The opening day of dove season is more than likely the busiest day of the year for those who like to warm a shotgun barrel. More Americans swing a gun on that day than any other. Besides being fun it serves as a harbinger of the upcoming A-List hunting seasons.
Hunting doves is one of the easiest seasons to enjoy. Your gun, a bucket to carry your supplies and serve as a seat and some camouflaged clothing is all that’s really required. Sure you can go the total route and purchase decoys and blinds but even those aren’t necessary. But there are a few tactics that can up your bird count.
Dove hunting is one of the simplest forms of recreation available to wing shooters. Getting started can seem complicated to beginners. It shouldn’t be. Other than minimal equipment, license and migratory bird stamp, all you really need is a place to hunt.
Doves are seed eaters and love all types of grain. Sunflowers, corn and wheat fields all attract doves. Tomato, pickle and melon fields are also hard to beat. The birds are bare ground feeders. Their legs are too small to scratch through leaf litter and too short to navigate dense undergrowth.
Have you ever noticed why you see so many doves around unpaved roads? It’s because they are looking for grit and small gravel to help grind the grains in their gizzard. So don’t overlook grain fields bordered by loose gravel roads.
Normally, the best shooting takes place when birds are flying from roosting to feeding areas. In this part of Indiana real estate that usually means from 8 to 10 A.M. and again from 5:30 to 8 P.M.
There is no question doves make one of the toughest targets in the sky which make them so much fun. They streak by with their eyes and throttles wide open. Every year I hear some people brag how they collected a limit of 15 birds inside a box of shells, although I personally have never seen it done. Ammo companies estimate average hunters shoot an average of four shells for each bird taken and I believe it.
Others say time spent on the skeet range is a way to hone skills. There is no doubt any time we log on the range increases our hand-eye coordination in turn making us a better marksman, but I think doves are a different story. All clay targets fly straight. Doves juke and jive all over the sky and can turn on after burners like a fighter jet.
To increase your odds, wear camo clothing that blends in with your surroundings and even then, don’t silhouette yourself. Sit in the shadow of a tree, fence line, stands of tall weeds or corn. But don’t hide too well because then you won’t see the birds coming until it’s too late. Trust me; this leaves you and your shotgun barrel wavering against the sky as they zip out of sight.
It also pays to learn the nuances of each individual field. “The occasional dove hunter seldom pays attention to what I call dove structure,” said Don Wilkins, a self-proclaimed dove addict who hunts almost daily during the early season. He is convinced doves, relate to certain types of topographic features, manmade or otherwise.
“There are always certain things, other than feed, that draw in birds once they’ve arrived over a field,” Wilkins explained. “It could be a grove of loafing trees, ditch, or even power lines cutting across a field,” he added. “If you have the time, take a few minutes and see how and where the birds are coming in before setting up.”
Wilkins stressed the importance of remaining motionless as his key to success. “The best camo in the world is worthless if the person wearing it can’t sit still,” he said. “A good dove hunter remains perfectly still until the very moment he decides to shoot.”
Also important is trying your best to recover every bird, which sometimes isn’t as easy as you think. Downed doves can be difficult to find and there is no use shooting birds you can’t take home. Marking birds is a wingshooting skill associated with all types of hunting and is just as important as hitting them in the first place.
Watch where the bird falls from the sky and don’t take your eyes off the spot where it hits the ground. Your eyes will quickly fix on a particular tall weed or tree giving you a reference point.
Whenever possible think about the future and include a child in your endeavors. Dove hunting can set the course for a lifetime of wingshooting. The weather is pleasant, gear is minimal and bag limits are generous. Put a light kicking shotgun in their hands and you’ll have a partner (and memories) for many seasons to come.
In the end, remember that hunting doves is not about success rates or the bird to shell ratio. Think of it as an opportunity to spend time afield with family and friends. I personally consider it a 21-gun salute to the beginning of another glorious fall hunting season!