Over the past few years, dove hunters have been using something once used exclusively by waterfowlers — decoys.
By John N. Felsher
For millennia, hunters have tried to lure birds and animals into range of bows, spears or slings. Ancient Egyptians fashioned reeds into decoys for hunting waterfowl in the Nile River delta marshes. American Indians carved wooden figures that would not look out of place in many duck decoy collections today.
In modern times, waterfowlers traditionally sit in blinds looking out over decoys, while dove hunters typically pick a place in a field or along a treeline hoping the swift birds would fly in that direction. In recent years, the advent of electronic "spinning-wing" decoys revolutionized duck hunting, and now dove hunters are using similar tactics to bring birds into range.
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"When spinning-wing decoys were first introduced and ducks had never seen them, they were quite a phenomena," recalled Terry D. Denmon, president of Mojo Outdoors. "All gregarious birds with white under their wings are attracted to that flash. That's how they find other birds."
Some companies now make spinning-wing dove decoys that work very similar to waterfowl decoys. The spinning wings create a strobe effect that looks like wings flapping. Birds can see that flash for miles. Since so many predators want to eat them, doves generally congregate in groups for safety. Therefore, just like in duck hunting, doves spot that flash from a spinning-wing decoy and believe they have located a safe place.
"We use a lot of spinning-wing decoys for dove hunting," said Levi Howell, Pintail Hunting Club guide in Garwood, Texas. "Sometimes, doves almost land right on top of the decoys. We put them where we want to shoot the doves."
Many people place spinning-wing decoys directly in front of shooting positions. Birds do swoop down on them, but sometimes shots actually come too close and too low. In addition, birds heading directly toward a spinner might also spot people hiding behind it. Alerted birds could flare before coming into range. Instead, force doves to focus attention elsewhere by placing spinning-wing decoys facing into wind, but off to one side.
"When I go hunting, the first thing I do is scout around looking for birds," advised Mike Morgan, a hunting pro staffer. "I watch to see if they are flying in any particular way or direction and put a spinning decoy where I want to shoot birds. I'm left-handed so I shoot better on a right-to-left shot. I'll put a spinning-wing decoy at a 45-degree angle about 20 to 25 yards to my left so the birds must fly right in front of me to get to that decoy."
Motion decoys can make doves look in a particular direction from great distances, but additional help may be needed to finish the job. Set a few static dove decoys around the spinner, with more in strategic positions along fencerows, low brush or treelines.
"Spinning-wing decoys have always been about attracting birds from a distance that would otherwise never see the spread, but not finishing birds up close," Denmon explained. "In most places, doves come in from multiple directions. If we want to shoot doves at 25 yards, we put the decoy out 25 yards. I usually add about a dozen static decoys around the spinning-wing decoy. I place them in about a 10- to 15-yard circle as if they are feeding. If I'm sitting on a fencerow or treeline, I'll scatter a few static decoys up and down the line."
Small birds like doves typically feed on bare ground where they can easily find seeds, but under some type of cover so hawks and other predators won't see them. Since they swallow seeds whole and can't chew them, they must also swallow small pebbles or grit to help break up hard seeds so they frequently visit sandy patches or gravel.
"Doves love standing sunflowers," said Vandy Collins. "If doves get down under those sunflowers, they feel a little more secure in that cover, but they can still find seeds on the bare ground under that canopy."
Since doves frequently sit on powerlines overlooking fields and watering areas, one trick Collins uses to pull in birds is stretching non-electrified wire between poles.
Using a fishing rod, Collins "casts" a dove decoy over a high wire and reels it up so that it looks like a dove perching on a powerline. With this technique, sportsmen can place decoys on tree branches or other high places where doves might land, but this should never be attempted with live wires.
"At a distance, the decoy looks like a dove sitting on a wire," Collins advised. "When doves see that decoy on that wire, they just come right to it. Some people might put eight to 10 decoys on the line between the poles, simulating many doves on the wire. When the wind blows, the doves on the wire move a little and that makes them look alive."
Since doves feed at first and last light, hunters should arrive before daylight to set up decoys, both on the ground and in higher locales, where birds might rest after feeding and look for predators, or do the same in the evening.
"People can clip dove decoys on a barbwire fence or tree branch and put up a string of them," Morgan said. "Sometimes, we put the spinning-wing decoy on a pole out in the field or place it along a fence or treeline."
After resting, birds might feed again before going to water. Doves need water every day to help them digest seeds, so watering holes make great places to set out a few decoys for an afternoon hunt. The birds usually go to water about an hour before dark, but seldom go directly to it and start drinking. When approaching a watering hole, which could be just a puddle in a gravelly tire rut, they normally fly high into a tree or sit on a wire to look around for predators or other danger.
Hunters can take advantage of this by putting a spinner decoy near the water hole and some static decoys on a gravel bank. Place a few more static decoys on trees or bushes overlooking the watering hole to simulate birds staging in that area. After watering, birds go to roost before dark.
Among the most common and popular game birds in North America, doves provide fantastic sport. However, good decoying techniques might bring them in closer and slow them down for more successful shooting this fall.
Read more articles by John Felsher