Nail a Limit

Score big on doves with th­ese in­dis­pens­able tips

Modern Pioneer - - Contents - By Thomas C. Ta­bor

Some hun­ters might be sur­prised to hear that doves are con­sid­ered the lead­ing game-bird species among U.S. hun­ters. An­nual har­vest es­ti­mates run from 20 to 70 mil­lion birds.

Per­haps doves are tar­geted be­cause they’re so pop­u­lous through­out the U.S., the sea­sons typ­i­cally oc­cur in Septem­ber (be­fore most other hunt­ing sea­sons), and their breeding cy­cles are pro­lific. The species con­sis­tently sus­tains its pop­u­la­tion, even when sub­jected to tremen­dously high kill rates, be­cause they can nest up to six times a year, with each brood con­sist­ing of two young. That im­pres­sive re­pro­duc­tion rate re­sults in an es­ti­mated U.S. dove pop­u­la­tion of 350 mil­lion birds.

But, the mourn­ing dove’s large pop­u­la­tion and wide­spread dis­tri­bu­tion don’t nec­es­sar­ily mean they’re easy to har­vest. Any­one who’s ever hunted them will point out that with a flight speed up to 60 mph, a dove can be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to hit. Ad­di­tion­ally, their su­perb eye­sight and er­ratic flight pat­terns only in­crease that dif­fi­culty. But, know­ing the dove’s habits and hav­ing a few hunt­ing tips to fall back on will help you put some doves in your game pouch.

Lo­ca­tion, Lo­ca­tion, Lo­ca­tion

Suc­cess comes from hunt­ing the right area. For that rea­son, pre-hunt scout­ing is es­sen­tial. Sim­ply put, you can’t shoot a dove if none are in the vicin­ity.

To lo­cate doves, you first must un­der­stand their daily habits, which are es­sen­tially made up of four ba­sic ac­tiv­i­ties: roost­ing, feed­ing, wa­ter­ing and pick­ing gravel for their di­ges­tion. Their days be­gin by leav­ing the roost as the sun first breaks over the hori­zon and head­ing to wa­ter, which could be lo­cated sev­eral miles away in some in­stances.

Af­ter that, they quickly head to a feed­ing area, which typ­i­cally con­sists of oats, corn, wheat, mil­let, bar­ley, canola, sun­flower or other grain crops. A dove’s legs are short, which makes it dif­fi­cult for them to move around in higher veg­e­ta­tion, so they pre­fer feed­ing ar­eas that of­fer at least some open, bare ground.

Once their ap­petite has been sat­is­fied, the birds will in­stinc­tively be­gin to seek a gravel source for their giz­zards. Like chick­ens, gravel is nec­es­sary for the birds to di­gest their food. Once es­tab­lished by the hunter, th­ese lo­cales can be ex­cel­lent places to am­bush doves. Or, as an al­ter­na­tive, there could be fly-by shoot­ing

op­por­tu­ni­ties lo­cated be­tween those ar­eas.

Once the need for gravel has been sat­is­fied, doves of­ten seek out an area to roost and while away the mid­day hours be­fore the whole process be­gins anew in the af­ter­noon. Study­ing th­ese habits will al­low you to po­si­tion your­self for ac­tion.

Us­ing Calls and De­coys

While I’ve shot many doves sim­ply by rec­og­niz­ing their flight pat­terns and ly­ing in wait for pass-shoot­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, you can of­ten in­crease your odds of suc­cess by strate­gi­cally plac­ing a few de­coys.

Dove de­coys can ben­e­fit hun­ters in two ways. Ob­vi­ously, the birds will spot the de­coys and join them, giv­ing you a shot. The sec­ond and pos­si­bly even more im­por­tant ben­e­fit of de­coys is that the bird’s eye­sight and at­ten­tion will be on the de­coys rather than on you.

Dove de­coys come in two ba­sic styles: sta­tion­ary and mo­tor­ized. While both can be ef­fec­tive, the mo­tor­ized mod­els can capture the at­ten­tion of birds from far greater dis­tances than sta­tion­ary va­ri­eties. I fre­quently use a com­bi­na­tion of both when hunt­ing: em­ploy­ing a sin­gle mo­tor­ized de­coy like a Mojo Voodoo Dove as a long-range at­trac­tant, and strate­gi­cally plac­ing a few sta­tion­ary de­coys like those pro­duced by Hard Core on the ground or in nearby trees. Hard Core de­coys have a built-in clip, mak­ing them easy to fas­ten to tree limbs. Or, they can sim­ply be placed on the ground as if feed­ing or pick­ing gravel. Keep in mind, how­ever, that a de­coy does no good if it can­not be seen. Po­si­tion them on the ends of tree limbs or some­where lack­ing veg­e­ta­tion.

