After an unusually slow start, dove-hunting prospects hav improved considerably throughout the area.
Unlike past summers, this year's ample rainfall encouraged local farmers to delay corn-chopping operations a little longer than usual. This worked to slow the hunting action. A freshly harvested cornfield tends to draw large numbers of doves and provide super hunting.
Last week, I joined Wayne Albaugh and Westminster's Ron Jopsey for hunting at a friend's farm in the Taneytown area. Albaugh and I had tried to hunt this place the previous weekend, but with little success. The simple reason for the slow going was that we had showed up a week too early.
"I had planned to start choppin', but then we had that rain," our host said. "But you come on back next week and I should have some shootin' for you."
The three of us met at the northern Carroll County farm at 2:30 and were on our chosen stands and ready to burn powder half an hour later. Over the years, Albaugh and I have enjoyed an almost selfish amount of dove hunting together for something like a dozen years.
One of the important things we have learned after sharing hunts is that the best shooting usually begins around 3 and lasts until 5 or maybe 30 minutes longer. Legal hunting hours throughout this early dove season are noon to sunset.
We set up shop on a 10-acre piece of freshly chopped cornfield that was bordered on one side by a soybean field, standing corn on the opposite side and a tree-lined fence row at the back property line. South of the fence row was a wood lot, which as it turned out, was used by the doves as a nesting area.
By the time we wrapped up the afternoon hunt, Jopsey and I had repositioned ourselves along the fence row, while Albaugh stayed at his original spot along the soybean field.
This was done to take advantage of the birds' flight path into and out of the feeding area and subsequent return to their nesting site in the adjoining wood lot.
These final moves also involved positioning ourselves to take advantage of our personal shotgunning strengths.
As it turned out, most of my shots involved doves streaking left to right at a slight going-away or incoming angle at between 25 and 35 yards. Thanks to a brisk tail wind, these birds were really moving.
By the time I got the feel for the challenge, I was leading most doves as much as 15 feet off the end of my 20-gauge Browning's barrel.
Albaugh, who is pure poison with a shotgun, was the only one who managed to limit out with the fewest number of shells. But then, I purposely had assigned him to a spot where he would get only slow incomers at 20 paces.
Waterfowl dates, limits set
A number of readers have inquired about this year's waterfowl season dates and limits.
Those dates are: Canada geese, Nov. 16-27 and Dec. 4-11 (limit one bird a day) and Dec. 12 to Jan. 20 (two birds daily); snow geese, Oct. 24-Nov. 27 and Dec. 1-Feb. 10 (four birds a day); Brant, Nov. 16-27 and Dec. 15 to Jan. 20 (two birds daily); ducks, Oct. 16-17, Nov. 26-27 and Dec. 15-Jan. 9. Black ducks may be hunted only on Nov. 26-27 and Dec. 15-Jan. 9.
Hunters are allowed three ducks daily, which may include no more than one hen mallard, one pintail, two wood ducks, one redhead, one fulvous tree duck and one black duck (during the special season).
Sea ducks, which are about as much pure fun as a hunter can stand in a single day, may be hunted from Oct. 9 to Jan. 20, and the daily bag is five.
Take some advice from one who has learned the hard way. Do all of your sea ducking early, while the weather is relatively nice. In years past I have called it quits by Thanksgiving and never have regretted the decision.