Getting Acquainted with Dove Hunting

January 27, 2009 by  

By Chris Hustad

Well, the countdown has begun and at the beginning of September, dove seasons all across the country will be opening up. Most recently, 2 new states are being added to the list; Minnesota and Michigan. They’ve been waiting for a long time for this possibility, but this also means there’ll be plenty of first-time dove hunters taking the field. To help speed up your learning curve, here are some dove hunting tips from my experiences which could help you spend less time waiting and driving and more time wing shooting.

Before you set out to hunt doves, you should get a basic understanding of them first. Doves are just like other migratory bird species in their ability to be patterned. They are normally found in areas where there are a lot of trees. Around first light in the morning, they’ll leave the roost and head to the fields to feed. I find doves mostly in feeds planted with millet, canola, barley or sunflowers. Occasionally they’ll bounce back and forth to water to drink. I’ve found they’ll feed many miles away from the nearest water so they aren’t afraid to fly to find what they’re looking for. As soon as they’re full they’ll head back to the roost or another similar set of trees to rest, and will head back out later in the afternoon to repeat their morning routine. On a windy day, they’ll spend most of their time in sheltered roosting areas out of the wind. I’m far from a biologist, but this is what I encounter with doves.

After the small primer on dove habits, I’d like to get into how we’ve learned to hunt them. I like to fool birds, and to do that means you’ll have to set yourself up to pass shoot or bring them close with decoys. I’ve always been a diehard waterfowler, especially geese, and a lot of that knowledge applies to the way I like to hunt doves. I spend some time scouting right before the season, looking for roosts, frequent feeding fields and water holes. They tend to reuse the same areas up until they migrate, so hot spots in late August should produce in early September. The trick to scouting is to also figure out the most consistent flyway the birds use during the day.. There are generally 3 places you’ll want to set yourself up to shoot doves: along trees, fields or water holes. Which of these will work best is up to you. Are the birds all taking the same route to and from the roost? Are they all using the same field, and which part of the field are they entering and exiting? Which water holes are they using and at what times of the day? Get yourself comfortable with the area you intend to hunt right before the season and the answers should unfold.

Now here’s a few scenario’s that I play with every fall.

Water Hole

I’ve been lucky and that I’ve lived within a marginal driving distance of some great dove hunting ground all my life. As soon as I got my drivers license in junior high school, I was already on the pursuit of doves close to home. We spent most of our time sitting along water holes early and late in the day. Dove numbers attract more doves, just like waterfowl, so we came up with some tricks to decoying them along water. Doves like to perch, and most perches they prefer are too high up to reach. We’ve taken large branches and stuck them in the ground along the waterhole, in clear viewing distance all around. As soon as you feel its stable enough, start clipping on some decoys on the branches. There’s a variety of decoys available and I’ve used many, but the full body style seem to work the best. After you give the birds something to key in on, all you need to do is camouflage yourself and wait. Seems simple enough, and most times it is if you’re in the right location, but actually shooting and hitting your target consistently is where you’ll have to practice (I highly recommend some trap/skeet before the season). They are quick and fly erratically.

Tree & Field Edges

We started the day of September 1st last year with a nice bag of honkers. Not only was it dove hunting opener, but it was also the opener of early goose season. Unable to talk my hunting buddies into an afternoon dove shoot, I was off on my own down to the areas I grew up dove hunting. I’d already done my homework weeks prior and new where the heavy concentrations were, so it was a pretty easy to come up with a good hunting situation. As I came into my area, I noticed one of the trees just off the roost was already showing some birds resting. The roost holding the birds was a ½ mile shelter belt so I was pretty sure they were in there. I watched the roost for awhile and noticed small groups of birds all heading in a northern direction. I followed some of them a mile until they landed on some power wires along a millet field. Within minutes I noticed birds trading back and forth from the wires to the field, and occasionally birds heading back towards the roost. In-between the millet field and the roost was a very small drainage ditch, and some birds were dropping along there for a drink. In 10 minutes time, I could clearly get a feel as to the habits and patterns of the doves so it was only a matter of finding where to set up. The day was around 80 degrees, not ideal dove hunting weather, especially when coupled with droves of mosquitoes so I looked for the easiest setup to manage. I noticed that when the birds left the roost to feed, most would follow an adjacent shelter belt north in route. Along the end of the belt would be perfect as they’d be constantly flying over going back and forth and I could be easily camouflaged. I went ahead and parked my truck right next to the end of the shelter belt, front end pointing south towards the roost. The birds flying over the trees didn’t see the truck until it was too late, so I had the luxury of being able to sit on the tailgate and wait. It wasn’t long before the action picked up, and for an hour straight singles to groups of over 50 doves would fly within 25 yards of my position. I recall talking on my cell phone to buddies (who decided against going that afternoon), and having to put down the phone every 20 seconds to shoot. It was a great time and I had to let them know what they missed. I harvested my limit and left early to let the birds get back into their pattern for the chance of hunting it again another day.