When I hunt with a mo­tor­ized de­coy, I usu­ally place it a bit far­ther away from my shoot­ing po­si­tion than I do the sta­tion­ary de­coys. I gen­er­ally place the mo­tor­ized fake some­where around 35 or 40 yards away from my lo­ca­tion and the non-mo­tor­ized ver­sions about 25 to 30 yards away.

Per­son­ally, I don’t use calls for dove hunt­ing. While in some sit­u­a­tions it might at­tract them, call­ing doves gen­er­ally isn’t nearly as im­por­tant as it is when hunt­ing wa­ter­fowl. If noth­ing else pro­duces, though, a call will give you some­thing to do while you await the doves’ ar­rival.

“A com­mon dove-hunt­ing joke is that most hun­ters ex­pend far more weight in shells than they har­vest in dove meat.”

Stay Hid­den

Due to the keen eye­sight and nat­u­ral wari­ness all doves pos­sess, it’s im­per­a­tive that you re­main hid­den un­til you’re ready to shoot. Wear some form of cam­ou­flage and tuck into nat­u­ral fo­liage. Un­for­tu­nately, not all ar­eas of the coun­try al­low camo while hunt­ing. In those cases, you must rely on nat­u­ral con­ceal­ment, or you may opt to use a por­ta­ble com­mer­cial blind.

Firearms and Ammo

Other than pos­si­bly us­ing a few de­coys, no spe­cial­ized equip­ment is needed for dove hunt­ing. Some­times a back­pack is nice to have when pack­ing in to the hunt­ing area, but it cer­tainly isn’t re­quired. For a shot­gun, any up­land-bird gun will work, even a 12 gauge. I per­son­ally pre­fer one of the smaller gauges like a 20, or even bet­ter, a 28 gauge.

Doves are ex­tremely fast and er­ratic fliers. That said, a quick-swing­ing and point­ing shot­gun will pro­duce the high­est de­gree of suc­cess. If you set up prop­erly, your shots should be at mod­er­ate range, and some­times even one or two pieces of shot will bring them down. Un­like many other game-bird species that have an im­pen­e­tra­ble layer of heavy feath­ers dur­ing hunt­ing sea­son, a dove’s feath­ers are light and eas­ily pen­e­trated. The up­per limit in shot size would be No. 7 ½, but 8 or even 8 ½ will work just fine. Mod­er­ately open chokes, like mod­i­fied or im­proved cylin­der, are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered op­ti­mum.

“… with a flight speed up to 60 mph, a dove can be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to hit.”

The Way I See It

In many parts of the coun­try, dove sea­son pre­cedes other hunt­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, and most of­ten takes place in warm weather. Based on those points alone, I sim­ply can’t think of a bet­ter way to be­come a pro­fi­cient bird shooter than to head afield for some fast dove ac­tion.

While dove hunt­ing can be great fun, it can also be quite hum­bling at times. A com­mon dove-hunt­ing joke is that most hun­ters ex­pend far more weight in shells than they har­vest in dove meat. A dove’s typ­i­cal dip­ping-and­dodg­ing tac­tics can make them ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to hit, and for that rea­son, misses fre­quently ex­ceed hits. If we only hunted for the meat, it would be far cheaper to sim­ply head to the gro­cery store and buy it. Some­how, I don’t think that would be as much fun.

(top) In some ju­ris­dic­tions, hunter orange must be worn while hunt­ing, even for birds.


(op­po­site) When there’s a lack of nat­u­ral veg­e­ta­tion in the im­me­di­ate area, author Thomas Ta­bor erects a sim­ple and easyto-con­struct ground blind. PHOTO BY THOMAS C. TA­BOR


(top) When avail­able, a fence is an ex­cel­lent place to po­si­tion a de­coy. This is a nat­u­ral lo­ca­tion for a dove to sit, and the de­coy is vis­i­ble to any birds pass­ing by.

(op­po­site) A dove’s out­ward ap­pear­ance might be one of beauty and in­no­cence, but when it comes to hunt­ing, doves can present some of the most dif­fi­cult shots.

(top) The mourn­ing dove is an at­trac­tive bird, but also a very dif­fi­cult tar­get to hit in flight.


(op­po­site) Mo­tor­ized de­coys like this Mojo Voodoo Dove work as an ex­cel­lent at­trac­tor and, in many cases, a dis­trac­tor, since the birds fo­cus on the de­coy rather than on the hunter. PHOTO BY MOJO OUT­DOORS

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