Photograph by Craig NYHUS/Lone Star News

Late summer marks the beginning of dove season, and across the country kids are receiving their introduction to the sport of hunting by sitting on a bucket at the edge of a grain field and maintaining an eye on the sky. But dove hunting can be extremely challenging, even for experienced shooters. Here’s how to give young shooters the best chance of success and help ensure that their first opening day is but one of many.

1) Find a Gun That Fits
Most kids get to have very little input on their first shotgun, but your child will benefit if you can involve him in the process. When you go shopping, keep in mind that a short stock and a lighter weight will help your child manage the gun better, and a gas-operated semi-auto will soften the punch of recoil. A 28-gauge gun is probably the best option, since it produces a more forgiving shot pattern than the smaller .410 and less recoil than its larger 20- and 12-gauge counterparts. Make gun safety the top priority at the range and in the field.

2) Spend Time at the Range
The best way to kill more doves is to break more clays. Practice crossing shots at the skeet range and, if possible, have your new hunter practice a few shots from a low-gun position so he’s familiar with the process of mounting, swinging, and shooting all in one motion. Spend a few Saturdays before the season opener at the local sporting clays course, and always be encouraging, helping him develop proper shotgun technique.

3) Do a Dress ­Rehearsal
Take your child to the field about a week before the hunt and set him up in the same position he’ll be in on opening day. Have him treat the experience as though he is hunting, watching for doves, remaining still, and tracking the birds as if he is going to shoot. Spend no more than 30 to 45 minutes in position, just enough to give your youngster a view of the field as it will appear on opening day.

4) Give him the Best Seat
If you’ve scouted your dove fields, you likely have an idea of where the birds will be flying. Use this knowledge to position your young shooter where he’ll be able to see the doves coming and have a clear shooting lane. By positioning a kid where he can see birds early, you’ll give him an extra second or two to get prepared, which can mean the difference between a hit and a miss.

5) Prepare him for the Challenge
Many kids go into the field with the expectation that they’ll bag a limit of birds quickly, making precise shots on even the toughest flyers. As all experienced hunters know, that just isn’t realistic.

Don’t make the experience about counting birds. Instead, use your time in the field to enjoy each other’s company, explain how difficult dove hunting can be, and take the time to discuss the role of hunting in conservation. Tell him it’s okay if he misses and that you’ll come back again another day and try again.