For generations upon generations as far back as the locals in little towns across the Deep South can remember, there has been a long-standing tradition of Labor Day weekend dove hunting.
Typically, these are family affairs with a few close neighbors mixed in. More often than not an outside meal is cooked and you’ll usually find a bunch of old men sitting in lawn chairs under the shade of a live oak tree sipping libations, while spinning yarns.
I met Steven Poole during the Louisiana special teal season a couple years back, where we shared an agricultural field duck blind near Welch in the southwestern part of the state. He was someone I immediately hit it off with. What’s more, because of social media, Poole, who hails from Laurel, Miss., and I stayed in touch.
During more than one of our text conversations Poole invited me to hunt ducks with him in the Mississippi Delta. I always told him to give me a call when the ducks were down and I’d make the trip up to hunt. I wasn’t expecting to get a call from Poole two days prior to Labor Day weekend last year.
Knowing I was a sucker for wing shooting, Poole in his thick Mississippi accent started with, “Mr. John, I’m sittin’ here lookin’ at about 300 dove in a cutover corn field.”
“Oh uh-ahh,” I replied.
“Yes, sir — 300 dove — and we gonna hunt ‘em on Saturday if you wanna come,” he said. “You can come stay at the camp. My daddy is going to be there — he loves dove hunting — there’ll be twelve of us, all total, hunting.”
That Friday I found myself “lost” without cell service along a levee road somewhere between Satartia and Holly Bluff, Miss., with the sun setting fast. A massive cloud of billowing dust and dirt hung in the air behind me as I nervously sped on, all while trying to make sense of the directions Poole gave me.
Suddenly, I came upon a pickup truck parked along West Levee Road.
I stopped and rolled down my window to see if the gentleman named Henry Coggins and his wife Yolanda could possibly help me with directions, when Coggins said, “You must be that feller who’s lost that Poole’s looking for. He said wait right here and he’ll be coming to get cha.”
Relieved, I could slowly feel the tension in the back of my neck ease up. It had been a long drive from Morgan City.
The next morning found us sitting along a drainage ditch looking out over Poole’s cutover cornfield, where he saw the 300 dove a couple evenings before. What’s more, it wasn’t long before we had a few birds down and so did most of the other guys in our party strung along a tree line.
Poole’s location was perfect. On one side of the tree line lie Panther Swamp Wildlife Refuge with Lake George in between. On the other side between the tree line and Satartia Road lie several miles of recently harvested cornfields. In fact, on both sides of Satartia Road corn was being harvested.
It occurred to me that Poole had us dialed in on a spot where the dove wanted to be and it wasn’t by chance he guessed right. After all, they could have been anywhere in the vast agricultural area we were hunting.
Poole shot his first dove when he was five years old. Now 27, he has over two decades of experience learning from his father Joe.
Poole said, “One of the things you can and should do is scout. What I’ll do is take a day off work before the dove season and go scout and find out where the birds are. I’ve actually made a lot of friends over the years doing that. What a lot of people do is, traditionally on opening day they just go out and sit hoping they’re in the right spot. Sometimes it’s on a food plot with sunflower seeds. But, doves move around. So, I’ll go out and scout. The first thing is knowing where the birds are and what they like.”
One of things that dove like besides food resources and something he looks for when scouting is gaps between trees along tree lines. Poole says whenever you see a low spot along a line or wall of trees adjacent to a lake, field or canal dove act just like humans by taking the path of least resistance. Rather than fly over a tree they’ll often pass through the location where the low spot exists.
Another thing Poole looks for is bare dead trees, or trees with dead branches lacking leaves. Poole pointed out that dove will quite often fly into them and perch to look over a field to make sure there are no predators.
“I can sure enough tell you when I look at a field, within 20 minutes, where the birds are going to be passing. A wide dip in the trees is like a natural funnel, where dove pass through. These are also good spots to plant a few rows of sunflowers. The dove passing through these wide gaps will drop right in to feed when they’re going from one side to the other,” Poole said.
Poole also mentioned that dove don’t always fly along tree lines getting from point A to point B. He also says hunters should scout powerline and pipeline right of ways. Right of ways are easy travel paths that dove quite often prefer to use.
Like all game birds, dove have their moments. According to Poole, they’re “quirky!”
“Poole said, “Depending on the weather, depending on the moon, sometimes dove will get into a morning or afternoon feeding pattern. Other times a cool front will make them fly more and sometimes will even shut a field down. This is the South Delta on the Little Sunflower, Whitington Canal and Yazoo River. We’ve got five acres of sunflowers. We’ve got a lake bank and 400 to 500 hundred acres of freshly cut cornfield with waste grain on it. And, we sometimes struggle.”
While hunting with Poole, one of the things we used were Mojo dove decoys. In such a vast agricultural countryside it’s necessary to pull out a few stops where dove is concerned.
Poole said, “In the Delta, everything is flat. If you had a bunch of hills, a Mojo dove might not necessarily work. But, when you can see a mile or two in any direction, a dove can see the wings rotating. A mechanical Mojo dove gives them a spot to locate and also you a few seconds to shoot at them.”
Poole also says multiple Mojo dove decoys placed on several levels can be even more effective when it comes to attracting dove.
You can’t have a dove hunt without camouflage involved. Well, you can, but Poole stresses the importance of it.
“A lot of people don’t think it’s all that important, but camouflage is essential. It’s important to cover up and blend in with your surroundings and not silhouette yourself. Dove have good eyesight and they catch every movement. Which is another thing — do not move. A lot of guys move around, but dove pick up on that movement a lot quicker than noticing you sitting there,” Poole said.
Poole, who happens to also be a professional dog trainer, likes to use the early September dove season to tune up his labs prior to the duck season. During our hunt, several of the hunters in our party had the same idea. And I had to admit, to watch them all work added to the overall Mississippi dove hunt experience.
Poole and his father Joe happen to have planted sunflowers along a gap in the tree line we hunted near. What’s more, it didn’t hurt that we were hunting over a field with waste grain on it. But, other plants that are popular in both Louisiana and Mississippi is brown-top millet, which produces a lot of seeds per acre, milo and also partridge pea.
Hay fields and even wheat fields planted during normal agricultural cycles are excellent sources of food that dove prefer and known to attract them. Moreover, sometimes grown over weed fields buffaloed prior to dove season are natural locations dove will flock to.
Although Poole and I were hunting private property, both Mississippi and Louisiana have plenty of public opportunity to hunt dove. Mississippi has twelve public area wildlife management areas designated.
A web search will also produce regional outfitters in Mississippi who do day hunts on a small scale for a reasonable fee for those interested. Or, a social media — “throwing it out there” — post will surprisingly produce results as well. What’s more, sometimes for free.
Dove are not hard to kill, but from a preferred shot standpoint it boils down to how you’re targeting them. If you’re shooting birds over a food plot and perhaps using a couple of Mojo decoys, then an ounce or ounce-and-an-eighth of number 8 shot will work well.
However, if you’re pass shooting over an open agricultural field, along a tree line, or pipe or power line right of way, you may want to consider high brass ounce and an eighth high brass loads in 7 ½ shot size. Shots in this latter condition can be beyond 40 yards and with a small acrobatic target flying at high speed you need all the extra power you can get.
Labor Day weekend dove hunting is about family, kids, and having a good time. It’s about knocking the rust off your shooting skills and getting ready for the upcoming waterfowl season. Whether you’re hunting east or west of the Mississippi River on private or public land, it’s also about tradition. All you have to do is show up somewhere this summer.