Dove hunting is one of the best forms of recreational activities to engage in during autumn. For many hunters, dove season presents a perfect opportunity to spend time and bond with family and friends as well as introduce an eager newcomer to the sport of hunting.
But while assembling the necessary equipment and preparing to hit the vast open fields for an adventurous dove hunting session is simple and straightforward, dove hunting can be a bit challenging. Doves are characteristically small and move swiftly, therefore, aiming and shooting and darting grey target is no walk in the park. Moreover, finding a perfect location to dove hunt can be quite a challenge.
Nonetheless, dove hunting is a fulfilling social activity, and you don’t have to be a professional shotgunner to make your first kill. You can be a better dove hunter by following having the right gear and following the specialist’s tips outlined in this article.
How to Dove Hunt
Doves are popular with hunters as they are usually in abundance, plus hunting them is relatively simple compared to other types of wing-shooting. In addition, doves make tasty meals. For instance, dove nuggets, grilled dove and dove breast with cream cheese and bacon are a favorite among many dove hunters. To hunt doves, you’ll need to be aware of four key aspects of dove hunting, as discussed below.
The dove season in Texas typically starts on the Labor Day weekend or September 1st and ends in late October or early November. In some states like Georgia and Arkansas, there are three dove hunting seasons i.e., Sept. 7-30, Nov. 23-Dec.1 and Dec.6-Jan.31. The dove hunting season varies depending on the state you’re based as well as weather conditions and migration patterns.
Therefore, it’s imperative to consult the state’s parks and wildlife department to find out the accurate dates marking the start and end of the dove hunting season(s). Finding out the exact season dates will enable you to get out there early and better your chances of bagging enough doves as per the daily bag limit.
Dove Hunting Site
Finding a perfect dove hunting spot can be challenging. Most state wildlife departments plant and manage public dove hunting areas. The best hunting site should have a food source to attract doves. In addition, there should be a bit of grit or gravels to assist in the digestion of their diet, which predominantly consists of seeds. A perch for landing and plenty of drinking water are other factors that make a site ideal for dove hunting.
If a hunting site lacks food, you will need to provide a food source to attract the birds. Doves are naturally seed feeders and are attracted to a variety of cereal crops such as cone, grain sorghum, and sunflowers. While sunflowers have traditionally been used to attract doves, most hunters have reported that food diversification attracts more birds. Grain sorghum, for instance, has been found to be a better and affordable alternative to sunflower seeds.
When placing food on the site, you would want to put the seeds along gravel roads, mowed field or even harvested crop fields as doves avoid feeding in sites with dense vegetation cover. Therefore, ideal dove hunting sites should open with minimal vegetation to allow the birds to feed freely and efficiently. Consequently, this will increase your chances of making a substantial kill.
Note that hunting doves in the same spot for several consecutive days could considerably decrease your success rate since doves would soon realize the hunting dangers and would try to avoid that field. At least, try to rotate fields or hunting spots to be in a better position to attain a higher hunting success.
Hunting Down Doves
Three vital things influence the hunt yield i.e., hunting equipment, shooting technique, and body stiffness. The hunting equipment, including shotguns and ammo, camo gear, dove decoy, and other hunting gear such as earplugs, binoculars, shooting glasses and sunglasses, etc. should be spot on for a successful hunting session.
When hunting, assume a position such that you are in the opposite direction to the oncoming dove traffic. This means that you should be aware of the bird’s flying course. Also, make sure the sun is at your back to increase visibility for a perfect shot. Don’t stand up and pop off a shot immediately; the doves fly past your spot. Instead, remain stiff until the birds cross into your range of accuracy i.e., forty yards or less. Then, stand up in one swift motion, mount your weapon quickly, aim at an ideal target, and pull the trigger.
When dove hunting, it’s essential to hunt within the set daily bag limit. Most states have a daily bag limit of 15 doves and a possession limit of 30. Remaining within these set limits will ensure these precious birds and not overhunted.
After aiming and successfully shooting birds, the next crucial step is to trace and collect them immediately. A retrieving dog can be of great help in assisting you in collecting the bounty. Preserving your bounty is crucial to avert spoilages, especially in the hot weather. Some hunters would immediately retrieve the breast while others would process the bird once they return to camp.
Whatever you decide, it’s best to place the birds in a cooler with ice. If you don’t have a cooler, spread the doves under a shade so that they can cool. Never pile the in a hunting bag as they would spoil within a concise time due to the intense heat. You can also choose to grill the dove wrapped in bacon right in the park.
Dove Hunting Equipment
The right hunting gear makes your hunting session seamless plus ensures you’re safe at all times. Before heading to go for a hunt, make sure you’ve assembled the right gear. Here are major equipment you’ll need for a dove hunting mission to be successful.
Shotguns and Ammo
The right shotgun and ammo are critical for a successful hunt. Also, it’s advisable to practice your gun mount by shooting in a range to attain the precise accuracy and shooting speed before heading out to the field.
