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Opening Day Dove Shoot - By: Neil Dumas - Aug. 2004

"Third time does it...", they always say. This time was my third dove hunt and "THEY" were right! The first two times were "zip" because I placed my bet on the doves coming to a specific, large public area. Unfortunately, the doves just didn't know about the plan, so there were too many shooters standing shoulder to shoulder and too few birds.

What I now know is that the most important thing is to have a lot of places to choose from and go to the one that has doves! Plus, it's important to: dress right, take the right equipment and get the right advice. Here's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Last year my wife and I went to Schrader's Hunting, whose 25,000 acres and ten sunflower fields span three counties on Maryland's famous "Eastern Shore". It all begins with a home-cooked lunch from 10:30 am until noon. I was a little surprised by the large number of hunters, but Ken Schrader sorted us into small groups and matched us up with guides.

I have to say that the guys and gals were exceptionally nice to Betsy and me. While munching away, we told our stories and watched the skies. Best of all, we swapped phone numbers and email addresses.

Noontime we loaded up into our own trucks and convoyed about 10 miles to the Quail Covey Farm. Our guide was Hamilton "Ham" Parlett and his daughter, the amazing Ashley of sprint car fame. The beautiful, 20-something Ashley is the only woman on the pro-tour that runs from Canada to Florida, April to October.
Betsy and I were set up alike. Lightweight BassPro zip-pants, cotton camo, long sleeve tee shirts and mesh-back ball caps. We both carried new Stoeger Model 2000, 12GA, 3", semi-auto shotguns. These are Benelli Model M1, look-alikes, but made by a different division of Beretta. The Stoeger 2000 is lightweight, inexpensive, and very adaptable for short people. The plastic stock is completely empty and easily cut to Betsy's 12 1/2" length of pull. This is very unusual in a 12GA or any shotgun.

Betsy's barrel is 24" and mine is 26" even though 28" & 30" are available. It took us a few bird hunts until we finally discovered that fast handling in the field (shorter barrels) was more important than some theoretical long-range shot. For doves, we used $2.99 per box, #8 Remington Field Loads and carried two chokes (improved and modified) each since nobody knew in advance what the shooting would be like.

Betsy sat on an Ameristep Model 822, High-Back Camo Chair (810-686-4035, www.ameristep.com) and I used the unusual, full swivel, Deluxe Super Field Seat with built-in foam cooler (Action Products, 816-633-5514, www.actionp.com). We noticed that everyone else was using some kind of bucket seat like the Action Products Swivel-Top Tote.

Betsy is thinking about changing seats because the unpredictable, bullet-like doves take a lot of swiveling to track. Her problem is that she likes to carry her own gear and, unfortunately, she says that the Super Field Seat may be too heavy for her and the bucket has no back. Since we hunt together, next time we'll take one of each and swap off... maybe that'll work. Lastly, we both recommend you drink plenty of water (Ham came around with it every hour) and wear plenty of sunscreen & bug-spray.

After discussing safety, Ham sorted us out in a "T" pattern among rows of cut and upright sunflowers. There was one line of ten shooters that ran east-west forming the T-top and six shooters in the north-running line that formed the long base. Luck-of-the-draw, Betsy & I were the last two at the bottom of the "T".

This was hard-cheese for Betsy & me! The doves flew all day either from the south (straight into the other side of the T-top) or from the west (right down the T-top). This meant that, most of the time, the Top-Ten formed a barricade of #8 shot or the Top-Ten got to shoot'm one after another. It was then we switched to the modified chokes because the Top-Ten were pushing the doves up. Even though we six shooters got the leftovers, there was still enough for Betsy & I to eat up two boxes of Remington's High-Velocity loads.

For myself, I shoot "expert"- I can miss under every possible condition! So, there I was "busting sky" when the angelic Ashley came by. She began spotting the birds for me and sat with me for a while. Finally she said: "Do you realize you're always shooting behind?" I always get out about two feet in front because I have a habit of stopping my swing."

So I tried it and found that when my barrel was in front of the bird (i.e., I could see the bird behind my swing), the doves just fell out of the sky!!! Good advice.
Needless to say, a good time was had by all. Betsy and I both recommend you try Schrader's Hunting, 900 Red Lion Branch Road, Millington, Maryland 21651, 410-778-1895, www.schradershunting.com, letsgohunting@schradershunting.com.


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