Fall brings the sound of guns going off, families getting together and the quiet coo-coo of doves. Dove Hunting is the most popular form of hunting in the world. More people will turn out for opening day of dove season in Texas than hunt all year in the state of Florida.
Hitting a Dove on the wing is one of the hardest shots in hunting and having some dove hunting tips and tricks up your sleeve can help you fill your limit. Dove hunting gear isn’t nearly as expensive nor is there as many options as there is with deer or turkey hunting. Dove hunting is all about, location, skill and company.
Before The Season
1. Know the Regulations
Don’t start out the season with a game violation. Make sure you know things like legal shooting dates and times. In some states you can only hunt half the day and it flips throughout the season. Some states have days off and some states have very limited seasons. The biggest dove hunting secrets shouldn’t be the hunting regulations.
Other regulations like baiting, shooting too close to homes and shooting towards a public right of way can be forgotten if you get in a pinch and get too excited. Don’t risk shooting without a plug in your gun, eventually you’ll get caught. Make sure a few weeks in advance you have all your licenses, read the regulations and made sure everyone in your field has done the same.
2. Scout the Fields
Look for flyovers just after sunrise and just before sun set. Doves have a somewhat predictable pattern, especially in the middle of the season. Normally the Doves will move from feeding, to water and then to roost and again just before nighttime.
Talk to friends, rural mail drivers, kids at bus stops and farmers who might notice doves flying. Look for birds near cow ponds and on power lines. Scouting birds isn’t as crucial as scouting for big game but a little leg work goes a long way to nailing down your particular dove hunting strategies.
3. Pattern Your Shotgun
Hunters have a responsibility to know how their gun is going to perform when shot at game. Use different dove hunting chokes and different sizes of shot from different brands and find a good load that you can shoot all day. Unlike turkey hunting, you may shoot 3 or 4 boxes of dove loads in a single afternoon.
You might want to get a case of shells after you find a load that works. You can practice and tune up for the season with the load you plan on using for the season.
4. Consider a Smaller Shot Size
Doves aren’t hard to kill, they’re hard to hit. A smaller shot size allows for more pellets and will give you more chances to hit the bird as they fly by. A smaller shot will also pattern better in smaller chokes common in 20 gauge shotguns that some hunters use for dove.
If nothing else the smaller shot won’t rip the bird apart like the larger shot will. The smaller shot will have a hard time penetrating when you shoot at range but hitting birds at distance is a fool’s errand anyway.
5. Set Out the Blinds and Decoy Stakes Early
Blinds, mock roost trees and dove hunting decoy stakes can go out early to make it easier and faster to set up the day of the hunt. Birds will get used to blinds just as deer will. Mock roost trees will even act as an attractant to bring in doves, especially when paired with water or a food source.
Don’t leave decoys in the field because they’ll lose effectiveness and they’ll lose detail sitting out in the weather and make the real doves weary of your "birds" who never move and don’t roost at night.
6. Consider Non-Toxic Shot
Non-toxic shot is already a requirement for waterfowlers. For dove hunting it’s an option and although more expensive, doesn’t have to be less effective. Hevi-shot and tungsten based alloyed shot has made breakthroughs in ballistic technology for hunters. By having a harder shot that penetrates deep and packs more energy than lead and much more than steel, you can pack a smaller shot size with more pellets in the shell.
7. Get the Family Together
Plan for the whole family to come out for the dove opener. Dove hunting is a social event and for a huge part of the US means fall is coming. And with fall coming it means the holidays, and the rest of the hunting calendar.
A BBQ following the hunt, a large enough dove field or taking turn with the guns is a great way to get everyone together after long summer, introduce new hunters to our ranks and even spread a 2nd amendment culture by seeing whole families safely using guns.
8. Get Used to Shooting From Sitting
If you plan on hunting doves from a chair or from a blind, you should practice shooting from sitting. The best training for dove hunting comes from competing in 5 stand clays. This is where you stay stationary and shoot clays that comes from all different directions. If the range will allow, set up the blind you intend to use for dove hunting and shoot 5 stand from a seated position.
During The Season
9. Plan for the Whole Season
Keep an eye out for how much you use each of your dove fields. Birds get pressured just the same as deer and turkey so be sure you don’t over run your spot. Even the largest dove fields can be ruined by unchecked hunting.
Your best spots shouldn’t be hunted more than once a week, once every two weeks if you can help it. Also consider using your best spots during the week when doves aren’t as keyed up from the guns going off all around them. Setting up a hidey hole where doves feel secure during the weekend can be deadly, but if you ruin it by over hunting it’ll be wasted effort.
10. Set Up Fields of Fire
Make sure every hunter in the field knows where to shoot and more importantly where not to shoot. All hunters need to be aware when birds are being retrieved whose bird is who’s. The best way to do this is to use decoys, mock roost trees, and hay bales as visual markers of fields of fire and to spread hunters out as far as possible.
Don’t forget that shooting towards a road has the potential of dropping lead on drivers, and homes near the road. Keep all shooting in a safe and legal direction.
11. Don't Sweat the Timber
Don’t have a dove field? I have found a measure of success by walking down logging roads on public land almost still hunting just after first light. When doves are moving from field to field they often take breaks in thinned out timber. If you’re willing to walk along lake side looking for flocks of birds taking a break, cruise down a logging road and wait for a fly over, or even just stalk a river looking for thirsty birds you can find birds.
12. Be Safe!
Above all else you have to be safe about dove hunting. The potential for something to go wrong goes up with every hunter and bystander in the field. Make sure everyone follows the firearm safety rules. Everyone knows them but not everyone follows them, if they did people wouldn’t be shot every day on accident. Remember the best mourning dove hunting tip is to keep hunting them and you can’t do that if you get hurt.
