If you've experienced a good, old-fashioned Southern dove hunt — well, then, you certainly can understand why mourning doves are the No. 1 sought-after and harvested game bird in the United States. If you haven't, then you don't know what you're missing!
Dove hunting is not only an incredible challenge from a wingshooting perspective, but it's also a unique social opportunity — one quite different from most of today's solitary brands of hunting adventures. And after the last shot has been fired, there are few things as delicious as bacon-wrapped jalapeno dove breasts grilled and served up with homemade coleslaw and a cold beverage.
If you've ever seen doves flock to a sunflower field on opening day with little to no hesitation, you might think that the swept-wing birds aren't all that bright when it comes to hunters and gunfire. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.
Doves, like any game bird, respond to hunting pressure in any of several different and often-frustrating ways. They may vacate an area all together. Or they might change their flight schedules, arriving later in the day or earlier in the morning. Or, they'll avoid blinds, and flare wildly at uplifted faces, unruly retrievers and shiny shotguns.
When these inevitable changes take place during the first week of the season, try a mid-day hunt. True, dove hunting is typically thought of as an early morning or late afternoon venture. However, hunting pressure can often tweak the birds' internal clocks, with their need-to-feed kicking in at a more traditional human lunchtime as opposed to breakfast or supper.
Ten o'clock to 2 or 3 in the afternoon is my preferred time for locating these hard-to-find mourners. I prefer overcast or even slightly rainy days. If possible, I'll position myself away from the edges where other hunters have shot from.
I'll watch for flight lines to develop — those paths the birds seem to prefer as they enter and exit a field. Should such a line reveal itself, I'll reposition and spend my lunchtime pass-shooting singles and pairs as they come and leave. It's all about improvising, adapting and adjusting.
RUNNING THE ROADS
Perhaps you're lucky enough to be best pals with a gentleman who owns a large sunflower field. Perhaps he's been kind enough to invite you to hunt opening day of dove season. If that's the case, I'd highly recommend taking the fellow a bottle of the county's finest local bourbon because friends like that are few and far between.
However, if you're like many of us who have to find our own honey-hole for opening day, there's plenty of work to be done. When it comes to doves and locating huntable numbers, there's nothing as reliable or as effective as running the roads.
A full tank of fuel, a set of binoculars and a map of the county is all that's really necessary. Got a copy of your state's gazetteer by Delorme Mapping or an app like OnXmaps, which shows owner boundaries.
Morning and late afternoon are the best times to run the roads. Typically, you're looking for mourners perched on powerlines, where they sit before dropping into an active feed field. Note the location on the map or app. Check the app to see who the owner is, or mark down the addresses you might find on mailboxes or 9-1-1 markers.
With these notes, later at home you can research the area and, often via the county tax assessor's website, locate the owner.
DEADLY DOVE DECOYS
Many hunters underestimate the effectiveness of dove decoys. Doves are tremendously social, gregarious birds. Like snow geese, they appear to be a rather greedy species when it comes to feeding. Researchers have found they key in on large numbers of their own to indicate an abundance of food.
Hunters can take advantage of this by using a number of decoys. But using dove decoys — and using them correctly — can be more than simply throwing out a half dozen pieces of plastic and hoping for the best.
First, the decoys have to be visible. That seems elemental, but too many gunners prop slate-gray decoys against a dirt backdrop without thinking about whether they can be seen from the air. Two or three decoys on the ground are fine. However, elevated decoys are seen much easier by passing birds.
Decoys clipped to bare branches or fences work well; manmade devices such as wires, poles, or even Mad Calls' new TreeCoy platform, can also be used effectively.
How many decoys? The more the merrier, it seems, when it comes to doves. A single spinner, like Mojo's Voodoo Dove, works wonders. A three-pack, with two 18 to 24 inches above the ground and the third elevated 3 to 5 feet, is even better.
Use these tips to add to the enjoyment and success of your next dove hunt.