The first Saturday in September is considered by most the biggest day of the dove hunting season in Georgia. While the mourning dove season in Georgia is a cumulative 90 days, for most hunters this is the only day that really matters. While you can go to a private land paid hunt, a lot of people want to spend $150 per person to shoot a field, me included. Lucky for us the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division sets up public dove fields in Wildlife Management Areas or Voluntary Public Access area. These public fields are prepared by the agency to attract as many doves as possible every year. So that was the plan to hit the dove fields up at Berry College WMA.
It was a last-minute thing that me and a buddy put together with most of the planning occurring a couple of nights before the opener. So the night before the shoot, I loaded up my truck with everything we would need. A cart, decoys, shells, a good folding chair, and a small cooler. That way it would be easier and faster in the morning to get over to my buddy’s place and get on our way to the fields. Shooting light that morning was to start at 6:45 a.m., 30 minutes before official sunrise. So the plan was to meet up and load up his truck by 5:30 a.m. and get up to Berry College WMA by around 6:00 a.m.
Everything went pretty smoothly besides me running a little late, we got all my gear loaded into his truck along with his and his pup, Violet, and got on the road. Luckily for us, it’s only a 20-minute drive compared to the usual one-and-a-half-hour drive I was used to for the other WMA I went dove hunting at. As we pulled up the fields we honestly thought oh it won’t be crowded, seeing how empty the roads were. We were both very wrong, while the roads were pretty empty the gravel parking lot was not. We were just later than most of the other hunters. But honestly, it didn’t matter too much besides trying to find parking, as no one was allowed onto the fields until an hour before sunrise.
So we got all our gear and loaded it into the cart, and walked up to the gait, and waited till it was time. Once 6:15 a.m. rolled around everyone was moving, a kind of rushed walk through the dark. No one was running really, but everyone was trying to move a little ahead to get to the spot they wanted first. With all of these hunters, there was plenty of competition for what people thought would be their honeyhole. We kept walking to the rear field, a mowed field of millet. We found a spot on the corner of the trees and brush and set up our spot. Once the decoys were out we just waited. Shooting light came, but the fields were still quiet. Around 7:00 a.m. finally we heard some shots from behind us in the sunflower fields closer to the entrance.
The weather was cool, and mostly overcast that morning. While the forecast for doves this year for the fields was good, the opener was starting off pretty slow. We would occasionally hear the shots behind us but even as sunrise came and went the doves were a bit sporadic. A few here and there, usually either to the left or right of us, and if they flew from across the field usually getting turned by a couple groups of hunters set up on the hay bales in the middle of the field. Occasionally though we would get a few shots on birds, while my inexperience and my buddy’s ammo issues did make landing those hits a bit difficult. While I had already taken the Savage Renegauge Field model out trap shooting already a dove and a clay are two very different things. The Savage was a dream to shoot at least, compared to my old O/U the recoil system made shooting it super comfortable.
For the first couple hours of the morning, it stayed a bit slower like this but we did have a couple of doves try to land in the decoy spread. But because they flew in low and how crowded the fields were we held off shooting at them for safety reasons. While we didn’t get the doves it is always nice to see that your decoy spread actually worked. Things started picking up though, the birds were moving a bit later this morning.
I think it was due to the overcast conditions but correct me if I’m wrong. We would see a couple birds here and there and then some bigger groups of 4 or 5 start to fly by. We even downed a couple of birds as the morning went on, but the first couple went straight into the briars behind us. That stuff was so thick you couldn’t see more than 8ft into it and Violet couldn’t push through it.
While we still didn’t have a dove in hand, we at least had some incredibly tasty venison snack sticks that my buddy brought. A much better hunter than me he had these from deer he got last season. But things were going to change the doves were picking up, with more and more flying over the fields. You could hear all the shots going off all around, the shouting and yelling of excited hunters. While some may not like the crowds there’s a charm to it, it keeps the energy up and even is helpful when others would tell you off a bird coming in over your shoulder. That sort of warning got us our first couple of birds that Violet could actually retrieve from the field. She was ecstatic finally getting to grab a bird after seeing them go down around her all morning.
We ended up dove hunting till a little before noon. The birds ramped up a good bit before seeming to quit. Along with the slow down, we knew the amazing weather was only going to last so long before the hot midday sun was going to peak out from behind the clouds. So we decided to call it a day and head out. Packing all the gear and trash back into the cart we did our walk out of the dove fields. Of course, as we left another group of doves flew across. While we got nowhere near a limit of doves, for a last-minute trip where we went in blind besides some satellite pictures I can’t complain. I could not have asked for a better opening day of dove hunting; great weather, great company, and loads of fun.