THE DOVE DAYS OF SEPTEMBER
Jarrod Spilger shares his passion for dove hunting: social, memorable and with the added pleasure of working your dog, it ticks a lot of boxes for the sporting shooter
In my opinion, 1 September should be a national holiday here in the USA, because September’s arrival marks the beginning of dove season in many states.
Doves in early September provide a target-rich sporting environment. The weather is still warm and there are plenty of birds to shoot, or at least shoot at. This makes doves the ideal quarry for introducing new and young hunters to the sport of wingshooting.
Mourning doves are the main species hunted here in my native Nebraska, but a growing population of Eurasian collared doves offers a mixed bag opportunity. The main dove season runs from 1 September to 30 October, with a daily aggregate limit of 15 mourning and/or Eurasian collared doves. There’s also a separate Eurasian collared dove season that runs from 31 October to 31 August. Again, the bag limit is 15 doves, but they all must be Eurasian collared doves during this time. Essentially, Eurasian collared doves can be hunted year-round, since they are a non-native, invasive species.
The season dates are similar in most Midwest states. In southern states, the season may start later and continue into early winter. Bag limits generally run between 10 and 15 doves, but be sure to consult the regulations for the state you plan to hunt for specific season dates and bag limits.
Even though Nebraska’s season runs to 30 October, by 1 October most doves have departed the state, driven south by cooler temperatures. Mourning doves are fair weather birds, and even the slightest cold front prompts them to migrate southward. Larger collared doves are less migratory and a bit hardier. They may stick around until December or even January, depending on the weather, but once frigid temperatures and deep snow arrives, they, too, will fly south. Both species arrive back on their northern spring breeding grounds about the same time around early April.
There are three basic dove set-ups. The first is over a feeding area, such as a sunflower patch or harvested grain field. The second is beneath a flyway where doves travel between a roosting or
resting area and a feeding or watering area. The third is by a watering hole, such as a small pond or stock tank.
That last option is often the best bet here on the Great Plains. I focus most of my dove hunting attention on waterholes, with the best shooting usually coming late in the day. After their afternoon feeding, thirsty doves often fly in for a drink before heading to their roost. I’m set up by a windmill by 4pm and hunt until either I bag my limit or shooting time ends at sunset, whichever comes first. That last half hour before sunset usually provides the hottest action.
For concealment, I wear camouflage clothes and simply sit with my back against the windmill tower, preferably on the shady side. It’s imperative that the windmill tank overflows into a puddle or small pond, so doves have water available to drink at ground level. There should also be some bare ground around the pond, so doves can land with ease and feel secure as they walk in for a drink.
Deploying a few dove decoys encourages passing doves to visit your particular waterhole or field setup. Near waterholes, I’ll place a couple of decoys on ground stakes around the pond to simulate doves walking in for a drink. In field set-ups, a few decoys placed on dead tree branches or a barbed wire fence is usually all it takes to prompt passing doves to wing over your position.
In recent years, I’ve added motion decoys to my spread. Initially, I used an inexpensive wind-activated wing-spinning decoy, but prairie winds can be fickle. The wind often subsides just before sunset, leaving windactivated decoys motionless during that crucial last half hour of daylight.
To solve that problem, I started to use a battery-operated Mojo Voodoo Dove motion decoy instead. I used it every time I hunted last season and the results were spectacular. Doves are drawn to the motion of the spinning wings like a moth to a flame. Plus, the wings spin continuously regardless of the wind or lack thereof. Shots were often so close that by the end of the season I was using a wide-open cylinder bore choke in my shotgun.
For best results, combine a motion decoy with a few static decoys scattered about on the ground around it. This simulates birds that have both landed and are in the process of landing.
Any shotgun will bag doves, but for the sake of economy (in terms of ammo), most hunters stick with a 12- or 20-bore. It’s easy to go through two or three boxes of ammo over the course of a good dove shoot. Doves are challenging targets, frequently prone to dipping and diving just as you fire in apparent anticipation of your shot cloud. Those who bag the limit of 15 doves with a box of 25 rounds can consider themselves experts.
As for shotshells, a typical target load works just fine, provided velocity is 1,200 feet per
Setting up by a windmill stock tank with a slight overflow is a good bet for doves
A few static decoys placed on either a dead branch, fence or ground stakes can help attract wary doves
Any target load over 1,200 fps will work fine on doves. For economy of ammo, stick with a 12-bore or 20-bore
Cousin Brynn poses with her first dove on her first hunt