For sportsmen, opening day of dove season is a festive occasion when friends and families gather for some of the year^s most enjoyable and exciting hunting.
To keep the occasion happy, hunters should make safety a priority in the dove fields this September, said J.D. Peer, hunter education coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. With so many hunters often shooting in tight quarters, there^s a significant potential for accidents, Peer added, but mishaps can be eliminated by taking a few simple precautions.
"Oklahoma has one of the fewest rates of injury due to firearms in the nation," Peer said, "but there are a few risks inherent to dove hunting that require special consideration. Birds come in fast and you^ve usually got a lot of people shooting. However, those risks can be neutralized if everyone simply looks out for one another."
One of the first things dove hunters should consider before going afield is their choice of clothing. Most dove hunters like to wear camouflage clothing to avoid spooking birds, but Peer said the effect of camo is sometimes overstated, especially on opening day of dove season when birds haven^t yet been spooked. Instead, Peer recommends wearing solid hunter orange, or a broken pattern that includes hunter orange.
"I think doves react more to movement than to color," Peer said. "Of course, orange magnifies movement, so a lot of people don^t like to wear it. However, I^ve stood in an open field many times wearing orange and had doves fly right overhead. It doesn^t affect your dove harvest at all to wear orange."
Naturally, hunting in groups presents the biggest risks, which increase with the size of the hunting party. Even if a party consists of only two hunters, Peer said it^s extremely important for each hunter to know where his companions are and to establish shooting zones before the hunt begins. Once birds leave a particular hunter^s zone of fire, he should refrain from shooting.
"The more people there are in a hunting party, the more attention they have to pay to where everybody is," Peer insisted. "Respect each others^ zones of fire and don^t shoot at low-flying birds. And, if you move to another part of the field, let everybody know where you^re going."
If you^re hunting alone, the potential for accidents diminishes, but Peer said safety should still be a priority, Peer added. You don^t have restricted shooting zones, and you can shoot at low-flying birds, but you should never shoot toward a road, house, livestock or water.
Simply speaking, dove hunting safety boils down to three components: 1) Always control the direction you point the muzzle of your firearm; 2) Always identify your target; 3) and always identify what^s beyond your target.
To reduce the threat of eye injury, Peer also recommends wearing shooting glasses or other protective eyewear.
If you^re alone and must cross a fence, unload your gun and lay it on the ground with the muzzle pointed away from you before crossing. Once you^re safely on the other side, you may retrieve your gun and reload it.
If you cross a fence with other hunters, unload your gun and hand it to a partner before your cross, and then let him hand it back to you when you reach the other side. Again, keep the muzzle pointed away from your and your partners.
Another thing to consider is the threat of wildfire. Because of the drought, vegetation is very combustible, increasing the risk of fire. Therefore, hunters should be very careful about parking vehicles in high grass and doubly careful about extinguishing cigarettes before discarding them.
Finally, dove hunters must carry a Harvest Identification Program (HIP) permit while afield. Also, shotguns must not be capable of holding more than two shells in the magazine. Shotguns capable of holding more than two shells in the magazine must be plugged before they can be taken afield.