The first 10 days of the early mourning dove season have produced mixed results for Carroll County hunters. Blame it on the excessively dry weather that has pushed up area corn chopping operations, which in turn has served to prevent concentrations of these abundant game birds.
"I've never seen so many farms chopping corn this early," said hunter Wayne Albaugh of Uniontown. "But, if you look at a couple of ears of field corn, you can see that already it is drying out."
With so many choice harvested cornfields to choose from, area doves simply are not concentrating in large numbers in isolated fields. This makes for hit-or-miss hunting site choices.
The best bet now is probably to locate a prime roosting site, which can offer some exceptional shooting opportunities late in the afternoon and early evening.
I hunted with Albaugh and Hampstead's Richard Gonsman last Saturday and though we got in some shooting, Albaugh and I agreed that it was the slowest opener in memory. We have been dove hunting partners for many years and the site we chose was one with a long record of giving us great shooting.
I snapped off a shot with my 20-gauge Winchester pump that bagged the first bird of the season for us just minutes after setting up shop in a meadow separating three cornfields. A partially cut field was to our front, two others a quarter-mile away on the same farm.
"Let's sit together for awhile until we can get a fix on flight paths," Albaugh suggested. Moments later I caught a glimpse of the doomed dove as it rocketed over our shade trees and toward the cut field to our front.
Then a long time passed before the second shot was fired -- again by me. This was a fast, seemingly easy incoming bird with a slight quartering angle. I snapped the little 20-gauge to my shoulder and slapped the trigger at the right instant to get him.
An hour passed and though we saw good numbers of doves moving around nothing passed within range and no flight pattern could be fingered. Other farms around us, which normally would be alive with the sound of shotgun fire, were equally quiet. We'd hear a shot or two from time to time, but that was it.
In desperation, we split up and took stands at various spots around the meadow that the birds would cross from time to time. I soon got a couple more opportunities and Gonsman pulled off a snappy shot on a difficult right quartering away bird. He missed with the first shot, took his time nicely and connected on the second barrel of his Charles Daley 12-gauge over-under. Albaugh never got a shot all afternoon.
On Labor Day I attended the Orioles game, but Albaugh hit the dove fields again. He hunted a farm that we had great success with the last few years near Union Bridge.
"I got some shooting in, but it was still awful slow," he reported to me the next evening. "It was just like Saturday's hunt -- I saw plenty of birds moving, but just couldn't get a handle on a flight path."
Gonsman, a first-time Maryland hunter, was required to show proof of passing a certified Hunter Safety Course before purchasing his license.
If you need to get your certificate before hunting season progresses too far, check into these class start dates -- Tuesday and Oct. 10 at Dug Hill Rod & Gun Club, near Manchester, call 374-4360; Sept. 27 and Oct. 11 at the Mount Airy IWLA, call 829-2475; Oct. 3 at Taneytown Rod & Gun, call 756-6308; Beaver Run Fish & Game, near Finksburg, Nov. 7, call 876-0896.
Hear about fly fishing
Philip Krista, a noted fly-fishing guide on the Patapsco River, Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, will discuss how to fly-fish local saltwater Thursday at the Patapsco Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited's meeting.
The meeting gets under way at 7 p.m. at the Bear Branch Nature Center.