With the turn of the calendar page to September 1, we’re officially at the start of hunting season as the regular mourning dove opener occurs at first light. Knowing where to go, how to target these birds and what tactics that pay off in the field will help make the start to fall a very successful one.
Location, Location, Location
Doves have four basic needs that hunters must be aware of in order to find a perfect location for their efforts: food, cover, water and grit. Their primary food source is small grain like wheat, canola, and sunflowers. Identifying nearby fields of these crops – even those that have been harvested – will help provide a clue to where doves will be moving. Doves are also birds that spend time in trees, and picking out areas where they roost will provide a point that they travel to or from in relation to their food source.
Watering areas are also important to doves, and locating stock ponds, small creeks and flows, seeps and other areas where hydration is readily available gives a hint to an ideal ambush point. Finally, doves need grit to help digest their food, and gravel pits and the often-nearby gravel road provide a source for the digestive aid of sand and small bits of rock they need. Put these four factors together and find a spot of cover to set up between them all, and hunting action is sure to be fast.
Time It Right
While doves can be seen moving throughout the day, morning and evening are the best times to catch them traveling between roosting areas and food and water sources. Typically, in the hours just after dawn and that 90 minutes before sunset, doves will visit fields to feed and watering areas to get a drink before they roost for the day or the night. Finding the best flight paths between these areas and setting up on them just before the prime times for dove movement will provide more than just the occasional passing shot and the best chance at filling out a limit.
During the day, doves can still be found in areas that have all of the four required elements, though they may not be moving as much. Try getting out and walking tree rows or grassy, brushy stretches along harvested fields and gravel roads which may hold birds. This not only provides some added excitement and occasionally great hunting, it also helps sharpen shooting skills needed for other flushing birds later this autumn.
Doves are best pursued with 12-to-20-gauge shotguns, employing shot in sizes of 7.5 or 8, anything larger than that will be detrimental to getting more pellets out there to connect with these small, fast-moving birds. Chokes in modified, improved modified or full will help take rangy birds, but based on how mourning doves come in to a certain feeding area or watering spot, more open chokes can be used to catch them as they land and provide a bigger pattern at closer ranges.
Utilize clip-on dove decoys that can be added to fences, tree branches or other elevated posts, and utilize a motion decoy, where allowed, to create an even more realistic spread around a watering hole or area of cover to bring doves in. Camouflage clothing in grasses, greens, grays and late-summer color schemes will help hide hunters from the sharp eyes of these little birds.
A five-gallon bucket makes a perfect perch for dove hunters, and at the end of the hunt is a great way to pack everything – including your limit of birds – back to the truck. Find one in green, gray or brown or color it up with a little camouflage paint for an even better seat in autumn’s first hunting season. Remember to get HIP-certified for dove hunting season, as they are migratory birds! This can be done online through a state management agency, or at many license vendors. With these tips on knowing where, when and how to find dove hunting success, this year’s first upland season will provide a great start to fall and will provide a continued opportunity into early October.