Doves move swiftly and can reach speeds up to 60 mph. Their quick darting characteristic can make aiming and shooting quite an uphill task, especially for beginners. Therefore, having the right firearm that you’re comfortable with can be of assistance to bag enough birds. Most hunters prefer to use a double-barrel side-by-side pump-action shotgun like the Winchester Model 24 double in 20-gauge attributed to its reliability and versatility. Alternatively, you can use a semiautomatic shotgun, which will allow you to aim and fire quickly with minimal recoil force.
The shotgun models influence the type of ammo. It’s advisable to go for a less powerful shotgun, which will fire between a 6 and 8 lead shot size to maintain the structural integrity of the dove. Three to four boxes are sufficient for you to shoot the entire day in the fields.
Most parks and public dove shooting parks would require that you collect shotgun debris and used ammo as a conservation measure. Shell bags provide an efficient and convenient way of collecting used shooting material. Some models offer enough room to store everything you need for the hunt and the bounty as well.
Hunting Gear- Camo and Boots
Doves have very sharp eyesight and can quickly spot something amiss high up from the sky. This is the real reason you need to wear a camouflaged gear to conceal your identity and movements as well as a hunting boot to protect your feet while out in the field
When choosing a camo gear, ensure it matches the surroundings or conditions you will be hunting in. This requires that you should first tour the hunting spot before the start of the season to find out the surrounding environment so that you can choose the right camo gear that blends in perfectly with the vegetation and landscape in the hunting field. You will remain undercover just for long and be able to make sufficient kill by wearing the right camo gear.
The best hunting boots will protect your feet from weather elements and the rugged hunting terrain full of insects (some of which are dangerous). Snake boots are highly recommended when hunting in areas where snakes are common or in tall grass.
Dove Lure and Decoys
While they’re not a necessity, dove decoys come in handy to assist you to attain your daily hunting limit. When placed in trees or on the ground, decoys attract flying doves to come over and fly at a close range.
Decoys are available in a variety of models i.e., shell, full-body, wind spinning, and robo-dove decoys. If you’re using a wind-spinning model, place the decoy in such a way that is faced towards the wind to mimic natural behavior and better attract doves.
Ear and Eye Protection
You should always strive to protect your eye and ear, especially when engaging in any activity that involved range shooting. Shooting glasses and earplugs are necessary to protect your ears and eyes while hunting down doves
Hunting Stools and Coolers
Hunting stools and coolers will make your hunting experience hassle-free, and you’ll be able to stay out in the hunting grounds for long. Coolers do the most to keep your food and drink fresh and crisp. Go for a camouflaged folding stool as it will be easy to carry around in the field
Other Necessary Equipment
For a better hunting experience, you might need other equipment such as binoculars, hat with a brim, cooler for doves, drab-colored 10-gallon paint bucket, sunglasses, and insect repellent, among others. While these materials are not really necessary, they will make you comfortable while out there hunting.
Dove Hunting Expert Tips
There are several tips both before the hunt and in the field that you ought to follow for a successful hunting trip. They are outlined below.
Tips Before the Hunt
Scout the Public Dove Fields
Before the dove season opens, spend at least a couple of afternoons to walk over the dove fields. This will allow you to understand the dove field layout and better plan for the overall hunting. Scouting the field will enable you to know the best time and place to hunt. When scouting, try to remain quite a distance from the doves to avoid scaring them. Stay back and watch using both your naked eyes and binoculars.
Scout between 9 A.M. or after 3 P.M. when birds are actively flying. Try to note the routes used by birds when flying into fields to find the best hunting spot. For instance, if you see doves entering and exiting a particular spot, watch for a few minutes. If more doves follow, you’ve likely found an ideal ambush spot.
Find the Ideal Hunting Location
Doves prefer open fields with just-harvested grain crops as feeding sites and field corners or perimeter dips as traveling lines. They also roost on sagging power lines, fence lines, ditches, points, and tree lines before landing or while loafing. If you discover numerous doves resting or flying near such structures, you’ve found an ideal hunting site.
Watering sites should also guide your choice of hunting site. Doves prefer drinking at seeps, mud poles, muddy ponds, and stream banks free of tall vegetation. Doves love water bodies with a wide shore strip of open mud close to feeding areas and roosts.
Doves consume grit to help in digestion, thus prefer graveling spots such as sand bars, rural roads, and gravel quarries, which are near watering, feeding, and roosting sites. Graveling spots provide alternative dove hunting grounds, especially during midday when doves aren’t actively feeding in the ground.
In selecting a site for a dove stand, try to find a unique spot different from the surrounding vegetation. Go for spots that stand out from the background. For instance, think of field corners with dead trees or a gap in a straight tree plantation.
Understanding Dove Habits
Getting to know mourning dove behaviors is key to hunting success. Doves are naturally seed-feeders and prefer eating on bare or grounds with minimal vegetation cover. This is because they have feeble legs that can’t scratch through litter to find food like other birds.
