During a day of dove shooting, you’ll encounter nearly every shot presentation imaginable (and some you’d probably never dream of). There will be incoming, outgoing, crossing and maybe even passing shots, depending on where you set up.
Dove hunting is often a relatively relaxed pursuit, but hunters who take it seriously and invest a bit more thought and effort into it will not only bag more birds, but also improve their overall wingshooting skills in the process. Here are some strategies for increased dove shooting success.
Location, Location, Location
Just as in real estate, location is essential to putting more doves in the bag. Where you set up is vitally important. Three key areas should be considered when planning a dove hunt: food, water and flyways.
Hunting over a food source, such as cut wheat or milo, is a popular tactic, especially in the South and East where vast fields are managed specifically for organized dove shoots. The premise is simple: Hide near an agricultural field that has recently been harvested and wait for the birds to come in to feed.
Don’t overlook less structured food sources, though. If you can find a sunflower field, whether planted or wild, harvested or still standing, you’ve hit dove-shooting gold. Doves love sunflowers, and will come in daily to feast. Hide beneath a few tall stalks and get ready. Overgrown, weedy fields are another favorite dove hotspot, especially if there’s some bare ground beneath the weeds for birds to walk and scratch around on. Concealment is fairly easy — just make sure you wear green-hued camo in the early-season, browner camo later on as the vegetation dries up.
Out West, where water is a scarce commodity, hunting a water source is often productive. Doves will fly in for a drink after feeding on waste grain or weed seeds. The best times to hunt near water are midmorning and late afternoon, after doves have had their early-morning and midday snacks.
On the Great Plains, stock ponds filled by windmills are often the only water sources for miles around. Doves will flock to them in droves for a late-afternoon drink, especially on hot, dry, dusty days. Dove drinking activity increases as dusk approaches, peaking the last hour or half-hour before sunset.
These ponds usually have bare ground surrounding them for several yards, the vegetation trodden down by cattle. Savvy hunters will show up a couple hours before sunset, bring plenty of ammo, hide themselves against the windmill tower, and wait for the birds to show up. As the season progresses, wary doves will often skirt the pond just out of range until right before quitting time, with the main influx arriving just after sunset. It can be frustrating, but then you’ll know you’re dove hunting, not just dove shooting.
Another good place to set up is under a known flyway. One of my favorite hunting spots has neither food nor water. However, it’s located in a major dove flyway between roosting trees and a pond. The shots are often tall and challenging. Decoys can be used to draw birds in closer, even if it’s just for a quick look as they wing past overhead. That’s often all that’s needed, or can be expected, when hunting beneath a flyway.
Deploy The Decoys
Doves are easily fooled by a few well-placed decoys. Both static and motion decoys will work. When hunting a flyway, clip a few stationary fakes to a nearby barbed-wire fence to pull passing doves within shotgun range. Gregarious doves might even try to join the dekes, providing incoming shots as they attempt to land, or flushing shots when you stand to shoot.
When hunting a feeding field, clip those same static decoys to a short metal stake to hold them upright and place them on the ground to imitate birds that have just landed and are searching for a meal. Likewise, decoys can be placed on the bare ground around a watering hole to look like doves coming in for a drink.
Motion decoys with spinning wings are also highly effective, where legal. Either wind- or battery-powered models will work. Since I live on the Great Plains where the wind is usually blowing, I elected to get the former. One breezy afternoon last season, we enjoyed steady gunning, as long as the wind kept blowing and the decoy’s wings kept spinning. Then, as sunset approached, the wind died down and the decoy fell lifeless. Shots immediately got tougher, as the birds refused to finish.
Since the wind can be fickle, a battery-powered motion decoy might be the safer bet. There are several automated dove decoys on the market, but I’m thinking a small teal spinner might work just as well. Doves aren’t finicky. The flash is the main thing that attracts them. Plus, the teal decoy could also be used during duck season.
To really give life to a dove decoy set, try adding some calling. Yes, doves can be called in just like waterfowl. It’s a little-known tactic that can really make a big difference, especially on spooky, late-season birds.
Dove calls aren’t loud, though, so the decoys will need to initially grab the birds’ attention. Then, use calling to reel them in those last few, crucial yards. Just like when duck hunting, call on the corners as doves circle your setup. Hearing that familiar cooing is often the final touch needed to give wary doves the confidence to commit.
I have two dove calls, a Haydel’s D-90, which is a long, flute-style call, and a Primos Model 362, which is compact like a whistle. The Haydel’s call has a lower, subdued tone, while Primos’ version has a higher, louder pitch, making it a great choice for windy days.
Operation of both calls is easy. To imitate the mournful coo of a mourning dove, simply blow into the mouthpiece. For the first note of the series, cover a hole in the barrel with a finger. On Haydel’s call, the hole is located on the very end of the flute section, while on Primos’ call it’s located in the middle. The second, higher note is made by lifting the finger and uncovering the hole, while the third note is again made with the hole covered. Two or three more drawn-out notes, also made with the hole covered, complete the sequence. Single-note coos — made with the hole covered — have also proven effective at enticing doves into range, just like a feeding chuckle comforts ducks.
Give dove hunting a try this fall. Not only is it a great tune-up for the waterfowl seasons to follow, but by paying attention to the details — location, decoys and calling — you’ll be rewarded with more dove breasts on the grill come suppertime.