As soon as the first cool breeze pushes through the grass line following the hot summer, you can find sportsmen glancing to the skyline. They are not making meteorological or astronomical assessments. They are looking for doves. Long considered the sport of choice for discerning gentlemen hunters, the taking of dove across the lower 48 is equal parts bonding and field craft.
What are They?
These small migratory game birds include the pointed-tailed mourning dove—and the white-winged dove. They are what is known as non-perching upland game birds. This means you will find them either on the ground or in the sky, not in trees. Ushered into the marsh and pine forests of the South by the first hint of fall, they appear in large numbers starting in early September. When we say large numbers, we mean it. According to USF&WS surveys, it is thought that some 500-million of these little seed-eaters are poking around the country.
The Ease of the Dove Hunt
Dove hunting is, above all else, a different sort of sport from most other game. Unlike deer, turkey, and waterfowl hunting, camouflage doesn’t make as big of a factor in your dove load out. It’s a come as you are type of sport, often enjoyed best with friends and family. Provided you have plenty of low brass shells (think No. 7 to No. 8 shot), and a decent shotgun (think Remington 11-87 and 870 Wingmaster, etc.), everything else will fall into place.
Get in Touch with Your Clays
These fast and fluttery little birds make difficult targets as they streak across the fields. They are small, fast targets, known for flying in anything but a straight line at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour. This means that experienced trap and clays shooters do very well when it comes to dove. With that in mind, an off-season ritual that can help your chances is working those clays stands during the summer. It’s not uncommon for even experienced hunters to get just 3-4 birds for every box of shotgun shells used.
On the bright side, if they pass you up, another will be along soon. As more good news, they usually come in great numbers. This helps even the odds in the hunter’s favor.
Location is Everything
Since doves eat grain that has to be digested with small rocks, you can often find them in gravel patches near streams fields. One of the best tricks for finding dove is scouting a few days in advance with a good pair of binoculars.
Once you locate a good dove area, get comfortable, and wait. Especially good times for hunting are early morning and late afternoon. Dove are not the brightest of birds and can often be tricked into coming closer with the use of battery powered dove decoys that use spinning wings. Flushing birds from high grass or cooing them in also has good results.
Still, at the end of the day, having a nice pile of dove to cook is worth it. Speaking of which, remember that these small little dark meat birds can dry out fast since they are very lean and have little fat. With that in mind, beware of overcooking.
And enjoy the best part of fall.