Field Notes of a Rookie Sportsperson: My first dove hunt

Sunset on the farm
Photo by © Travis Duncan/CPW.

My first dove-hunting trip as a member of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Rookie Sportsperson Program (RSP) had nearly everything I could want in an outdoors weekend: camaraderie with friends, dinner of fresh game, card-playing and storytelling, camping in a beautiful and remote wildlife area and a chance to use my new skills as a hunter.

For me, it lacked just one thing . . . a dove harvest.

Like many novice dove hunters, I discovered targeting doves is like “trying to shoot electrons out of the sky.”

Yes, they are that fast. Luckily, others in our RSP group were not as slow as me, so I also learned doves are pretty tasty, in addition to being fast.

The dove hunt at the South Republican State Wildlife Area near Burlington followed weeks of preparation including classroom time with CPW wildlife officers, watching videos and practicing at the shooting range. 

And while I was disappointed at my own lack of speed with the shotgun, I can’t wait to try it again.

Hopefully, next time I’ll be joined by my daughter Natalie, who was sick the day of our RSP dove hunt.

Together, we are enjoying the RSP, a year-long mentorship program designed by CPW for people like us with little or no outdoor experience. The RSP teaches participants outdoor skills and, hopefully, inspires them to get outside and sample all the adventures available in Colorado’s great outdoors. So far this year, Natalie and I have been through Hunter Education, gone turkey hunting twice in Limon, learned about deer hunting and waterfowl hunting, gained experience shooting large-bore rifles, and been fishing out at Lake Pueblo State Park.

This past month, besides the dove hunt, I learned how to process a deer. More on that in a later post. Now about those doves . . . after purchasing my first small game license and registering for my Harvest Information Program number, I drove the three hours from Colorado Springs to the South Republican near Burlington, near the Kansas border, on Saturday, Sept. 7. I had high hopes for my first dove hunt.

Dove Hunting 101

When I arrived, District Wildlife Manager (DWM) Aaron Berscheid kicked off Dove Hunting 101 by showing our group videos of how to lead a dove when you shoot. Then he talked about equipment: a good hunting vest to hold your ammunition and any doves you harvest, a good bucket with padding to sit on, as well as sunscreen and water.

dove hunting 101 class
District Wildlife Manager (DWM) Aaron Berscheid teaches Dove Hunting 101. Photo by © Travis Duncan/CPW.

Berscheid went over dove habitat and identification. He said doves could often be found along roadsides gobbling gravel to help their digestion after eating seeds out of farm fields. Playas and areas that hold water will often attract birds.

Then DWM Ben Meier showed us how to take apart and clean a shotgun and DWM Logan Wilkins distributed shotguns to participants who didn’t yet have their own for the hunt the next morning. I was issued a Remington 870 shotgun and told my hunting party would be going out with DWM Sarah Watson the next morning.

Dove Popper

Then it was time to relax and get ready for dinner. The DWMs made dove poppers – dove breast meat wrapped in bacon, cream cheese and jalapeño peppers and grilled to perfection. The DWMs also graciously cooked up burgers and hot dogs, and the RSP participants provided the rest with potluck items we’d brought.

grilling dove poppers
Burgers and dove poppers – dove breast meat wrapped in bacon. Photo by © Travis Duncan/CPW.

After dinner, we sat around the bunkhouse, playing cards and sharing hunting photos on our phones. Finally, I retreated to my tent for the evening. I tried to sleep, but the anticipation of rising at 4 a.m. to hunt doves made it tough.

Heading Out for the Hunt

In the morning, we took the short drive to an abandoned house and silo where we set up in fields out back. It was a very crisp morning out on the eastern plains. The sun rose but then the fog rolled in and stayed all morning for our hunt.

heading out for the hunt

CPW intern Nico Dellacroce stayed with me during the hunt. I enjoyed strategizing with him on when to try flushing birds out of stands of trees and when to stay put. I got plenty of looks at doves that Saturday, but I did not manage to hit any. As the saying goes, it’s like “trying to shoot electrons out of the sky.” 

Others in our group had more luck and they gave a workout to Watson’s two Labrador retrievers, Dozer and Sage.

hunters and harvested doves

When we got back to camp, Dellacroce showed us how to clean our doves, essentially peeling the breast meat away from the rest of the body. I cleaned about six doves or so of the total and helped contribute to our RSP group’s next round of dove poppers.

Next month we’ll be going on a pheasant hunt. Hopefully they aren’t fast as electrons, too.


Travis Duncan is a public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Denver. Travis has lived in Colorado nearly 20 years and loves the outdoors. If you have a question, please email him at travis.duncan@state.co.us

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