6 Common-Sense Dove Tactics

Too often hunters show up at a dove field and simply sit in the first patch of shade they find. If they paid attention to these factors, they might do more shooting than waiting!

Photo by Mike Searles

It's happened to most dove hunters at one time or another. There you are, through poor choice or luck of the draw, at the wrong place on the field. Frustrated, you watch fellow shooters enjoy fast-and-furious shotgun action as you sit there, lamenting your fate and praying that one or two birds may unwittingly blunder close enough to afford a shot before the end of feeding time or legal shooting hours.

Too often hunters show up at a dove shoot, leave their vehicles and dash away to set up in the first available patch of shade found. They give little or no thought to a number of factors that could ensure the time is occupied with more shooting than fruitless waiting.

Often hunters accept invitations to a first-come/first-served shoot on the field. In such instances, the trick is to be prepared to recognize certain strategic set-ups on the dove field that can work to your advantage. Let's look at a few of these "ideals."

First, it pays great dividends if you have done your "homework" and familiarized yourself with the specific nuances of the field. This is the only reliable tactic that can tell you such vital things as where the birds are coming from, when they start arriving, and where they concentrate their on-the-field activities.

It pays to be prepared. Don't just show up "blind" and expect to have a worthwhile outing. You might be successful, but the odds are against you, especially if others are better prepared. Have two or three good spots in mind when you arrive.

If it's permissible, get there early. It is much better to sit and wait an hour or so gazing at a birdless sky than to arrive and find the best spots are already taken and the little feathered "rockets" are already pitching in.

When picking a set-up spot on a dove field, take several factors into consideration. Let the sun and its relationship to where you are setting up be high on your list. Keep the sun to your back whenever possible. Doves are tough enough to hit under ideal circumstances. Don't handicap yourself by having to stare into the glare of blinding morning or afternoon sunbeams.

"The average dove hunter seldom pays enough attention to good dove 'structure,' " said Will Jester, a self-proclaimed dove addict who hunts almost daily during the season, as well as organizing and staging numerous shoots.

Jester believes doves, like certain fish species, habitually and instinctively relate to certain types of physical topographic features, manmade or otherwise.

"There are always certain things, other than what they're feeding on, that draw birds once they've arrived over the field," Jester explained. "Maybe it's a grove of 'loafing' trees, a power line cutting across the field, or even a contour change in the lay of the land itself. Like fish-holding structure in a lake or river, every dove field contains certain things in certain specific locations that will draw and hold birds. If you've got an option, set up within shooting range of these sites or in a location where you can catch them as they approach."

An added place to consider as a prime set-up location on many dove fields is an isolated patch of sandy ground. Like most birds, especially of the seed-eating variety, doves find a good supply of gravel or grit essential. A field often features a spot where rain runoff has caused an accumulation of exposed gritty or sandy soil. Coupled with an abundance of food on the ground, such locations can act as a magnet to birds that are naturally seeking both necessities in adjacent spots.

"These areas can be ideal," Jester agreed. "Food on the ground all over the field will obviously scatter and disperse the doves. A hunter sitting near a visible patch of grit will often get a concentration of birds headed for one place that offers more than one of the things they need."

When it comes to proper camouflage as a major dove-hunting consideration, Jester downplays its importance.

"Notice it sometimes," he said, "a hunter has himself set up in what looks like the ideal location. He's got the sun angle all figured out, he's surrounded by good dove structure, and he's camouflaged in the latest trendy pattern the outdoor catalogs are pushing that season. Yet, the guy has birds pitching in and flaring off well before they come into range. Look again and see what he's doing. Chances are, he's fidgeting, getting up and stretching every few minutes, and generally exhibiting motion that is very suspect to incoming doves with very good eyesight.

"The best camouflage pattern in the world is generally worthless if the person wearing it can't keep still," Jester continued. "Camouflage is good, and I'll be the first to tell you breaking your outline is very important, but sitting still is definitely your main concern. A smart dove hunter remains perfectly motionless until the very moment he decides to stand and shoot. I've watched hunters dressed in all colors imaginable, even one or two wearing white tee shirts on a hot day, take doves with consistency just because they weren't moving when they weren't supposed to.

"Sit still while you're on the field and also carry all the supplies you need when you first leave your vehicle. Don't be running back and forth to the truck a dozen times during a hunt," he concluded.

Not only should a dove hunter practice keeping still, he should also insist on the same behavior from his retriever.

"You can own the smartest, dead-on-marking retrieving dog in the world and he'll prove completely worthless if he won't sit quietly there beside you until you send him after a fall," Jester added. "I know there are some who say doves don't pay any attention to a dog, moving or otherwise, but I've seen one uncontrollable dog ruin an entire hunt for his handler and everyone else on the field.

"When thinking about successful dove tactics, make a well-behaved retriever one of them, else leave your dog at home."

Asked about watering areas, Jester said setting up near one could be a good tactic if hunting alone or in a small group. That's especially true if you know for certain that birds are using a particular water hole.

"But I don't put much stock in water holes near a field where a big shoot is going on," he said. "In my e

xperience, doves normally go to water sometime after they feed. When they pitch into a field, they're after something to eat, not water. Water close to a certain area on a field certainly doesn't hurt, but it's pretty far down on the list of considerations, way behind things like sun angle, line of sight, and dove structure."

Finally, when considering your set-up opportunities, don't neglect the relative elevation of the terrain around the perimeter of the dove field. Ridges, hills, even the smallest rise can give away your location to incoming birds. If you must shoot from an elevated position, pay close attention to what is at your back. There should be some type of "screen" to help break up your outline. From a raised position with no silhouette-break, you stand out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Dove hunting, much like golf, is a very easy sport to foul up. But unlike golf, these foul-ups have little to do with missing shots. Many dove hunts go awry long before the first shot is ever fired.

You find most successful dove hunters are not necessarily the greatest shooters in the world. Rather, they are the folks who show up the day of the shoot having done enough studying beforehand. They have learned - often the hard way - that the right tactics and preparation go a long way toward compensating for those occasional missed shots. Shooting inaccuracy notwithstanding, these are the hunters who still leave a field with a respectable number of birds in their game bags.

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