Photo by Jim Niemiec.
Why would 65 hunters get up at the crack of dawn, drive hundreds of miles and stand in line for hours?
This was the scene last season at the Department of Fish and Game dove-hunting site in the Imperial Valley as hunters waited for the fast-flying birds to pass by. Normally, we Californians are impatient, but apparently not when it comes to dove hunting here in the Golden State!
Doves are the No. 1 sought-after game bird in California and the rest of the country as well. There are more shotgun shells shot up on the opening day of dove season than on any other hunting day of the year.
From the mountains to the foothills and all throughout the desert areas of California, dove hunters persistently pursue the “gray ghost” in hopes of finding a limit.
Here in California, the most popular species of dove are mourning doves and the white-wing doves. But we have a new intruder: the Eurasian collared dove. This bird is causing a bit of a problem for our state biologists. They have no idea what the impact of this new dove will be on our mourning or white-winged dove populations.
There have been a few studies on the East Coast that suggest there is very little or no effect there at all. California biologists are waiting for some sort of a negative sign before launching a study of their own.
In the meantime, to keep numbers of these newcomers in check, hunters have no bag limit on Eurasians, as long as you take them during the regular dove season.
So, why did all those hunters wait in line for a chance to shoot these particular birds? Perhaps it’s the challenges that doves present. They’re unpredictable, difficult to hit, and hard to retrieve whether you drop them in heavy or light cover. Even finding where to dove hunt can be a test of your perseverance. You need knowledge of their flight patterns, as well as their feeding and drinking habits.
Unless you live in a southern part of our state where doves are plentiful, you’ll have to get out and look for them. Scouting areas in advance of opening day can require some real sleuthing. Luckily, doves are creatures of habit and usually stick to the same flight pattern day after day while in an area. They usually fly in pathways along tree lines, fences and sloughs. They like to rest in trees near water. If you live in a dry area, you can seek out small ponds or riverbeds as likely spots.
You’ll get ahead of the game if you can find an area where doves are likely to feed. Doves will fly up to 8 miles in search of food, and they prefer certain weeds and seeds. They favor not only grains in planted fields, but also wild thistle, ragweed and foxtail.
On the Central Coast, we have California thistle and a plant commonly called turkey mullein or dove weed.
According to Paul Roberts, an avid hunter in the area, dove weed is key.
“Once these plants have ripened, you won’t need a shotgun. You can get a limit of doves with a dip net,” he said.
It pays to find out where this particular plant grows near you.
However, just when you think you’ve got your area properly scouted out, the gray ghosts can vanish.
A few years ago, I did some extensive scouting the week before the season opened. The day before the opener, I happened onto a cut oat field that had some dove weed and thistle growing, and there were thousands of doves feeding. I felt as though I had hit the mother lode and looked forward to a great day of shooting the following day.
After getting permission from the landowner, I decide to camp out near the field that night to avoid an early-morning, two-hour drive. I was so excited I could hardly sleep.
I was awakened long before dawn by my Labrador, Hunter, who seemed to be sharing my anticipation. In the dim light, we took our place near an old abandoned pump house and waited. As daylight broke, I looked around and was shocked to see only empty skies and a vacant, lonely field.
Still, I had hope because the doves had been there at 10 a.m. the day before. So, we waited. The morning dragged on, and I looked with disbelief as a mere handful of birds arrived.
I harvested only four doves that morning.
As for blending in with the background, it’s not only important for the dove, it’s important for you as well. You’ll have a better chance of luring birds into shotgun range if you’re wearing camouflage clothing and concealing your gear properly. These birds have excellent eyesight and are easily spooked. As in other hunting situations, you always need to make sure other hunters know exactly where you are to avoid accidents.
Another way to get these savvy birds into range is to use decoys. A few years ago, I hunted with a guy I thought might just be a bit crazy. He would tie an automotive spark plug to one end of a 30-yard cotton kite string, and a dove decoy to the other.
Then, he swung the spark plug end around his head to gain enough momentum to throw the plug over a 30-foot-high power line, allowing him to pull the decoy into a sitting position on the wire above. I thought this was a creative plan but remained skeptical of its effectiveness until I saw the results.
This guy stood motionless next to the power pole only 10 feet away from his decoy. Birds started coming in and were so focused on the decoy on the line that they didn’t even notice the hunter standing below. As you can imagine, this hunter’s bird-to-shell ratio was impressive, and it took him no time at all to bag a limit.
This unconventional method is not one I would choose to use unless I had no other choice. Since that time, I have been introduced to the battery-operated moving dove decoys and am blown away by their effectiveness. Not only will these gadgets bring the birds closer as they come into a field or water hole, but they can even bring in birds that were headed someplace else. I’ll stick my neck out and guarantee that you will have more birds come within gun range when you use a motorized decoy than without one.
Pages: 1 2