Furiously fast on the wing and excellent on the table, the mourning dove presents wingshooting enthusiasts with a challenge like no other.
Today, 42 states offer their hunters a dove season; only Michigan and seven New England states exempt their consumptive users from this annual outdoor tradition. With an estimated U.S. population of some 275 million, mourning dove numbers are undeniably strong.
And growing stronger each year, with current numbers more than capable of handling the 13 to 15 million birds harvested nationwide each season.
BIRDS AND BLINDS
While it’s possible to kill limits of doves while wearing jeans and a home-spun tie-dye t-shirt, it’s not often you’ll get away with something like that, especially after the first week of the season.
Doves on the opener might seem like easy marks, unwary and seemingly content to light in the decoys amidst a barrage of gunfire.
Come day two or day three, however, and those same uneducated birds appear to have somehow earned their diplomas in tragedy avoidance. They swing wide. They flare. They sit at the opposite end of the field.
They’re tougher to trick, but they can still be fooled, especially for those shotgunners willing to think more like duck hunters and just a little less like dove hunters. What are we talking about here? We’re talking an effective blind.
Opening day, and you’re sitting outside the sunflowers on a bucket. It usually works. But sooner or later, you’re going to have to hide. A dove blind doesn’t have to be an elaborate thing.
Sometimes, a step or two back into the natural cover is all that’s necessary. Anything to break up that all-too-unnatural human form. Birds getting tough? When all else fails, I’ll pack a pre-fab blind afield.
Again, nothing elaborate — just enough to conceal me and Sadie Mae, the black dog. A lightweight portable die-cut fabric hide from Hunter’s Specialties can fit the bill, and is easy to pack into and out of the field. So, too, would be a similarly mobile unit, such as Tanglefree’s Panel Blind. How about a 4-foot by 6-foot piece of camouflage burlap or netting, and two 6 x 1 tomato stakes? I’ve used just such a hide; it’s light, quick to set up, and does everything I need a dove blind to do.
MAKE A DOVE WIRE
LOCATING DOVES MID-SEASON
Every dove hunter who hunts after opening day eventually comes across this problem: Opening day birds have disappeared, having either (1) been prompted to migrate due to gunfire, (2) sought out and found a less dangerous place to feed and roost, or (3) already been served as the guest of honor at a backyard bird barbecue. Regardless, once-full sunflower fields are empty, the birds are gone.
Here dove hunters might do well to see our quarry through the eyes of the waterfowler. Doves, like mallards, are migratory, and won’t hesitate to relocate themselves if the situation — weather, food-source change or hunting pressure — warrants such a relocation.
So is there a magic bullet to locating a hunt once the mid-season rolls around?
To borrow yet another page from the waterfowler’s handbook, finding doves mid-season translates into a combination of windshield time and paying attention to the weather.
In terms of gathering firsthand intelligence, nothing beats on-your-feet scouting.
This means drive time — checking fields outside your comfort zone — that is, potential hunting areas you might not be familiar with. And this, then, means a return to Old school methods:
Find a field, track down a landowner, and knock on the door. Or it might mean scouting previously unknown public areas, looking for an out-of-the-way sunflower field, or, given a dry year, a small pond where birds can water and pick grit mid-morning and just before going to roost.
Changes in September’s weather, and here we’re talking about falling temperatures and northerly, migration-friendly winds, can bring new doves flooding into an otherwise birdless area. That said, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on the local weather. And hope for the best. Or, in this case, the worst.
DON’T OVERLOOK JUMP-SHOOTING
And once again, let’s take yet another page from waterfowlers coast to coast. As can be the case when duck hunting, there are times when dove-hunting action grinds to a halt. It’s tough sitting on a stool, eyes searching in vain a vast and empty sky as the day goes by.
Sure, tradition dictates doves be hunted from a stationary position. And this style of hunting makes sense, especially in situations where there are several people gunning a relatively small area. However, when circumstances allow it to be done safely, jump-shooting can be a tremendously effective way to put doves in the bag.
Obviously, feed fields — sunflowers, millet, sorghum or recently mown winter wheat — can provide jump-shooting opportunities. So, too, can standing weed fields, especially if there are patches of bare or reasonably bare ground scattered throughout. Walking the edge of a standing cornfield can provide top-notch gunning; likewise, exposed shorelines, riverbanks, meandering streams or sand or gravel sources.
Mid-morning often works best, as pressured or post-feed birds seek solitude in out-of-the-way haunts. As for the tactics, jump-shooting doves is really no different than jump-shooting ducks.
With doves, it’s a matter of locating birds visually or, as is sometimes the case, by guesswork, and then slowly working your way into range. As for gear, comfortable footwear, a light fast-swinging shotgun, and quick reflexes are all that’s necessary.