5 Tips for Hunting Wet-Weather Dove
Many years, fall dove hunting brings a healthy supply of warm, dry weather, but not always since wet weather can occasionally scramble up the early autumn wingshooting action
When it comes to good dove hunting, water is often a primary consideration.
For one thing, when that water comes in the form of timely spring and early summer rains, it can help mourning doves have a solid season of nesting thanks to good habitat.
Take the year that this particular story is written, a summer in which some areas of my home state of Texas have experienced their wettest season on record.
"Texas had above average mourning dove production early in the spring with continued good production where precipitation occurred through the spring and summer,” said Shaun Oldenburger, dove program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, in a news release.
But on the other hand, water can prove to be too much of a good thing when it comes to the hunting of early season mourning doves.
Why is that? Let me refer to some words written many years ago by Sam Powell, the late outdoor columnist for the Tulsa World newspaper.
"Over many years of dove hunting, I recall the most outstanding outings occurring in the hottest, most brutal weather September can bring," Powell wrote in a pre-season story a couple of decades ago.
In my years of dove hunting, I've often found that to be true, experiencing my most memorable hunts in dry, sultry conditions around a feeding field or a dwindling waterhole.
In fact, my most memorable dove hunt ever came on a blistering hot Labor Day where the high temperature topped out near 110 degrees and the doves poured into a tiny waterhole like it was a magnet. It only took a short time to quickly swat down a limit, thankfully before a heat stroke set in.
But sometimes, thanks to either a storm rolling in from the tropics or an early autumn cold front that triggers big rains, conditions during dove season are more wet than dry.
And that can complicate things, meaning that my favored tactic of anchoring a waterhole can suddenly be nothing more than a good place to swat mosquitoes and to listen to an evening serenade of crickets and bullfrogs.
"Yeah, really wet weather can definitely alter a hunter's strategy," said Jim Lillis, a Lone Star State dove hunter with some 50-years of wingshooting under his belt. "In a hot and dry year, waterholes can be good, really good. But in a wet year like this one in Texas, not so much."
Whether planning on hunting in wet, rainy weather or not, it’s always a good idea to pack some gun oil and a few rags to wipe down firearms when the hunt is over. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
What should a dove hunter do when the fall weather is more on the damp side than it is dry? Follow these five steps and go hunting anyway.
First, remember that the birds are still going to feed and water, it's just that such activity might be different and less concentrated. And that means that more careful scouting is vitally important for success.
"How successful you'll be hunting doves during wet weather, that may be related to how dedicated you are in getting out and scouting and finding out exactly where the birds want to be," said Lillis.
"Scouting is always important, but in wet conditions, you've got to drive down the road, scout diligently and really beat the bush to find out exactly where you need to be hunting."
Second, don't overlook the days leading up to a storm, particularly the actual day that a strong front or rainstorm pushes in. Just as in the hunting of many other game animals and game birds, such days of building winds, dropping barometric pressure and threatening skies can prove to be magical.
Take for instance the epic shooting I experienced one fall on a local agricultural area where farmers had just harvested their crops the week before.
The day before the season started, a strong early season front was pushing down the Great Plains and the birds were swarming on the southerly wind.
Then the front arrived with a stiff north wind, huge thunderstorms and flooding rains, something that turned the dirt roads leading into this wingshooting hotspot into a muddy mess.
Fortunately, the birds didn't immediately push out of the area overnight, leading to some epic opening morning shooting despite having to put the truck into four-wheel drive to navigate the muddy quagmires called roads.
A day or two later, the swarm of birds had pushed completely out of the area. But before that happened, we got in one really good hunt that I still remember to this day.
That wasn't a onetime occurrence either since I've occasionally discovered similar shooting conditions on the first day of a front or rainstorm.
In fact, a few years ago as I hunted opening day with my two sons, the same thing happened – dry hot weather with plenty of birds leading up to the season, then a rainy deluge to open things up.
Before the birds could depart the area a day later, we went out, got a little wet, and still managed to enjoy some great shooting as rainbows danced around in the cloudy and damp skies.
A third key to this wet weather dove hunting idea can be not overlooking more subtle areas that the birds will be using, places where they will either roost overnight or go to for gravel.
"Yeah, you can find hunting spots around areas that offer gravel or sandy grit for their craws," said Lillis. "Years ago, I used to enjoy dove hunting in a sandy spot down in the Red River bottoms. There was a lot of tiny grit there, and even when conditions were wet, the birds utilized it pretty heavily."
Fourth, don't forget to pay especially close attention to the local natural food resources that doves will be using, plants that produce tiny little seeds like croton, sunflower, ragweed, etc.
"Where good water conditions and timing of seeding in these plants coincide, hunters should find good hunting in September for mourning doves," said Oldenburger in the TPWD news release referenced above.
My friend Lillis concurs, noting that in his experience, significant early fall rains can scrub hunting in more traditional spots like a harvested wheat field where the rains beat the tiny seeds into the mud or a cut milo field where the grain will sprout and/or sour a bit.
"It's always important to look at the seeds in a dove's craw, but even more so during wet weather," said Lillis. "Over my years of hunting, I've found that more often than not during a wet spell, you'll find native sunflowers and other tiny seeds from things like croton, thistles, and even Johnson grass.
"Those spots can be subtle and more difficult to find, but when you do, you can experience some pretty good shooting, often without the big crowds that the more traditional fields tend to draw."
Finally, Lillis said to be willing to stay after it, putting in some sweat equity to find doves.
"I'm an avid dove hunter, so it isn't hard for me to keep on putting in the effort to find birds," he said. "And even when good places to hunt aren't as cut and dry as they can be during a hot fall, you can still find good pockets of birds to hunt as they migrate south."
And when you get a limit of those mourning doves during a period of wet autumn weather, the satisfaction is more than enough to make you smile.
Maybe even more so than you do while sitting around a hot, sunny waterhole wiping sweat from your brow, a time where the hunting may be easier, but perhaps not as richly satisfying.