Dove Nation: Photos from Three Dove Openers Across America

Every September hunters across the country crowd fields and farms to celebrate our favorite game bird—and the return of hunting season


For the last three generations, the Hardys have been farming their land in Lowndes County, Miss. Mark Hardy’s grandfather purchased about 10,000 acres with his brothers at the turn of the 20th century, and they founded the Magowah Gun Club around the same time.

Every year for opening day of dove season, the Hardys open their home to friends and family for a weekend of fun and hunting. They share meals and trade stories from the past year. They also host an invite-only hunt for members of Magowah, which drew about 60 people last year. Though they are gathered to celebrate the dove opener, the number of birds taken isn’t their primary concern. For the Hardys and their friends, the weekend is all about spending time with each other. As one hunter put it, “No one actually cares about the bag. If we did, we would do things much differently.”

pile of doves ready for cleaning
young woman in camo shirt and cap holds up dove
Mallory Amos hoists a dove high. Raymond McCrea Jones
young hunter carrying dove and gun walks through field and sun sets over his shoulder
Davis Jackson carries his last bird of the day. Raymond McCrea Jones
group of adults and children wearing camo gathers on open bed of pickup truck
Hunters pile onto a truck. Raymond McCrea Jones
diptych of clay thrower and bin with shotgun shells loose and in boxes
man in straw hat and blue shirt, camp chef portrait
Each year, Jack “Junior” Henry cooks his famous BBQ for the gathering. Raymond McCrea Jones
two young dove hunters with shotguns sit in field as sun sets in distance behind trees
hound dog rests on brick floor
Young dove hunter in camo t-shirt stands in meadow with gun over his shoulder.
Hampton Tucker pauses between flights, shotgun over his shoulder. Raymond McCrea Jones


Early on the morning of September 1, a group of friends and family gathered in a public hunting area not far from Wamego, Kansas. This small town of less than 5,000 in the central part of the state is surrounded by fields of alfalfa, wheat, and corn, and cattle pastures. Throw in some sunflowers and you have ideal dove habitat.

Josh Wildin brought his 6-year-old daughter, Makenzie, along for the opener. “Her favorite part is my favorite part—eating the little buggers,” he said. “I don’t want her to miss out on this.”

The hunters didn’t go home empty-handed. Before the shooting started, they plotted their strategy, posting up along rows of standing sunflowers to ambush the birds. Doves darted across the bluebird skies, shots rang out, and birds fell. An eager black Lab helped gather the birds, and then everyone pitched in to breast them out. The season could not have started on a better note. 

black lab sitting in grassy area holds dove in mouth
Maverick pitches in during the Kansas dove opener. Matt Nager
girl holds dove as hunter with shotgun looks on, sunflower field
Makenzie Wildin examines a dove shot by her father, Josh. Matt Nager
dead dove in foreground being held by hunter in camo
Success. Matt Nager
Hunter with shotgun strap over shoulder holds several doves and stands in cut field.
Kris Boucher poses with a handful of birds. Matt Nager
diptych: Kansas "public hunting" sign on post, and four dove hunters with shotguns in field
From left: Kansas maintains thousands of acres that are open for public hunting; friends pose for a group photo during a break. Matt Nager (2)
Dead dove in hand, grassy background
A dove destined for the grill. Matt Nager
dove breast meat in hands that are bloody and covered in feathers
Maverick pitches in during the Kansas dove opener. Matt Nager
Diptych of dove feathers on grass and spent shotgun shell on grass


Dove hunting is serious business all across Texas, but on the Nooner Ranch, near Hondo, the birds are accorded royal status. But given that the host, Sammy Nooner, is known as the Duke of Dove, you might have guessed that.

Few states encourage youth hunting with the same enthusiasm as Texas. Any child, as long as he or she is accompanied by an adult who has purchased an annual hunting permit, can hunt doves and small game free of charge. On opening day last year, as doves swarmed over the dried sunflower stalks, the young guns took to the field. One of them, 6-year-old Kate Friesenhahn, was armed only with a BB gun.

The whitewings flew fast and hard, and more than a few managed to avoid the storm of shot sent their way. But the hunters connected well enough so that by the time they cased their shotguns, everyone had plenty of dove breasts to take home.

Dover hunter shoots from station behind rolled hay bale as others watch.
A shooter swings on a darting dove Tosh Brown
two doves laid atop leather gun case, with broken shotgun nearby
doves fly across blue sky over dead sunflower field
Three young dove hunters with shotguns stand in open field looking for birds.
Three friends wait for the next flight. Tosh Brown
Yellow Lab carries dove in mouth over grass with dead sunflowers behind
A Lab helps retrieve birds. Tosh Brown
Young hunter with pink ear-protection muffs and camo hat holds pellet gun
Kate Friesenhahn carries her Daisy Red Ryder for the opener. Tosh Brown
sign reminds hunters to pick up shotgun shells
Three ranch workers clean and skin dead doves in long outdoor sink.
Nooner Ranch hands cleaning birds. Tosh Brown
plastic bag containing dove breasts is marked with hunter's name
Bagged dove breasts. Tosh Brown
Young hunter with safety glasses and ear muffs holds single-shot shotgun.
Jackson Friesenhahn stands ready to cock his single-shot. Tosh Brown

This story originally ran in the September 2014 issue. Read more OL+ stories.

John B. Snow Avatar

John B. Snow

Shooting Editor

John B. Snow is Shooting Editor of Outdoor Life, where he oversees the publication’s firearms and shooting coverage. This includes gear reviews, features on technical innovations, stories on shooting techniques and general hunting coverage with the occasional fishing story thrown into the mix. Originally from Seattle, he has lived all over the country, crisscrossing it by car and truck no fewer than 10 times as he’s moved from one location to the next. Since 2010 he has lived in Bozeman, Montana where he currently resides with his bird dog, Roo.