Want to bag a limit this dove season? Then avoid these 7 dove hunting mistakes that can quickly short circuit a hunt.
By Lynn Burkhead
It's the first hunting opportunity of the year for many wingshooters, the annual arrival of September dove hunting, an event that draws shotguns out of cases, camo out of the closet and a whole host of wingshooting blunders back into the open.
Want to take an easier limit of mourning doves this fall? Then avoid making these seven wingshooting mistakes:
1. Not Wearing Eye and Hearing Protection
While visiting the NRA Convention recently, I received concrete evidence at one of the vendor booths that a suspicion of mine was in fact true: my hearing is suffering thanks to years of hunting in dove fields and duck blinds without adequate ear protection.
Bottom line here, don't shoot a shotgun anywhere without wearing foam ear plugs, some shooting earmuffs, or a set of solid electronic inserts molded to custom fit your ears.
And the same principle goes for wearing shooting safety glasses too - you only get one set of eyeballs, so protect them from an errant shot pellet at all costs.
2. Using the Wrong Shotgun and Choke
A downed mourning dove might not look like much in the hand, but despite being a puff of gray feathers that weighs mere ounces, doves can provide a surprisingly tough wingshooting challenge, especially if you're under gunned with something like a .410 shotgun.
"In a dove field, you're usually better off shooting a 12-gauge or a 20-gauge most of the time with an improved or modified choke," said Jim Lillis, a retired Ducks Unlimited senior regional director who has more than 50 Texas dove seasons under his belt. "That's what most of us are going to be most successful with day in and day out.
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3. Not Scouting
Since land use practices can change and crop rotation can take place, a hunting hot spot last fall can suddenly be crickets this year.
"If you're wanting to have a good hunt this season, then obviously, you're going to need to hunt where the birds are currently," said Lillis. "Doves are little game birds that respond quickly to hunting pressure, to food and water changes, and of course, to fall weather as storms and fronts move through.
"So to have a good hunt, you need to get out and look beforehand to find where they are feeding, where they are roosting, what flyways they are using, and in dry years, where they are watering."
4. Not Reading a Dove Field
Even if you've carefully scouted, where the doves are flying can change from day to day, and sometimes from hour to hour.
Because of that, one of the best moves that a wingshooter can make is to spend a few moments before a hunt observing what's going on, identifying such things as dead snags attracting birds, tree line or fence gaps where doves are funneling through, or even the edge of a grassy waterway being utilized as a flight path.
Once you have a feel for what's going on and what the flight patterns are, make some educated guesses, get there quickly, and start hunting.
5. Not Making a Move
With the above idea duly noted, Lillis says that it's wise for a wingshooter not to get married to a spot.
"When you see a change developing in the flight patterns, don't wait too long to make a move," he said. "Unless you're in a spot that is just literally inundated with birds, if you see a few doves crossing in a certain spot or landing in a certain area, you better move there quickly instead of staying put. This is especially true when you're hunting in an area where there are fewer birds."
6. Not Using Decoys
To be sure, wingshooters have knocked down countless mourners for many decades without any sort of decoy being used.
But there's little doubt that in most areas, the use of one or two spinning wing dove decoys (where legal) and maybe even a few stationary decoys can help up a hunter's odds in a particular field.
While a dove might not actually land in such spots where a decoy is present, spinners and their still-life cousins can often help gain the attention of a passing bird, sometimes luring it into scattergun range. And if you shoot like I do on most days, you'll welcome all the help you can get.
7. Getting Greedy
What's the final mistake to avoid in a dove hunting field? Spending too much time looking for downed birds, an occurrence that often happens because a wingshooter gets greedy and tries to double and triple on mourners passing by.
A better idea — unless you're hunting on pure barren ground — is to down a single bird, lock your eyes onto where it falls and then quickly stride right to it.
Then you can quickly retrieve the dove, put it in your shooting vest, and return to your hunting stool to keep working towards a limit.
All the while as your hunting buddy mutters under his breath and wastes valuable hunting time looking for a downed bird that the ground seems to have swallowed up.