The Enduring Delights of Dove Hunting

Friday, August 30, 2019 | 01:29pm

Over much of the South, and certainly, in Tennessee, the allure of dove hunting is an important, enduring tradition.  Nash Buckingham wrote about the rites of September in his incomparable fashion three-quarters of a century ago, and in some senses, nothing about the sport has changed. 

It is still a combination of a family reunion, an all-day singing with dinner on the grounds, and a matchless ritual of sporting camaraderie.  Dove hunting knows few barriers when it comes to age, sex, economic circumstances, or equipment. 

Just take a shotgun, plenty of shells, dress in camouflage or earth-tone clothing, perhaps carry a stool for sitting comfort, and you are prepared for what a longtime friend fondly suggests is “Christmas in September.”  

I know of no more apt description. After all, many months have passed since the conclusion of the spring turkey season, and taking to the sere fields of early autumn, with dust devils dancing across the landscape and grey-winged speedsters darting and diving as they draw cries of “mark right” or “coming in behind you,” is a pleasure beyond measure. 

Some folks will limit out with only a box or so of shells, while others will make the ammunition companies happy as they discover, perhaps to the tune of four or five boxes of shells, that the “x” of lead plus the “y” of swing don’t always add up to the “z” of a bird crumbling and tumbling from the sky.

There will be the inexpressible joy of seeing a boy’s face split with a fetching grin when he makes his first successful shot, the delight of watching a young dog learn the ropes of retrieving, the bittersweetness of accompanying an aged canine companion for which this will likely be the final season, and the sheer wonder associated with exposing a youngster to hunting. 

Throw in the fact that the sport is tailor-made for groups, that it lets kids come along as bird spotters or human retrievers years before they are ready to hunt on their own, and add the culinary appeal of a fine pre- or post-hunt feast, and you have the ingredients of sporting magic.

Alas, cultural changes, evolving land usage and agricultural practices, and increasing urbanization, among other factors, have, for more than a generation, posed threats to this quintessential part of the Tennessee sporting experience. 

Recognizing as much, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) has taken proactive steps to protect and perpetuate a legacy which anyone familiar with a real popcorn popper of a dove shoot readily recognizes as an experience we never want to see vanish into the mists of a sporting world we have lost.

With that in mind, TWRA has, for some years, made a practice of leasing dove fields for public hunts, on the Dove Hunting Page, under Regions.  This gives those who otherwise would have scant if any opportunities a place to scan the skies and savor wing shooting wonder at its best, while at the same time providing a welcome source of income to farmers and the type of habitat which keeps dove numbers high. 

As is ever the case, bird numbers for any season will be a matter of uncertainty right up until opening day.  A strong front or heavy rain just before the season’s onset can send birds winging southward, and the availability of food is always a key factor. 

But landowners of leased areas work under the idea of “if you plan for them, they will come,” and it is to their advantage, as it is for hunters, to have first-rate fields available.

In addition to the leasing program, TWRA also does management work, in the form of plowing and planting fields, on Wildlife Management Areas across the state.  These are, to be sure, not the only options, because all across the state private shoots continue, with some of them have been a family tradition for several generations. 

If you are lucky enough to be invited to participate in one of these, consider yourself blessed.  Likewise, if you find a private “pay to hunt” operation and the landowner has a good reputation, the cost, especially if it includes a meal, may well be worth it. 

But for newcomers to the sport or those anxious to find out just why it has such a special place in the lure and lore of Tennessee sport, an obvious beginning point is with a visit to and some browsing on our website.

You can find dove hunting licensing requirements, the seasons dates, a list of leased and managed dove fields in each of the TWRA’s four regions, special youth hunts, and much more. 

Everyone, from the novice anxious to get a solid grounding in what the sport involves to the veteran who needs to be certain of what constitutes a baited field or check out what type migratory bird permit he needs, should read this information on an annual basis.

Once you do your homework and decide on a destination, about all that remains are maybe a session or two of preparation on a sporting clays range and somehow finding the patience to be an adult “kid” as you await the arrival of opening day and Christmas in September.