01/22/10 — Dove hunters protect fields with electricity

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Dove hunters protect fields with electricity

By Mike Marsh
Published in Sports on January 22, 2010 1:46 PM

The night frost had coated the grassy shoulders of a road snaking through a Pender County pine forest, sparkling in the starlight like powdered sugar. In the feeble pre-dawn light, David Franklin, a retired U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Biologist from Carolina Beach, zipped his waterfowl hunter's parka up to his chin to ward off the chill.

Slinging his 12-gauge semiautomatic shotgun over his shoulder and carrying a folding stool, he hiked to a 2-acre cornfield. Pressing down the top strand of an electric fence lowered the wire enough so that he could step over the wire.

"The electricity is off," he said. "Just press down the top wire with your shotgun butt and you should be able to get across."

The fence consisted of pairs of PVC pipes set in the ground with wires held in place by zip ties, rather than commercial insulators, saving money as well as allowing the wire to slide to accommodate the roll of the terrain and the growing or declining vegetation height.

"Without this electric fence, there wouldn't be any corn left in this field," he said. "If there wasn't any corn, there wouldn't be any doves. Deer would have eaten it all months ago."

The outer strand of wire was set about a foot above the ground, while the inner strand was crotch-high. Franklin had done his research well. White-tailed deer, he explained, would jump an electric fence set upright in a single plane. Offsetting the inner and outer wires about 18 inches confused a deer's depth perception, giving it a jolt of electricity before it could decide to jump the fence.

I stepped across then pressed down the outer wire with my shotgun butt and lifted the inner wire so Tink, my Lab, could enter without snarling her feet. Franklin said he had seen dogs cut by electric fences so he urged caution whenever a retriever was along.

Franklin set up his battery-operated Mojo Dove spinning-wing decoy and I set up mine. We had hunted the same field the morning before, but had arrived as the sun was blinking awake through the tops of the trees. Dozens of doves had left at the first shot. Most had not returned.

Hoping that an earlier arrival time would increase the odds of success, we had arrived just at the legal shooting time of one-half hour before dawn. The doves the day before had already been full of corn, as we learned from opening their crops while cleaning them. This time, we hoped, their crops would be empty so they would be hungrier and stick around for more than one pass.

Doves began landing so fast there was no time to raise the gun. Hidden behind cornstalks laden with sagging ears and silhouetted against the dark background of young pines, the initial arrivals were safe.

As daylight grew, the swarming doves became more visible. Nevertheless, the shooting was much tougher than it had been during opening week in September. Had anyone been paying attention when Franklin suited up for the hunt, they would have guessed he was going after ducks, not doves. In fact, a pair of wood ducks did decoy to the Mojo Doves. But the ducks were safe from shotguns loaded with lead shot, rather than non-toxic ammo.

Thankfully, it was a morning where the ammo consumption was of no consequence because it would have been downright embarrassing if anyone had been around to keep track of the ratio of doves bagged per shotgun shell fired. The important thing was that we had a fun time and that Tink acquired some cold-weather cornfield training. September is a much tougher time than January for a lab wearing a black fur coat to learn the ins and outs of retrieving doves between cornrows.

"The best thing about hunting in January is that it's not hot," Franklin said. "But it's more difficult to get your gunstock set properly into the socket of your shoulder while you're wearing a heavy coat. The doves are bigger and fly faster and lower than in September. It's a good thing they're not as fast as wood ducks because they would be even harder to hit."