Outside of summer cotillions, antebellum pilgrimages and Fourth of July celebrations, there is little in the way of mass social gatherings in Mississippi until dove season rolls around about Labor Day. Having attended my share of these ritualistic smoothbore gunning events, they are well worth the wait through any kind of hot, humid and muggy Mississippi summer.

When I moved here from Missouri in 1983, I already came to the Magnolia State with high expectations for dove hunting forays. As a kid raised in a Delta-like farming community in Southeast Missouri, the biggest deal of the year was the annual dove hunt. Wingshooting aficionados would arrive from all over the county to throw lead shot at the diminutive silver missiles.

For a youngster observing from the sideline, it was quite a big deal. I probably would have loved it more except for that blasted .410 Stevens bolt-action shotgun I got “hand-me-down” from my brother.

A classic dove hunt

It was pleasing to find out that dove hunting is still held in such high regard when I arrived on the scene here. Only, I’d have to say that some Mississippi dove hunters certainly know how to take the event to a whole new level of social propriety.

Case in point was outfitter, deer and turkey guide extraordinaire George Mayfield from Aliceville, Ala., owner of the famous Roost, a premier commercial hunting operation and lodge just across the state line from Macon. In fact, Mayfield leased about as much hunting land in Mississippi as Alabama, so he counts as a Mississippian in my book. This boy, who schooled at Southern Miss, knew all the ins and outs of conducting a gentile dove hunt with character and flair.

Mayfield would disk up a whole bunch of fields after corn harvest or fields covered in weed seeds in preparation for his annual hunts. Word-of-mouth advertising would be sent out, and by the dawn of the first day of dove shooting, some 200 hunters would descend on the grounds of The Roost to be shuttled by his staff out to predetermined shooting positions.

As the blasting started, Mayfield was putting together the dove hunter feeds to end all feeds. The day’s-end gathering would be complete with piles of freshly grilled bacon-wrapped dove breasts and a whole host of other southern delicacies like barbecue or fried catfish, and too many trimmings to count.

I have never seen anybody before or since do the hunting of doves like Mayfield and The Roost. It was indeed a traditional southern social event with people hanging around and visiting for hours like a wedding reception.

Though Mayfield drew up an original blueprint for the perfected southern dove hunt, there was really nothing so out of the ordinary that any other group couldn’t duplicate it with ample planning and forethought. It can be done as simple as a few good hunting buddies, a good dove field, a portable grill, charcoal, steak fixins, a bowl of salad and some fold-out easy chairs. Start now, and get it ready to go.

A good dove hunt can be pulled off with little preparation, but I don’t recommend it. Central to this is, of course, having a good dove field set up. Believe it or not, this is getting increasingly difficult to find in some areas of the state, especially as row-crop farming of grains declines. Fortunately, though, with the new interest in ethanol fuel made from corn, planting of this prime dove attractant is picking up speed across the state.

A good dove field is also defined as having ample roost trees on the border or nearby. Ideally, there would also be a source of standing water on the property. I have been told that doves flying over a property see the reflections of sunshine in the water, and are easily attracted to it. All I can say is that where there has been food and water, the doves do come. Without it, the shooting can be slim to none.

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks began to recognize the lack of good public-access dove fields back in 2005.

“We have worked hard to put together a new program we call the Private Lands Dove Field Program,” says Scott Baker, migratory bird program leader for the wildlife department.

This is a cooperative venture between the wildlife department and private landowners to lease established dove fields for public access.

Each site has specific hunting dates and rules. Also, every hunt conducted on these privately leased lands is supervised by a wildlife agent attending each designated hunt. Check out the wildlife department web site for these dove hunting locations and dates at www.mdwfp.com.

This brings up another essential element to a good dove hunt: Dove hunts always seem to be more productive not only where there are naturally plenty of doves on the wing, but just as importantly, lots of shooters in the field. Having ample numbers of hunters safely spaced out to saturate dove field coverage keeps the birds flying. Invariably, the more shooting that goes on, the more the birds tend to rocket about.

Gear up

Debate is cheap on the merits of the best dove gun.

“Give me a reliable semi-auto 12-gauge with a medium-length barrel anytime,” says avid dove hunter Rick Bedwell of Petal. “Make the choke modified. Then supply me with a case of No. 7 ½ or 8 shot shells.”

Dove shooting is a tough game, so the best tactic is to throw a lot of shot in a wide pattern. Leave the tight chokes and small gauges for the expert wingshooters. Youth hunters can experience success with a 20-guage, but some target practice with clay pigeons may be in order.

Dove hunting is best conducted in light, cool clothing, camo or not. Bring a cooler with favorite drinks, but don’t forget water. Pack a lunch and snacks. Have sunscreen as needed. Wear a hat and sunglasses. Fabric blinds can offer an advantage, but have fold out chairs, too.

Dove hunting can be made into a great social event. Invite some hunting buddies, wife, girlfriend and bring the kids, too. Watch your safe shooting zones, and pick up your empty hulls.