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How to Be a Better Dove Hunter Day 1: Learn from Your Mistakes in a Dove Field

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Editor’s Note: Dove season starts soon, and nothing’s more fun than tailgating with friends in a dove field to start your hunting season. You can wear masks and socially distance during this pandemic time while hunting doves.

In all sports, an athlete performs best when the tool he uses becomes a part of his body. A book I read many years ago on instinctive shooting was “Become the Arrow,” by Byron Ferguson (, a world champion bow shooter. Ferguson says that to shoot accurately and distinctively, you have to become the arrow, with the arrow becoming a part of your body or at least feeling like a part of your body. The same is true for a tennis racket, a golf club, a baseball bat or any other tool an athlete uses to participate in his sport. So, to shoot accurately in a dove field, you’ve got to have a shotgun that at some point feels like an extension of your body. When you bring the gun up to take the shot, the gun should feel like it’s supposed to be there. You’ll know when this happens when it automatically goes to the right spot on your cheek, and you’re looking straight down the barrel without seeing the barrel while concentrating on a dove.

Oftentimes, you may go into a sporting-goods store with numbers of shotguns for sale, bring a shotgun to your shoulder and say, “I can shoot this one,” because it just feels right on your shoulder. If you have a shooting instructor, he/she can see how you mount the gun and give you some suggestions on what type of gun you need and/or what modifications you may need to make the gun better. All guns are made differently by various gun manufacturers with each featuring different drops and casts. Major gun manufacturers build guns for the “every man,” who’s 5’9 to 5’10 feet tall and has a medium build and 33-34 inch arms. However, few people in a dove field fit that size.

If you’re a bowhunter, you won’t go into an archery shop or a big box store and pick out a bow without determining your draw length, the amount of weight you want to shoot and the type of sight that’s most comfortable for you. Yet, when going dove hunting, we’ll often grab any shotgun perhaps without a rifle scope on it or just borrow one. No matter what type of wing shooting you plan to do, the gun you shoot needs to be fitted to you for you to shoot the most automatically and accurately.

I once attended an outdoor-writer event early in my career at a sporting-clays range, which hunters often used to prepare for dove season. To be honest, I was terrible. Everyone else in my group was shooting better than me. I tried to aim above, ahead or below those clay targets and missed many more than I hit. To say I was at the bottom of the class of shooters would be an understatement. Then, that afternoon, we went to a Crazy Quail ( range where a clay target thrower rocks back and forth, swivels and throws clay targets in many different directions. The shooter never knows which way the target will fly until he sees the target.

Remembering my poor performance at the sporting-clay range, I decided I’d just bring my shotgun to my shoulder and shoot automatically or instinctively, like I did when I got my first shotgun when I was 10-years old. I broke the first five birds. My friends laughed and observed, “Even a blind hog can find an acorn every now and then.” I realized, if I could do what I just did, I could break more clay targets. So, I didn’t worry about aiming. I looked at the target and shot. That was one of the proudest moments of my life, and I never shot that well before or after that event. However, I realized that our bodies had the ability to make the calculations required to shoot accurately, if we trained our bodies to concentrate on a target without thinking about the gun. And that works for dove hunting too.

If you enjoy hunting for all species, to learn more about elk hunting, check out John E. Phillips’ book,  “Elk: Keys to 25 Hunters’ Success” – in Kindle and print versions and Click here for an Audible link. You may have to copy and paste the clicks in your browser.

Tomorrow: Train Your Muscle Memory and Have Your Eyesight Checked to Shoot Better in a Dove Field

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