There are lots of different types of hunting for small and large game, upland and migratory birds. Some require lots of expensive gear or a lot of experience to achieve success.
Fortunately, dove hunting is relatively inexpensive, one of the easiest hunts for gaining land access, and is enjoyed by both beginner and experienced shooters alike.
Doves are migratory birds and, as such, provide a lot of opportunity for millions of hunters. True, doves do not take flight in massive flocks and span the continent, but they do move seasonally and offer a lot of opportunity throughout their range. With such a wide range and fairly easy land access, the first step is finding a spot to hunt.
Hunting doves is often a group outing and whether going alone or with hunting companions, most likely there will be others hunting the same fields. Contrary to other forms of hunting, having plenty of hunters present is actually a bonus, as it keeps birds moving.
Doves shoots are held on public and private land, with the latter being the more difficult to join. Oftentimes, landowners plant sunflowers, millet or other grains to attract doves and hold private shoots in these fields or in farming areas where silage is still cut. Knowing the landowner or someone invited to the shoot often presents an opportunity to join the fun as a guest.
However, before hunting anywhere for doves, make certain to learn the laws for hunting these federally regulated birds. There are very strict guidelines regarding baiting or hunting in areas that violate regulations.
Most fields grown as food plots or used under normal agricultural practices are okay to hunt, but spend some time researching the regulations and make certain no one in the hunting group has done anything outside of the regulations. Even if only one person has broken a baiting regulation and no one else knows about it, everyone hunting that location is still in jeopardy of being considered guilty of baiting.
Public fields come in many varieties, with most being managed by fish and wildlife agencies. However, there are opportunities for private landowners to make property available for public dove hunting. In some areas, there are even places where hunters can pay a small fee to access the land.
Contacting the state fish and wildlife agency is always a great first step to learn the opportunities available. For parents wanting to get youngsters involved, many public hunts are set up as youth-friendly or in some cases youth-only hunts.
Hartley Scott, longtime dove hunter, says hunters can often just show up at a field and have a good hunt, but he highly recommends scouting potential hunting areas in advance. He looks not only for birds flying in and out of fields, but also birds sitting in trees and especially on power lines.
"It actually boils down to a simple fact," said Scott. "If there are no birds present, you are not going to have any success. You need to go to fields where there are a lot of birds so scouting ahead of time and knowing where birds are moving is very important."
He likes to start visiting fields up to a couple of weeks in advance, but says scouting just prior to the hunt is most important.
"I've been to fields several times over a period of a couple of weeks and there seems to be birds everywhere," Scott said. "Then on opening day there are hardly any birds at all. If something happens close by, like a farmer harvests a crop field or something, all the birds head over there to eat the spilled grain and some of the other area locations are left with few or no birds."
Another important step prior to the hunt is patterning shotguns and practicing hitting moving targets. Some loads pattern better than others, so knowing how a gun patterns is very important. Shooting clays at a skeet range also helps improve timing and accuracy prior to opening day.
"It is very important to get out to a skeet range where you can practice shooting at various target presentations," said Patrick Flanigan, exhibition shooter and holder of nine world records. "Hunters need to wear the clothes they are going to hunt in and also shoot the same shotgun and loads they are going to use to hunt. They need to practice the same way they are going to perform in the field. If hunters are going to be sitting in the field, they need to practice that way."
According to Flanigan, one of the most common mistakes shooters make is not mounting the gun properly, because it is hard to hit a target if the gun is not mounted correctly. He recommends practicing mounting and lowering the gun without shooting to help build muscle memory and perfect the gun mount.
Flanigan also says shooting different loads and knowing how the gun patterns are crucial to knowing the effective range and also how to lead the birds.
"I always tell people they have to swing through the target as if shooting to miss and most people don't understand what I mean by that at first," said Flanigan. "Shooters have to realize they are not aiming at the target and shooting directly at the target. They have to lead the target and shoot at the spot where the target is going to be when the pellets arrive. They are shooting at nothing and letting the target run into the shot pattern. They have to know how the gun patterns to establish the lead necessary and at greater distances they have to over-exaggerate that lead."
Both Scott and Flanigan prefer a semi-auto shotgun for dove hunting, with Scott choosing a 12 gauge and Flanigan preferring a 20 gauge. The important thing is to know the load, the pattern and how to lead and follow through. Hunters also should account for differences in non-toxic shot vs. lead shot if hunting in areas where non-toxic shot is required.
Once at the field to hunt, each person must pick out where to set up. Scott likes to set up in locations where he has seen birds flying during scouting trips and against some type of natural cover for concealment, but out in the field rather than against a treeline. Positioned against a treeline, he says birds often come right overhead and are never seen until it is too late. If he gets to the field late and is forced against a row of trees, he always tries to get near a low spot or gap in the tree line.
Flanigan says hunters should also take some time to clear the ground and flatten the earth for footing, because good footing is important to weight distribution, balance and shooting accuracy.
Dove hunting is a lot of fun, a great family-and-friend outing, and is enjoyed by hunters of all ages. Plus, it is not very expensive and finding a place to hunt is not really difficult with just a little research. Best of all, after a good day of hunting, nature's bounty provides some great feasting back home.
Building A Blind
Most people just get in or near natural cover when hunting for doves. However, there may be situations when constructing a blind is desired, either for doves or another pursuit. Knowing how to do it quickly and efficiently takes just a little skill.
First, it is important to look at the surrounding habitat and think about how it appears from ground level or the air, depending upon whether hunting a game animal or bird. Then it is just a matter of using natural materials that blend in with the surroundings.
Obviously, it is important to leave openings to shoot through or out the top, which should be constructed with the hunter's size and type of sporting arm taken into consideration.
The blind should provide adequate space to allow comfort and to quietly move around in without hitting an obstruction. However, it should not be any larger than necessary to meet requirements. The larger the blind, the more difficult it is to construct and the more likely it is to frighten the quarry.