Dove hunting isn’t as easy as this situation seems, but like all hunting, scouting can pay off huge dividends. Some additional advice I feel I must pass along is proper harvest. If you’re hunting doves in tall vegetation, it’s VERY easy to lose a dove you shoot. Any of you who’ve hunted them know this scenario. You drop a dove and seconds later another flies right over you. You pull up to shoot the second, only to realize you have no clue where the first one lies. At that point it’ll take a long time to find. If you’re hunting in high cover, and you drop a dove, don’t take your eyes off the dove where it landed no matter how many birds are in the air. Walk straight to it, pick it up and then move your eyes to the sky. Sounds elementary, but I’ve unfortunately lost many birds and quality hunting time by doing just this.

Okay, you’ve successfully harvested some birds…now what? If you’re not aware, dove meat is very delicious. I hate to say the overstated phrase, but they do taste a lot like chicken. You can cut out the breasts, and they’ll be around the size of a half dollar coin. The simplest preparation I use is to make kabobs. Stick them on skewers with your favorite veggies and they’re ready to go. Let them sit for an hour in your favorite marinade if you wish, but there really isn’t much game taste to them.

Dove hunting is one of the most challenging birds to shoot. You may think you have a lead on them and suddenly they’ll drop 3 feet or more. Some days I’m embarrassed to say how many boxes I’ve had to shoot to get our birds, but that’s just dove hunting. Spend some days afield trying it and I’m sure you’ll be hooked.

hunter safety course


8 Comments on "Getting Acquainted with Dove Hunting"

  1. Gregory on Sun, 6th Dec 2009 9:52 pm 

    Hey man I read ur article about dove hunting, what u said is very true. And is the epitome of how it is in the feild of dove hunting, I am 15 years old and I’m getting into dove hunting for my fifth year this year. I was ten when I got my first dove with a single shot four ten. I have been hooked on dove hunting since the first day I steped onto dove hunting grounds. I have now shot around 229 birds. There is Truely no feeling like it. I don’t mean to correct u or anything, no disrespect. But when I first started dove hunting I was very curious how to lead a bird, so I think it would help the readers to know how to lead a bird u could set up a scale ratio like 30ft:30mph u should lead the bird 3-4 feet or something because I know when I was starting I was very curios bout that, thank u and good article…

  2. ned on Mon, 2nd Aug 2010 4:34 pm 

    i am 11 now and last year i got my 1st 2 doves w/ a single shot 4-10 at rock keep on hunting wth luck

  3. Bart on Wed, 31st Aug 2011 5:29 pm 

    Very well put. Tomorrow Sept. 1st is Dove opener and I have been getting ready for this day for months. Getting decoys cleaned and repainted if needed I place two mojo doves with about 20 decoys. The fun part of hunting dove don’t have to drive just walk to the back of my property. I have been scouting and there are doves around and also the Euroasin doves.
    Good luck and Good Hunting


  4. Samantha on Sun, 4th Sep 2011 2:26 pm 

    Today was the first dove hunting day ever for me and im 13. It was near 80 degrees and there were doves everywhere! i only killed 3 because i wanted to let my other friends take a crack at the birds. But let me say, 80 degrees and below, you’ll have a great day!
    Happy Hunting

  5. dakota on Sun, 18th Sep 2011 4:33 am 

    well i guess its necessary i put my name and age hello i am Dakota and iv been hunting dove since i was ten and like allot of you i also took my first dove with a single shot 4-10 gauge and after that i just got more and more interested about the world of shotgun hunting and now own three and love them to death the reason im on this website is because im too excited about hunting i cant go to sleep il be leaving in about an hour and heading out to the field to get my decoys set up and ready to go so wish me luck and PS thanks for all of that use full info at the top well good luck to all of you and bye.

  6. dakota on Sun, 18th Sep 2011 4:35 am 

    oh yeah and im 16 by the way forgot to put that.

  7. joe hill on Sat, 8th Sep 2012 5:39 am 

    hope you’ll excuse an old coot putting in his two cents. i’m 56 been hunting doves sense i was 10 back when the sky was full of them and shooting was so fast barrel got so hot you could see the heat rising off it. now i got me three daughters i raised mostly alone. i been taking them afield ever sense they was big enough to say daddy tote me. and come 12 today i’ll be in the field with one daughter that still enjoys the hunt. she 19 now and a fair to good wing shooter. and the time spent with my daughter will be a memory that will last a lifetime for us both. dad remember hunting aint just for boys.

  8. EQUACK on Wed, 31st Oct 2012 12:25 pm 

    I think in reference on how much to lead a bird, it is what ever feels right. There is no ratio you can make up…get out on the range preseason, practice. Shoot a few rounds of trap. Shoot at base line, the go for yardage. Try shooting at the 27 yard line for doves further out. Then practice in the field, once you shoot a few it becomes very natural. You may shoot a box or two before you figure out what is the right distance, but once you get it, you do loose it, unless your not going very often.
    Dove hunting for life…the only way to go

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