There’s sitting on a bucket at the edge of a field, and then there’s dove hunting. Knowing the birds and their habits will provide plenty of trigger time.
Christmas is nice. So is Thanksgiving, Halloween, the Super Bowl and even winning $100 on a lottery ticket.
For some, nothing beats the opening day of dove season.
Recognized as the nation’s most sought-after migratory game bird, mourning doves provide an unmatched challenge. Opening day — Sept. 1 in most states — also marks the unofficial start of fall hunting for many who are now preparing for their upcoming hunts.
According to the 2015 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service surveys, some 749,000 hunters harvested approximately 13 million doves, from an estimated population of 63 million birds.
However, there is more to dove hunting than simply plopping down at the edge of a field with a shotgun; hunters need an understanding of dove habitat and behavior.
AFTER OPENING DAY
Veteran dove hunters know it’s hard to beat opening day for sheer numbers of birds. However, this changes quickly by days three, four and beyond, as many doves flocking fields go home with hunters.
Those that remain become wise, particularly when it comes to the schedules kept by most heading afield; the first two hours of legal shooting followed by the final hour of the day.
Fortunately, there’s a way to throw a twist into the mix by going later. Most hunters leave around 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. to relax and eat lunch, which is often a mistake, as the hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. are often productive following the opener.
However, birds might not appear in numbers associated with opening day, instead trickling in as singles, pairs and small groups. Mid-day tactics are essentially the same, with the possible exception of decoys, particularly a spinning wind decoy to attract attention.
MAKE A DOVE WIRE
DRIVE TWO 2-foot pieces of 3/4-inch metal conduit into the ground. A 10-foot section of 1/2-inch conduit slips into each section of 3/4-inch pipe, with wire stretched between them. Clip 6 to 8 decoys on the wire with a spinning-wing on one of the uprights. (Infographic by Ryan Kirby)
HIT THE WATER
Hunters where managed food plots, either public or private, aren’t an option need not despair, particularly should the opener arrive on the heels of a long, hot and dry summer.
Doves, like many birds during periods of higher temperatures, will go to water twice daily, typically in the morning following a feed, and in the evening just before going to roost. Hunters can take advantage of this by concentrating on water sources.
The types of water sources used by doves are many and varied; however, most, if not all, share a common denominator; a brush-free transition from bank to water, whether still or running. Short-legged creatures, doves are fond of bare or relatively bare ground, which is easy for them to get around.
This also makes it easy for them to scan for predators. Small ponds with clear gently sloping shorelines are popular. So are riverine sandbars, particularly if the area is lined with tall snags that the birds might use for perches prior to swooping down. As for when to scout, most activity will occur either at daybreak, an hour or so after legal shooting time and an hour before dusk, as the birds prepare to roost.
THE COMBO SPREAD
Doves are a most gregarious game bird. To put it simply, they love company, making decoys a no-brainer. Traditional three-dimensional decoys can work. However, they have a pair of problems — visibility, especially in higher cover and lack of motion.
Modern spinning wing decoys help solve these issues and have become quite popular among hunters. However, a simple way to enhance the drawing power of a dove spread is with the introduction of pigeon decoys.
Doves often share the same space as pigeons, with many hunters considering pigeons and Eurasian collared doves to be bonus birds; challenging on the wing, excellent on the table and, where classified as non-game species, unlimited in harvest.
Pigeons are larger than doves and can attract attention to an otherwise semi-hidden rig of dove plastics. Full-bodied pigeon decoys are lightweight and incredibly realistic. Adding a motion decoy or two increases the spread’s magnetism, particularly if spinners are elevated. Combining all this in a spread can pull birds in as if by magic.