By Nick Simonson
A successful dove hunt, like any other outing, requires a bit of knowledge about these little upland birds and some time in the field before the season. Being able to scout out the elements now is key to a great hunting experience from opening day on Sept. 1 until the birds head south on some October cold front. While smaller and often more elevated than their autumn upland contemporaries, mourning doves have similar needs including food, cover, water and grit and putting those four pieces of the puzzle together in late summer will help increase success this fall.
As smaller birds, mourning doves eat smaller items of food. Their preferred nutrition sources are small grains such as wheat, canola and sunflower seeds, which in the current agricultural climate of predominantly soy and corn can be tough to find in some areas of the state. However, once located, these small grain fields provide the first clue as to where to find doves and set up when hunting starts in a few weeks. On a few evening cruises, maybe in conjunction with deer scouting or a fishing trip, make a note of this season’s small grain fields on a map or in a GPS and return to that area. Even after the field has been harvested, the remnants will still draw in doves.
Doves get the lay of the land from elevated perches and utilize trees to rest, roost and loaf during the day. They will move to and from this cover throughout the day to visit food and water sources and pinpointing an area that has larger stands of trees like farm groves and thick, healthy shelterbelts around it will help determine flight paths and the patterns of doves. Scout these areas out in the morning and evening when doves are most active to get a feel for how their fall travels will set up. Additionally, these areas often provide cover for hunters to intercept doves during the season, and the shadows and grassy cover around their bases will help conceal a camouflaged sportsman.
Classic areas of small water such as stock ponds draw doves in by the dozens. Combine scouting efforts with a satellite map to find watering areas near both food sources and cover. Many times, these areas are on private land and will need permission to access, so open those discussions up now before the season starts. An ideal water source will have some small trees, brush or scrub around it for the displaying of decoys and to provide cover for hunters. Ideal evening hunt locations, ponds are great places to mark and gain access to now for those after-work adventures in September.
Finally, doves require the tiniest amount of grit to help aid in their digestion of food. Any gravel road will suffice, making this part of the equation the easiest to solve for. However, in areas that aren’t broken down into mile-by-mile sections crisscrossed by country roads, there are other options birds can turn to. Look for old gravel pits, railroad tracks, or even sandstone cliffs to provide at least some sort of grit that doves can use and add this information to a dove hunting map.
Take a night or two in the coming weeks to put these four elements together and set up a successful season of dove hunting. After that, it’s a matter of getting some practice rounds in at the trap range and waiting for the season to start in September.
Featured Photo: Doves have basic needs, and knowing how to pattern their movements to food, water, cover and grit at this point in summer will help with fall hunts. Simonson Photo.