With 10 days before the September 1 opener, the doves winging around are looking a lot tastier to me. I can even hear the sizzle of the grill with each dove that passes by within 25 yards. With a few days, and a weekend, before the real fun gets started here are some of my thoughts on getting yourself ready:
Thoughts on Scouting:
▪ Find the Birds: It is my opinion that you can sit just about anywhere and sooner or later a dove will fly-by – maybe even in range. But dove hunting is not about a dove, it’s about doves – a whole bunch of them! Don’t be too quick to pick a spot based simply on it looking kinda good and seeing a dove or two nearby. Ideally, I want to see doves flying, doves perched in nearby trees and doves on the ground eating/getting water.
▪ Food or Water: Generally there are two places thought of when hunting doves and with good reason, feeding areas and watering spots can really collect the birds. Keep in mind that doves are rather small birds that have “small” needs. Small seeds such as sunflowers get a lot attention, as should wheat fields and silage cuts when it comes to finding doves; but don’t overlook the potential of weedy pastures that include wild sunflowers and “ditch-weed”. Small ponds and decent sized puddles that include shallow areas with easy-access shorelines – mud, sand or very, short grass – will attract short-legged doves.
▪ Bare Branches: It has been my experience that the drawing power of food sources & watering holes are enhanced when they include still-standing, dead trees. Oftentimes doves prefer to land on these bare branches before dropping down to ground level, where they are more vulnerable to predators.
▪ Remember the Sun: Most dove hunts take place in the morning or in the evening as the doves move around looking for their first or last meal/drink of the day. So keep the sun in mind as you pick your spot. Best-method is to have the sun at your back or over your shoulder. This will allow you to more efficiently identify doves and focus your attention for the shot.
Thoughts on Shooting:
▪ Practice!: Spend some pre-season time burning powder and breaking blue-rock. To really get you ready head to the local skeet range or sporting clays course.
▪ Pick the (black) Spot: It is generally accepted that the average number of shots fired to harvest one dove is 5 to 7 shells – that’s a lot of shooting for a daily limit of 15 doves. To improve your shooting average, focus on a specific spot on the dove – not the whole bird. I try my best to focus on the little black dot of the eye. This also helps reduce the urge to flock-shoot when a bunch of doves come winging by.
▪ Slow vs. Fast: Most of us shoot a whole bunch better at a dove that is slowing down as opposed to just flying-by. This is why watering sites are so popular with hunters and, when hunting over a food source, I like to find a spot the doves want to land. That said if you can zero in on a location that doves continually fly-by the shooting can be tremendous – just be sure to bring lots of shells..
▪ Small Pellets & Open Chokes: The best shotgun to use for doves is the one you already have. More important is the shell you put into the gun and the choke at the end of the barrel. Doves are not especially hardy when compared to other game birds and the popular shot-sizes #8’s and#7½‘s are hard to beat. However, in my opinion, don’t sacrifice pellet count for speed and keep the choke open – I prefer Skeet or straight Cylinder, but no tighter than Improved Cylinder.
▪ Mark’em Down!: The subtle camo of a mourning dove is not truly realized until you knock one down and get to go find it. Be sure to follow the falling dove all the way to ground, mentally mark the spot and then walk straight to it. Even lightly hit doves will usually be very close to where they hit the ground. Better yet use a dog that loves to retrieve doves.
I know my dove hunting wife is ready for the season to open. She’s tired of hearing me say “Boom – I got that one!” when a dove zooms past – says she’s seen me shoot and hates it when I lie.