SNYDER: It's time to sharpen your shooting skills for dove season


It's time to blow the dust off the shotguns and tune up your shooting skills.

You've got just more than a month until one of the most exciting hunting seasons of the year kicks off.

On Sept. 1, Pennsylvania's late-summer dove-hunting season opens. That means the time to prepare for the season is right now. It's time to practice.

Anybody who has ever been fortunate enough to spend a day chasing doves knows that they're one of the trickiest birds to shoot. Their small size and erratic movements make them a tough target. It's like trying to swat a fly with a fork. Just when you think you have one figured out, it wittingly darts off in the opposite direction.

The weeks before the season opener is the time to be warming up your shooting shoulder by staring down the sights of your trustiest shotgun. With dove season just a few weeks away, smart hunters are already at the range practicing with clay birds.

While they don't move nearly as quickly or unpredictably as the real thing, the brightly painted round discs are a great way to practice for days when the sky is filled with birds. A few dozen shots should have you shooting like a pro.

Once you feel confident with your shooting skills, it's time to take to the fields and partake in some preseason scouting. Far too many hunters wait until just days ahead of the season, or even the opening day, to scope out their hunting territory.

They won't have anywhere near the same success as hunters who spend some quality time studying the fields. Preseason homework almost always pays off. Patterning doves is not all that difficult.

The migratory birds are already in the area, locked in their daily routines. They spend their nights roosting in the sanctuary of heavy woods. Then, at first light, they head from the forest into the fields to feed.

If they get thirsty, they'll stray to a nearby watering hole, but the majority of the day is spent on the ground, searching for food. Fields with lots of grain on the ground are prime dove-hunting spots. Look for areas where strong rains have washed grain into a loose pile. Doves will almost certainly flock to the easy meal.

Once you've found an area that looks promising, pick your shooting location. Find a spot that offers plenty of structure, not only to attract doves, but also to camouflage your location.

Doves have great eyes and often have no problem spotting the least bit of movement. While hunting, always be sure to stay still and use good camouflage techniques to break up your outline.

Don't waste any more time wishing and dreaming about hunting season. It's almost here. Get outside. Spend some time scouting and honing your shooting skills.

Once September rolls around, you'll be glad you did.

Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at