If you have not had the opportunity to participate in a dove hunt you are missing out on one of the greatest hunts available to hunters.  I have never heard of a hunter who could honestly say that the dove is an easy bird to kill.  Statistics indicate that, nationally, hunters take a dove for every seven-plus shots.  That is approximately 3 birds per box of shells.

Getting started as a dove hunter is not as hard as you might think.  All you need is a shotgun, a lot of shotgun shells, a place to hunt, and of course, your hunting license and HIP.

GUNS AND LOADS

There is no right or wrong answer when choosing which type of shotgun to use.  The first thing to consider is finding a gun that you are comfortable shooting all afternoon long.  Good choices include a 20-, 16- or 12-guage autoloader with screw-in choke tubes.  Doves are fast birds that are difficult to hit.  That is why many hunters use an autoloader.  However, any type of action will work fine, including pumps, double-barrels and over-and-unders.

I like to use shot shells in size 8 with a 1- or 1 1/8-ounce load.  Any of the smaller shot sizes like 7 ½ or 9 will work fine, but I tend to stay away from a No. 6.

It does not take a lot of pellets to kill a dove, and the smaller shot sizes produce more pellets.  An example would be comparing the No. 8 that I shoot a No. 6.  There are 186 more pellets in the No. 8 than the No. 6.  Sure, you can shoot further with heavier loads, but after shooting boxes of shells in one afternoon your bruised shoulder will wish you had chosen a lighter load.  Another reason for the smaller shot is that you might have your accuracy thrown off because you are likely to flinch due to the already sore shoulder.

CAMOUFLAGE AND CONCEALMENT

The keen eyes of a dove are a hard thing to hide from.  But, if hunters properly camouflage and conceal their selves, the odds of not being busted increase drastically.  It is a must to wear camo clothing that matches the surroundings of your hunting area.  Not only should you wear camo, but use what is already in place to help conceal you.  Things like standing grain, tree-line edges and tall grass all work well.  It is possible to hunt from a blind – either a commercial blind or one made of cornstalks, brush or other vegetation.  Keeping your gun camouflaged either with tape or a finish will keep the glare of your barrel to a minimum and the movement of your gun will not be as noticeable.  Do not forget to a camo paint stick or gloves and a mask for your face and hands too.

DECOYS

Many dove hunters rely on dove decoys placed near their hunting site to bring birds in close enough for a shot opportunity.  Many sporting-goods businesses carry these.

Begin by placing several decoys on the ground and several more on dead trees or fences.  Place the fence decoys on the top strand of wire about a foot apart.  You want the decoys as high as you can get them.  Face all decoys into the wind; doves take off and land into the wind.

DOVE HABITS

Doves feed on seeds such as oats, wheat, corn, milk, and sunflowers, plus the seeds from weeds.

 Doves normally fly from their night roost shortly after dawn and head to a source of water, after quenching there thirst they will then move to their feeding ground and will remain there until midday. They rest at perching and watering sites near their feeding area for a couple of hours around noon, then return to the feeding area for the rest of the afternoon. They normally will water once more before going to roost.

SCOUTING

In order to hunt doves successfully you have to know where the birds hang out.

Doves are most likely to be moving before 9 in the morning and after 3 in the afternoon.  Once you spot doves, watch them for several minutes.  If more doves show up, you have found a possible hunting area.

Most dove hunters prefer to hunt fields that have recently been harvested.  When scouting these fields look for where the doves enter and exit the fields.  Field corners are a preferred travel route of doves.  Power lines are also frequented by doves as they rest.  Pay close attention to ditches, points, fence and tree lines and borders between stubble and plowed ground for flying doves.

As I wrote earlier doves will water two or three times daily.  This could take place at ponds, ditches, mud holes and streams where the vegetation is not high.

Doves have to have grit to help their gizzard grind the seeds they eat.  Sand bars, gravel roads, and gravel pits in close proximity to feeding, roosting and watering sites are an added bonus when choosing an area to hunt.  When doves are not feeding in the fields during midday these graveling sites can be a good alternate hunting area.

SHOOTING

Use these tips for hunting success:

When selecting a spot to hunt from look for power lines, a spot in the shade, dead trees in the middle of a field or at the fields edge, farm ponds, and breaks in a tree line surrounding a field.  These can all lend themselves to better shooting spots.

It is best to let the doves to come within 25 to 35 yards before pulling the trigger.  Allowing the birds to approach this close will increase your accuracy and the use of fewer shells.  This all translates to more birds on the table and fewer shell hulls on the ground.

Do not move until an approaching dove is within shooting range.  Doves are a timid bird that will spook as soon as they see you.  But if you time your shots right you should be able to squeeze a couple of shots off before they are out of range.

Practice with clay pigeons during the off-season.  Practice does not always make perfect, but it certainly does not hurt either.  When shooting, shoulder your gun fast, keep your head on the stock, swing through the bird, pull the trigger and follow through with the shotgun swing in one smooth, continuous movement.

Now that you have a better understanding of dove hunting all that remains is an enjoyable hunt and tasty table fare.

DOVE-HUNTING CHECKLIST:

1.      License and HIP

2.      Shotgun

3.      Stool or folding seat

4.      Game scissors

5.      Sunscreen and insect repellant

6.      Water to stay hydrated

7.      Lightweight camo clothing and a vest or shell carrier

8.      Decoys

 

Previous articleThe Anatomy of a Whitetail Scrape
Next articleHunting Bedded Deer in Standing Corn
Jason Houser
Jason Houser is an avid traditional bowhunter from Central Illinois who killed his first deer when he was nine years old. A full-time freelance writer since 2008, he has written for numerous national hunting magazines. Jason has hunted big game in 12 states with his bow, but his love will always be white-tailed deer and turkeys. He considers himself lucky to have a job he loves and a family who shares his passion for the outdoors. Jason writes full time and is on the pro staff of two archery companies; in his free time, he fishes and traps as much as possible.