Mourning doves are murderous, evil little birds bent on our destruction. They fly onto our windowsills at night like stalkers, attempting to peek between our blinds with their beady little black eyes to determine our specific location, report it back to the flock, then find a weak spot in our domiciles (typically plumbing vents, chimneys, windows teenagers leave open despite repeated conversations about the importance of closing them “because we said so,” and doggy-doors), and attack in a “swarm o’ doves” as the phrase goes, ineffectually pecking at us with their teeny tiny beaks, yet truly bringing terror to our souls.
Which is precisely why Washington State, and likely many other, slightly less-cool states, established an annual mourning dove hunting season where apparently mostly men (ok, only men, which is lame as the last thing any party needs is the arrival of yet another car full of dudes) show up in camouflage despite the fact that mourning doves are not overly bright and will fly within feet of the human head, then promptly land 12 yards away and start pecking for seeds in an almost absent-minded fashion. Meaning, the camouflage is entirely unnecessary. You could hunt mourning doves in a Mariner Moose costume or a construction worker’s neon orange safety gear. Speaking of which, moose as a species is a relatively recent arrival to Washington. They started showing up from Canada or Idaho or some other place where the Wildlings live around 1977, presumably with bad cases of Disco Fever and thus looking for a place to spend their Boogie Nights. Now there are conflicting reports of the local moose population (mainly in Northeastern Washington State or any part of the state where gun ownership starts at roughly age 14). Some parts of the Internet say their numbers total 5,000, others 400, but either way, pay heed – there’s nothing worse than trying to figure out how to get a foraging, lackadaisical, slightly sleepy moose, Snoop Dogg, or Sam Perkins out of your yard/car/garage.
The dove season typically opens September 1st every year – a truly great day for mankind, just saying – making it the first time people get to blast away at living things since about January. Hopefully. Although there are some spring seasons for things like turkey (total opposite of doves, one has to be completely camouflaged, including the face, and completely motionless in a blind to harvest a turkey; also, there is no greater contrast than choking down some wild turkey as compared to the coddled, overfed, slightly anxious, couch-bound farm-raised Butterball variety we’re all used to – we also have it on good authority that Italians think turkey is “a dirty bird” and thus don’t eat it, which may be the best thing ever), cougar (stop it, we mean the predatory giant cat), rabbit, bobcat, and fox. We like to think farmers or people with land actually hunt cougar, rabbit, bobcat, and fox, which makes it more normal, as opposed to, well, some guy who lives by himself in an apartment downtown. Yikes.
The best part about dove hunting is the weather. Our recent visit to Moses Lake in Eastern Washington featured shorts, t-shirts, and multiple showers from the heat, which is much better than walking around like the Michelin Man and falling in icy parking lots. Even at dawn, the temperature was 55 degrees, pretty sweet.
The other best part about dove hunting is that, unlike other hunting experiences, it has great potential for actual shooting. Avid hunters don’t care for it thanks to the aforementioned; overall, ah, let’s call it a “lack of focus” and “general inattentiveness” inherent in the birds. Some people prefer game that pits man-wit to game-wit, requires careful stalking or luring with decoys (like duck), or could result in man-death if one isn’t careful (bear, both kinds of cougars). Others, like us, enjoy the opportunity for shooting, and mourning doves supply shooting in droves.
These birds do have one thing going for them – they fly in such irregular patterns it’s like trying to hit a honeybee with a quarter. They’re actually founding members of the International Aerobatic Club (IAC) – they bob and weave, rotate longitudinally (roll) and laterally (pitch), accelerate and decelerate rapidly, wear little red scarves, goggles, and an old-timey leather flight cap, and, like any good stunt pilot know when to leave a smoke trail; which, upon investigation, comes from the aircraft pumping biodegradable, paraffin-based oil directly onto hot exhaust nozzles (piston engines), exhaust fumes (jet engines), or in the case of doves a simple ignition of their butt fumes.
This airborne agility must be why some dove hunters insist on shooting gigantic, semi-automatic 12-gauge shotguns with three-inch shells despite the fact a dove weighs about five ounces and spans 12 inches in length, roughly three to four of which is the tail. For non-gun-wielding enthusiasts, the “gauge” of a shotgun refers to the diameter of the barrel/size of the shell. 12 is big, 10 is biggest, (inversely proportionate), 20 is an all-arounder, 28 is getting small (put perfect for doves).
The other reason may be that new shotguns are expensive and given that dove season technically runs for two months but peters out within three weeks because as soon as the temperature drops to about 50-degrees overnight, doves hightail it Mexico, given they’re essentially beach bums and love margaritas – leaving us the three-month-long, frigid duck and goose season where we sit in blinds shivering telling ourselves this is, overall, a good idea and worth missing birthdays and Seahawks games over – and that shooting a duck with anything less than a 12-gauge (ok, 20-gauges work) is not a good recipe for duck pie (yum), one can’t afford, financially or practically, to buy a new gun just for dove. More’s the pity.
Oh! A third best part about dove hunting is the ease of use. Due to their evolutional idiocy, there are two primary methods. The first is to stand under some nice looking willow, or any available tree fit for bird sleeping, at dusk. As they fly in to roost, you shoot. And miss and curse and try not to think about how much it just cost to pull the trigger, given the cost of a box of shells is about $25 or $1 per pull. The second is to stand (or preferably sit in a folding chair) in a crop field at dawn, ideally within a few hundred yards of those nice looking trees, then try and track and shoot at the lightning-fast silhouettes of the doves as they fly in for breakfast. Good luck. There is a third method that involves flapping your arms and stomping around a field at noon, bending over to peck at seeds while making soothing cooing sounds, but that’s kind of specialized thing only the really well-seasoned folks do.
The limit for dove is 15. We got four and missed about nine during our hunt at Moses Lake, which we were fine with. Given their tininess, one needs about ten doves for a three-setting meal, so we donated ours to this dude who said he’d feed his family and the neighbors with them. Doves are quite delicious – we’d say dove and pheasant are the best eating game birds. Ironically (based on the larger opportunity to get’em), ducks are the worst. We encourage smoking them or otherwise dividing them up and mixing them with other proteins to make it work – like turkey’s, wild duck is a far cry from the obese, farm-raised monsters one eats in a restaurant.
Oh! The final best parts about dove hunting include:
- Following the guy who knows where to go in a careening caravan on country roads in the dark at breakneck speeds. All hunters are paranoid they’ll lose their “spot,” even if it’s on their own land, so everyone’s always in a hurry to get there.
- Being the only one without a gigantic Ford F150, 250 or 350 and thinking you’ll get stuck in the weird, powdery, sand-like dirt that comprises unirrigated Eastern Washington soil.
- Not telling your wife how dirty her car got.
- Cleaning your gun in the hotel room when you’re done, as weird as that feels. There’s something soothing about the smell of gun oil. Trust us.
For the record, we’re kidding about the blasting away stuff. Hunting and shooting is an art and a skill that takes practice and, most importantly deserves your respect and attention. It’s challenging, and it’s fun.
So now you know what to do on September 1, 2022. We don’t care if you have other plans or don’t want to do it or think it’s barbaric or whatever. You’re booked. We’ll see you there. You’ll love it, trust us. And bring some snacks to share, okay? We get hungry out there standing in the field.