13. Watch the Bird
When you hit a dove follow the bird all the way down to the ground and look for a landmark in the field to get a general idea of where the bird landed. This is important especially when you don’t have a dog because the last thing you want to do is not recover an animal you’ve taken.
In heavy brush avoid aiming at birds flying overhead because they’ll land behind you and make it very hard to find. When you look for the bird it may still be flopping and be surrounded by feathers that fell off on impact. That’s normal and can make them easier to find.
14. Follow Through
When you swig your barrel on a bird remember to follow through on the bird. This means to keep swinging the barrel when you pull the trigger. Doves move fast and have a habit of making a break for it just as you pull the trigger. If you don’t follow through and shoot just in front of the bird the shot will be behind it when it gets there.
You can get a feel for this playing sporting clays and just hunting whenever you can but for the most part just remember to lead and always follow your shot through.
15. Bring Enough Gear for the Whole Day
Bring the cooler, the drinks, 3 or 4 boxes of ammo, a big comfy chair and the big blind. You’ll thank me later but dove hunting is casual and as long as you slightly blend in and sit still you’ll be golden so why not be comfortable?
A few boxes of your choice load and lunch is a minimum but many dove fields are equipped with roads to drop off gear from the tailgate of your truck so why not bring the chairs and coolers? If you’re introducing new hunters and family members comfort can be the difference between keeping them and losing them.
16. Wait for the Right Shot
Doves are small and fast and this makes hunters shoot way too early because they assume the dove is small anyway so when they see it at 50 yards they set the gun off. Wait until you think the dove is too close and then shoot.
Always follow through when you shoot and don’t be afraid to make a follow up shot if you can safely do it. Remember also, it’s always easier to shoot a dove that’s flying towards you and the closer the dove is, the easier it’s going to be to find.
After The Hunt
17. Keep the Party Going
When shooting hours are over it doesn’t mean the social atmosphere of dove hunting is over. A BBQ, a dinner party or a campfire is one of the best parts of dove season. Break bread and party with family and friends. A lot of the social aspect of dove hunting is hyped because killing doves just isn’t very hard and the tradition of camaraderie is more fun and often more important than a full limit.
18. Report to the Field Owner Everything that Happened
The landowner is going to want to know what happened in their fields. Report exactly how many birds were killed, how many people were there, when you got there, when you left, if the game warden or any neighbors showed up asking questions, etc.
It’s important to be an ambassador for hunters when engaging with farmers and landowners that don’t hunt themselves otherwise doors and opportunities will close for all of us. Treat the land, and the owner with respect and you’ll have a place to hunt and a big part of that is being honest with what happened while you were hunting.
19. Check the Field Again
I recommend packing it in before shooting times are over so you can do a sweep of the field in the sunlight to look for birds you may have missed or didn’t think you hit. Many times hunters find birds the day after or find the remains of a coyote’s dinner because they didn’t do a final sweep. It may shave a half hour off your hunting time, but you owe it to the animals you killed to find and use their meat.
20. Clean Up All Your Trash
This goes without saying, but clean up after yourself. Modern primers have mercury in them that’ll poison anything that may eat it. Beer cans, spend rounds, shell boxes or candy wrappers all need to be packed out. If you see a shot shell wad while out looking for birds, grab them too! They make a mess when they get ground up in a tiller planting for next year. The more trash you pack out the better your field will be.
After The Season
21. Keep a Calendar of When You See Birds
Keep a calendar of when and where you see birds from year to year. This can be very valuable if you plan on taking the day off for a hunt or having friends over for a hunt. Remember that you can’t use this data for cutting a dove field because you have to use the time tables the farmers use.
If you compile data from multiple years based on your observations, your neighbors and the people who live near you, you’ll be able to predict the best weeks of the year for hunting.
22. Freeze Birds to Have Them All Year
Process your birds and freeze them. Doves are referred to in the south as the filet mignon of the air and they’re great in dishes at thanksgiving and Christmas. Freezing them is just like any other game meat; process the birds into quarters, boned out meat or whole and then vacuum seal and deep freeze. There are tons of dove recipes so don’t be afraid to shoot your limit and experiment.
23. Thank Land Owners
Remember to send a gift basket or at least a card at the holidays to the families of the landowners who let you hunt. Dove hunting isn’t like deer hunting. It’s noisier and in some ways a bigger risk than deer or turkey hunting.
A bottle of spirits, a gift card or just a note goes a long way to making sure you keep opportunities open. Farmers are hit hard every year to open up their land and if you have a family that’s gracious enough to give you a spot, don’t take it for granted.
24. Look to Improve Your Dove Fields
Once you hunt a field a few times, fly by pattern become more apparent, trees and sunset times will change and the food and water sources will shift. Be ready to move blinds, mock roost trees and decoy setups to changing field conditions. Things like Sunday church traffic down a normally quiet road can change hunting for the whole day, be ready to plan and adjust for that.
25. Be Kind to Your Decoys
Dove hunting gear isn’t always made to the most rugged standards because it often doesn’t need to be. Decoys can get expensive. Store foam and hollow plastic decoys in a hard box rather than a bag to keep them from getting smashed or shook around too much. Be sure to remove the batteries from mechanical decoys so they don’t corrode and ruin the electronics inside.
Dove hunting is one of the most enjoyable hunts in America because of the camaraderie and the accessibility of it. Doves can make some of the most delicious meat you can get your hands on. The more you hunt and the more seasons you put under your belt the more dove hunting tips and tactics you’ll have of your own to pass on.
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