By Steve Weisman
A reminder of why we hunt doves,
with six tips to put you where the doves are.
Doves are fast-flying acrobats, and hunters in 40 states kick off their fall hunting seasons with rapid-fire action on these hard-to-hit targets. If you need any more reasons to get into the dove fields, besides brushing up on your accuracy, here are three quick ones:
- It doesn’t take a lot of gear, just a shotgun and shells (and plenty of them).
- It’s a great way to get in a little retrieving work if you have a dog.
- Lots of shooting and no pressure make it a great way to introduce youngsters to the sport of hunting.
According to research data kept over the past 30 years, over 350 million doves thrive nationwide. Dove hunters bag just 17-20 million birds a year – an annual hunting mortality rate of only about 6 percent.
One of the fun parts about dove season is that it comes early, commencing in the upper Midwest in late August or early September (for specific information, contact your state’s wildlife division). Since dove season comes early, temperatures can be warm, so have plenty of water on hand for both hunters and dogs. Prime times to target doves are early morning and late afternoon into evening.
Where to Hunt
Doves travel an average of two to eight miles for food, and state wildlife lands often have habitat to attract them. Since most of the mourning dove diet is comprised of weed seeds and grains, look for food plots on public hunting land that include one or more of the following: corn, sorghum, millet and sunflower. Probably the best is sunflower. Preferred weed seeds include pigweed, foxtails, wild sunflower and ragweed.
According to Mark Gulick, DNR Wildlife Supervisor in northwest Iowa, “Doves prefer patches of bare ground or closely clipped stubble with seeds as their food source. As a result, these sunflower food plots will be mowed down in mid-August to allow the doves to establish feeding patterns. On some larger fields, we will leave some of the sunflower plot standing to provide hunter cover. One of the most common ways to hunt doves is to find cover along a fence row or in the standing sunflowers. Sit on a bucket and wait for the doves to come into range.”
Gulick also mentioned that new native prairie seedings in their first or second year could also attract doves after they have been clipped. “The mowed vegetation will include lots of foxtail and broadleaf seeds. For this type of hunting, I often see hunters actually walk the mowed cover, probably with their dog to flush the doves.”
If dove hunters could hunt the perfect area, it would probably include clipped sunflowers, or a recently harvested small grain (oats/wheat) with a stock pond or dugout for water and plenty of bare earth where birds dust off – all within easy flying range. Some hunters do use dove decoys and place them along the shoreline of a pond or dugout.
Some of these “perfect” areas are often on private property. Often, it just takes a little pre-season scouting to find these spots and make contact with the landowner to see if he or she allows hunting.
Since the mourning dove is considered a migratory game bird by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it falls under the Migratory Game Laws.
Tips to Put You Where the Doves Are
- Scouting potential areas prior to the season is highly beneficial – really, a “must”.
- Identify recently harvested small grain or sunflower fields and stock dams and ponds with heavily grazed pasture areas.
- Look for first or second year plantings of new prairie grasses that have recently been clipped.
- Blend into the area by setting up along a fencerow or other cover or in standing sunflowers. A camouflaged five-gallon bucket works well for a seat and also to carry shells, water, doves, etc.
- Hunting the same area for several straight days will move the doves out, so line up some places for day two, three, four…
- You need to throw a big pattern to cover those speedsters, so use an open-choked shotgun with #6 or #7 steel shot.
Check with state regulations to see if blaze orange is required. Even if it is not, wear an orange cap or vest while walking to and from the field for safety. And don’t be embarrassed if you miss more than you kill. Most people do.
About Steve Weisman
A retired teacher, Steve Weisman is a member of OWAA and AGLOW* and has been a freelance outdoor writer for 19 years. He writes for several publications throughout the Midwest. He enjoys sharing news about the outdoors through his own experiences and the information gained from DNR wildlife and fisheries biologists and outdoor experts. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*OWAA is Outdoor Writers Association of America.
AGLOW is Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers.
When you’re ready to field dress your doves,
be sure to use the best field dressing knife.
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