Dove hunting is one of the country's most popular wingshooting activities each fall, something that serves as an opening salute to the season's various activities and a harbinger of what's to come later on with hunting for bigger and more glamorous game species.
But while many hunters view dove hunting as a warm-up act, the reality is that this wingshooting experience can be big and satisfying in its own right.
Especially if you'll put these five dove hunting tips from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation – a crash course in this wingshooting sport, if you will – into action.
1. Scout Dove Early and Often: According to ODWC biologists, the hunters who scout almost always have the advantage over those who don't.
"Mornings and evenings are the best times to scout because that is when birds are typically off their roost," says an ODWC news release. "Start with areas that have been productive in the past and search for fields with a concentration of birds."
What should you be looking for as you scout?
"Pay attention to the direction birds are coming from and what their travel route is," said ODWC biologists. "Often, dove will fly along tree lines when entering a field. This is where hunters should set up.
Speaking of trees, the agency notes that oftentimes, dead trees can prove to be dove magnets.
"Use decoys to help the dove feel more secure about perching in (a dead tree) in a particular area," said the agency. "(When hunting such a spot), situate yourself in nearby shadows or behind the tree for better concealment."
Finally, keep in mind during your scouting chores that having a "Plan B" is critical.
"Scout around for several fields, giving you more options," said ODWC. "Keep in mind (that) water sources and even gravel pits can host concentrations of birds. Doing your homework will certainly tip the odds in your favor."
2. Locate the Food Dove Like: According to biologists with ODWC, finding local food resources that dove prefer is a big key when it comes to finding huntable concentrations of birds.
The agency says to: "Focus on fields (that are) top seeded with wheat, fields of sunflower, cut or standing corn, and harvested sorghum."
Keep in mind that on many wildlife management areas, fields of wheat and sunflowers are often mowed in preparation for dove season. If hunting such public lands, ODWC suggests contacting the WMA biologist for details and hunting information.
3. Locate Dove Watering Holes: When it comes to hunting early autumn doves, ODWC says to "Never overlook water sources; ponds and stock tanks provide equally great hunting."
This can be especially true for those hunters who find a good waterhole near a good food resource, particularly during early season hot weather. The agency notes that when such spots are found, they can prove to be golden during the late afternoon and evening hours, especially when a hunter sets out a few dove attracting decoys.
ODWC's biologists do note that oftentimes, hunting waterholes works out best in more arid areas where H2O is a bit more scarce. The agency also notes that "After a heavy rain, keep in mind (that) ponds may be flooded and will not provide the birds with adequate bank access, forcing them to look elsewhere."
4. Carry the Right Dove Hunting Gear: ODWC's biologists suggest that hunters have a few dove decoys handy since elevated dekes can often prove to be key.
"On the ground, decoys disappear among the vegetation, so keeping them elevated ensures the doves will see them," said ODWC's news release. "While scouting different areas, pay attention to where birds are landing. This is where you’ll want to place your decoys."
Also bear in mind that doves have excellent vision. While wearing camouflage isn't always necessary for success, it does help. "Choose camouflage most suited to your surroundings or dress in a tan or olive colored outfit," said ODWC's biologists. "If you don't have camouflage, that's ok. If possible, conceal yourself in shadows our under tree branches. Most importantly, stay still!
Another thing to consider is to carrying a seat of some kind into your area to sit down on and stay still until it is time to actually shoot. "Trying to rise and shoot from a sitting position on the ground can be difficult so a small stool or bucket (even better, one with a spinning seat) is nearly essential," said the agency.
Finally, don't forget to carry along some H2O, both for you and your retriever should you choose to bring Fido afield.
"Don't forget your water!" urges the ODWC news release. "September and even into October in Oklahoma can be hot. Usually you are positioned in or near an opening where shade is often limited and you will be sweating (probably a lot). Remember to bring some water with you (since) heat exhaustion and heat stroke are real possibilities that can endanger you and those you are hunting with. Stay hydrated, stay safe, and have fun."
5. Carry the Right Dove Shooting Equipment: ODWC notes in its release that trying to bag doves can be a frustrating endeavor if you don't have the right shotgun, shotshell and choke combinations.
"For most, 20- and 12-gauge shotguns are the most widely used shotguns for dove hunting," said ODWC biologists. "When it comes to action types, the semi-automatic action gives hunters an advantage over pump and break actions.
"Semi-automatic shotguns have less recoil and shoot quicker than pump actions. Break actions are similar to semi-autos in that the shooter doesn’t have to pump a new shell into the chamber. However, break actions have the inability to hold more than two shells, which means more reloading."
ODWC reminds hunters that since doves are a migratory game bird, all shotguns used for such hunting are restricted to a maximum capacity of three shotshells.
"(Maybe) more important than anything is ammunition," continues ODWC in its release. "Proper ammunition adds to a hunter’s probability of a clean hit and reduces the chance of a bird being wounded and dying some days later."
The agency recommends that dove be taken with either #8, #7 ½, or #7 shot. When choosing a shot pellet size, keep in mind that the range(s) at which dove come in will likely change.
With that in mind, ODWC says that larger shot (#7) better retains energy, making it perfect for spookier birds reluctant to make a close fly-by. However, the agency notes that smaller shot (#8) has more pellets and produces a denser pattern, often proving to be greater choice for birds that come in closer.
"Choose ammunition that fires the most pellets at the highest velocity possible," says the Oklahoma City based agency. "More pellets increase the chance of a clean hit and higher velocity gives hunters a shorter lead."
Finally, ODWC says not to forget about your shotgun's choke: "To keep the shot pattern tight but also effective, start with an improved cylinder and switch to a modified choke for a tighter spread if needed," says the agency. "Full chokes may be necessary during late season hunts when birds seem more timid."
Do your homework properly and put this crash course of Dove Hunting 101 information into action this fall and about the only thing you'll have left to do is discover a favorite recipe for preparing these tasty game birds for the table!