The dove season opener is a great way to introduce newcomers to hunting. The season opens early when the weather is still nice and the birds are offering plenty of action. There’s no need to be quite or completely still, so youngsters are able to have a little more leeway than they might on a deer or turkey hunt. Take advantage of this opportunity to take a family member, friend or even the neighbor kid down the street on their first hunt in a dove field. Just remember to bring plenty of shells.
Dove hunting equipment is pretty basic. Any 12, 16, or 20-gauge shotgun works well for dove hunting. For a real challenge, try knocking doves down with a .410. Take plenty of shells with you. You’ll need more than you think. Size 7 ½ or 8 bird shot works for loads. A good folding chair or bucket to sit on is important. Decoys can help if you’re dealing with completion.
When deciding where to situate yourself and your party, locate a crop field edge with the sun at your back. These birds are hard enough to hit without blinding yourself by shooting into the sun. Stay low and break up your outline the best you can. Once you see birds in the air, don’t move until you’re ready to shoot. Once you have shot a bird, visually follow it to the ground. Mark the spot you saw the bird fall, and once you’re sure no one next to you is firing, retrieve it right away. These little birds can be hard to locate, so thinking you can shoot multiple and find them all later is a dangerous idea. No one wants to waste game, so do the ethical thing and retrieve your birds immediately following your kill. A good retriever is a valuable dove hunting asset.
Doves roost at night and travel to water in the morning. They love sunflowers, but really like most grains. Try to position yourself between their roost and water. So dove hunting is often great on agricultural lands near, or with, water. Since doves aren’t a trophy species, farmers are more likely to let you onto their land to hunt them, then they maybe with deer or turkey. Asking for and obtaining permission for dove hunting, can help you develop a relationship with a farmer or landowner who then may grant you permission for other types of hunting in the future.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife estimates the population of mourning doves at approximately 194 million birds, and it’s increasing. Even with such a high number of birds, hunting mourning doves is no easy task. A mature bird is only around 12-inches long, possess a wingspan of 18-inches and weighs a whopping 6-ounces. Doves are small, fast targets. These gray-brown rockets can reach flight speeds of up to 55-miles per hour. Add in the erratic dipping and diving of their flight paths and you have on your hands one tough task when it comes to putting a limit of birds on the ground.
Even though they’re so hard to shoot, dove hunting is a great introductory for newcomers to the sport because the action can be fast and furious, lessons learned from dove hunting translate into other types of hunting and finding a place to hunt them is easier than many other types of game. So if you are eager to get the hunting season underway, find a dove hunting spot near you, invite a new hunter to tag along and get after them.
See you down the trail…
Pic: Dove hunters take aim at passing birds.