For their feeding habits, mourning doves start their day at a watering site at dawn before heading out to feed on open fields until midday. They then fly off to graveling or watering places, usually close to the feeding area where they stay for there for close to three hours until noon before returning to the feeding grounds for the remainder of the afternoon. Before retreating to their roost for the night, they usually go to water for a second time. Understanding their routine will enable you to be in the right place at the right time.
Tips of Gun Choices and Shooting
Shooting is perhaps the most crucial technique in the entire dove hunting process. It’s therefore mandatory to master the art of shooting and excel in the games. Consider the below guide on choosing the best guns and loads for doves as well as tips on shooting in the field.
A Guide on Choosing Dove-Hunting Guns and Shotgun
When it comes to choosing the best shotgun for dove hunting, there is a wide range of selections depending on your preference and budget. Double-barrels, pumps, and over-and-under shotguns are synonymous with dove hunting. However, most hunters choose to use 12-, 16- or 20-gauge autoloaders as they are perfect for shooting at a darting target-i.e. they allow three shots in quick succession before the dove gets out of range. However, note that Federal dove-hunting regulations require that shotguns hold a maximum of three plugged shells. You don’t want to be caught on the wrong side of the law.
In choosing shotshells, go for smaller shot load sizes ranging from 7 ½, 8, or 9. This is because smaller shot sizes offer more pellets per charge. Besides, it only takes minimal small pellets to take down a dove. While heavier loads allow for long-range shooting, they have decreased accuracy and can burden your shoulder. To increase your shooting accuracy, you may consider using target loads.
Steps in Dove Shooting
- Assume a good position and wait until doves come within 25 to 35 yards so that you can get an accurate shot. Try to assume a flat-footed position as it allows you to aim better. Besides, take good cover to stay hidden.
- Remain motionless as you try to pick a bird by swinging the gun through the doves as they approach in a group. Pinpoint your target, and get ready to pull the trigger. Don’t shoot at the masses as you’re much likely to miss. Keep your focus on a single bird.
- After pinpointing your target and it’s within the shooting range, stand up and shoulder your gun quickly, keep your head to the moving target, pull the trigger and follow through with a swing in an unwavering, even continuous motion.
- If you’ve made a successive hit, retrieve the bird immediately; the doves are out of sight. If it’s a miss, try to aim again for a second shoot.
Dove Shooting Tips
- Unless the doves are in the right shooting range, don’t shoot. Try to remain flat-footed and motionless as you aim at a single bird from the approaching groups
- Shoot while standing. While most hunters would take a shot without leaving their seats, you’re better placed to hit when standing to shoot. Standing allows you to attain better posture and balance to take an accurate shot
- Try to remain in front of the approaching birds. This is to mean that you shouldn’t shoot from behind since the chances of missing the target are quite high. Always mount the gun in the front and take a shot from there. You will hit more birds in front of you as opposed to flying above or behind you.
- Follow through your gun past the target to maintain your lead even after pulling the trigger. This would increase your chances of taking a definite second hit if you had missed the initial shot.
- If you are shooting at a dove descending on a decoy to about to land on a power line, fence, tree branch, crop branch, or any other structure, try to swing the gun and aim below the bird as it descends. Press the trigger just when the bird enters in alignment with the gun barrel.
- Before the start of the dove season, practice mounting your gun, swinging, aiming, and shooting at a local shooting range. This will go a long way in improving your shooting technique once the hunting season commences.
Other Tips to Remember
- Always wear camouflage or drab clothing when hunting. Take sufficient cover and avoid unnecessary movements while hunting.
- Hunt early enough as the season commences. For instance, Texas dove season commences on September 1st and runs into November, depending on the prevailing weather conditions and migration patterns. Hunting early into the season increases your chances of getting sufficient kill since the birds are in plenty and often fly in close proximity.
- Carry the right hunting gear i.e., binoculars, earplugs, insect repellents, drinking water, snacks, etc.
- Don’t shoot at waterholes. Doves will flee the watering point never to return.
- Preserve your bounty. The hot weather could easily make your hunt go bad amounting to waste.
- Have different hunting locations. In case doves are not present in one site, quickly retract to the next alternative.
- Remember to carry dove lure or decoys and place them in appropriate spots to attract birds to land within your shooting range.
- Bring along your kid(s), family, and friends. Dove hunting is better enjoyed in the company of family and friends.
With the dove hunting season fast approaching, it’s time to get your shotgun and camo gear ready plus practice some few shootings rounds. Hunting down doves may be quite challenging, especially for beginners, but with the right shotgun, equipment, and guidance, anyone can find their footing in no time.
The expert guidance, as well as tips discussed in this guide, will help you get better in dove hunting this coming season-your friends and family will be impressed by your hunting technique.
- 1 How to Dove Hunt
- 2 Dove Hunting Equipment
- 3 Dove Hunting Expert Tips
- 4 Closing Words