's happening around you.
2. Each year, there are less and less areas to hunt, but I've found that most property owners will allow hunting on their farm grounds, orchards or fields by simply taking the time to ask for permission to do so. Hunting on private property without written permission will get you in hot water with not only the owner but a game warden or peace officer to boot.
3. The law says that hunters cannot shoot from or onto a paved road, so there's no set distance one has to be from a road in order to hunt. Common sense, the most overlooked virtue, should determine where one sets up in anticipation of the hunt.
4. Grapes, almonds and other nut orchards are being harvested at this time. No one, especially hard working laborers, enjoy having shot rain down on their position, so thoroughly check out your spot.
5. Take along plenty of insect repellant. Mosquitoes are most active right at dawn and the West Nile Virus remains a prevalent danger in our area.
6. Nothing ruins a day in the fields faster than sunstroke. Pay special attention to both kids and hunting dogs and make them drink plenty of water or other hydrating liquids. Save the beer for after the hunt because alcohol can interfere with one's thinking process. Wait until the shooting's stopped and the guns are put away before popping that first tab.
7. Ammo is expensive and can be hard to find, especially this year. Save both shells and money by learning to swing well in front of passing birds so that shot pattern and feathers hit the same space at the same time. Forget using a full choke gun and keep an improved cylinder, skeet or other open choke in place to increase the odds of hitting your target.
8. Don't clean your birds in the field. It leaves an unsightly mess and the owner is liable to lose his cool at your inconsideration. Be sure to pick up all trash and empty shells and leave the area cleaner than you found it.
9. The daily limit is ten mourning doves, with thirty in possession after the third day. There is no daily or possession limit on Eurasian Collared doves and one can kill as many of the vermin as he or she wants during the season.
10. Say what?? That's right, my friends, learn to wear ear protection or risk permanently losing all or part of your hearing, like several friends and I have stupidly done after years of unprotected shooting. Also, shotgun blasts are loud and can cause irreparable harm to not only you but others nearby, so watch where the barrel points, for obvious reasons.
11. Don't forget your hunting license and upland stamp! If you have not recently taken a state approved hunter safety course or were previously registered in the DFW's Automated Licensing System, you will not be able to purchase one at this late date. Filling out a declaration is no longer a viable instrument for purchasing hunting licenses; however, once you are in the ALS system, you'll be in it forever.
12. Don't forget to make reservations at your favorite restaurant today. Waiting until Saturday or Sunday night to find a decent place to eat might not be easy, especially with thousands of other dove hunters in town.