Dove season in Mississippi can bring together an eclectic group of folks. But it is the coming together of friends, family, kids, work associates, miscellaneous acquaintances and other unknowns that makes dove hunting in the Magnolia State so special. Mississippi dove hunting is social first, then hunting second.

Securing a place to shoot

Dove hunting season approaches, usually opening around the Labor Day weekend. So you don't have a place to dove hunt? Then start checking ads in local newspapers for pay-per-day open hunts. These hunts have become very popular in recent years, especially the ones sponsored by farmers who are trying to turn an extra dollar on lands they own or lease. Dove hunts can turn a good source of revenue if managed right. They provide an excellent hunting opportunity for the public, too.

When calling to secure a spot on a dove field, be prepared to ask a lot of questions. Of course, ask the price for half-day or all-day hunt per hunter. Ask about the times of the hunt and any special rules or regulations set by the sponsor. How many hunters will be posted on the field and how is the field prepared, etc.? Can ATVs be used in the field? Are supervised youth hunters welcome?

Pay hunts can certainly be the way to go for a lot of hunters looking to bust some shotshells on doves. Just plan ahead to make sure you take everything you need.

Dove hunt sunshine can be warm, humid, burning and bug-laden. Pack accordingly with plenty of cold non-alcoholic drinks. Some hunts offer a field lunch, but on most, you will be on your own. Stock an ice cooler with lunch meat, bread, chips, and whatever else the kids like to eat. Make the hunt a picnic, too, and the memories will last even longer.

Oh, yeah, bring lots of shells.


Rare invitations to exclusive hunts

In Mississippi there are lots of exclusive dove hunts across the state. In particular, there are dove hunts held in the Delta farming region that are not only highly social events, but also historic in nature. Some of those old plantations and row crop farms have been hosting dove hunts for maybe a hundred years or more. For the most part, these are closed-shop hunts offered only to close family, business partners and close associates. An outsider invitation is rare.

For years now, there has been such a dove hunt held near the Raymond Airport in Hinds County southwest of Jackson. It's hard to say who the official sponsor of this hunt is, but the group that gathers there every year is a pretty mixed bag of great folks. Some of them work at the nearby college, some farm, some sell stuff, a few work for the county sheriff. But they all come together to dove hunt. It's a special gathering.

This past opening dove day, one guy pulled into the shaded parking area in a huge motor home. He came for a little dove shooting before pulling out to attend a college football game. Another guy hauled in a massive smoker-cooker, and spent the morning cooking enough chicken to feed the horde of 50-plus hunters. Everybody who ate pitched paper money in the cash jar. Kids were everywhere running, sitting around, eating, downing cold soda and just having a super time. Parents sat around in lawn chairs visiting, eating and waiting for the afternoon hunt. Everything was organized, planned and executed to a tee.

ATVs and Razors cruised about hauling water coolers, ice chests, game bags, chairs, boxes of shells and shotguns out to the hay bales that had been pre-arranged all about the huge open field. Hunters picked out their own bales, which were strategically placed so that dove shooters at each bale would not be shooting in the direction of any other group. Imagine the time it took to cut the hay, roll the bales then place them into safe shooting positions. This was a team effort at its best.

Lucky me, I got an invitation to attend the hunt as an observer, but I sure didn't push my luck to ask to carry a gun - at least last year. I partnered up at a hay bale with Randy Pearcy of Madison, who is the head of the aviation department at nearby Hinds Community College. Pearcy teaches both classroom work and hands-on flying lessons to record numbers of students at the college.

Basically everyone was in place and ready to hunt by 3 p.m. It didn't take long for the popping of shotgun shells to start ringing out across the field. In some cases, dogs did the retrieving of downed birds, and in others the anxious kids did the running. The shooting was intense for 30 minutes non-stop.

Then calm fell on the shooting for a while. Around 5 p.m., the horizon to the south of the airport turned increasingly black. Lightning and thunder accentuated the front rolling in. As the blue-green clouds approached our dove field, the number of doves being pushed our way by the oncoming storm was unbelievable. For another 30 minutes, barrels stayed hot to the touch until the rain finally hit. Dove hunters scattered for cover.

I never did get a body count, but it had to be in the hundreds. In terms of social interaction, a good time, youth hunter mentoring, and the shooting opportunity, the Raymond Airport hunt was tops. Such events were happening all over Mississippi that weekend. And that's the best part about dove hunting in the Magnolia State.