This could be a big bummer year for dove hunters. Many of the river bottom plots you hunt may have washed out this spring. Sadly, wet conditions may have kept farmers out of their fields, meaning no crops planted and little reason for doves to return. That is the bummer news.
The good news is that the doves have to go somewhere, but where? You may still find good dove hunting in your normal spots, but not everyone will. So, it’s time to scout out new spots.
Doves are creatures of habit. They look for food, water and open, safe places to roost. Here are several spots to check:
Our first memorable dove hunt took place on an uncle’s farm. He fed numerous hogs that year with whole kernel corn. The hogs, being hogs, slopped a lot of corn on the ground. The bright yellow corn attracted several hundred birds. My uncle quit feeding hogs the next spring and the doves never returned. For one season, that field delivered a world class dove shoot.
This type of quality hunting is available with scouting and a bit of luck. Binoculars and keen eyes are a good start. Look around rural areas with the essentials – food, water, gravel and power lines or dead trees where doves can land is a good place to start. Food sources between two watering spots are generally the best. You can spot the doves on the lines or trees. They avoid trees with leaves or heavy ivy. Sitting in a foliage-covered tree makes it easy for a predator to sneak up on them.
River bottoms are excellent dove hunting spots. Just drive and scout with those binoculars. You might find a major migration. Remember to ask permission before hunting on private ground.
FOOD: Corn, milo, soy beans, sunflowers and wheat or hay fields are excellent areas to hunt. Weed patches are good too. There is always a good supply of weed seed with grain in a dove’s craw. A freshly burnt out field close to row crops can be excellent.
I discovered this while cutting through a burned-out field many years ago. Doves flew every direction as I moved closer. Further research showed more than one reason why doves would be attracted to the burned spots.
“A burned out weed field provides an easy meal of toasted seed and easy walking for a dove’s legs,” said John Schultz, mourning dove biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. “Wheat stubble fields are the same. Doves love finding available food where there is little effort in walking. A grain field with edges cleared is another good area providing easy access for the weak-legged bird.”
WATER: Doves always need a good supply of water. They occasionally travel back and forth between two waterholes. This can create another hunting possibility.
Teal season is usually open during dove season. Make sure you carry steel shot and a teal whistle during a dove hunt. We have taken many mixed bags of dove, teal and crappie – so don’t forget your fishing rod.
Ponds or pools in river bottoms are excellent places to check for doves or teal. Remember to have your required duck stamps before attempting these mixed bags.
A PERFECT SET-UP: Doves are creatures of habit. They find their essentials and may spend several days moving back and forth to the same spots. They will sit a while, but will eventually get bored and move to water or their temporary roost. Dove hunting action can be slow and suddenly birds are everywhere.
Doves are well educated in their world. They spend their lives dodging predators, including humans. So where to set up and how is important for a successful hunt.
Some use camouflaged blinds, but I prefer to wear good camouflaged clothing, including a face mask. A dove can see the glare off a human face from long distances. Remember, too, that it is important to stay dead still. These sharp-eyed birds pick up movement from long distances.
Position around the dove’s flyway. You should be somewhere in the line from water, cover, food, cover and water. I like to lean against a dead tree where the doves sit. Others prefer to sit around watering holes.
You can determine the best places to sit with binoculars. Note where the birds hang out in their little flyway. You will be more successful by slipping into this productive spot the following morning before daylight. Doves are still roosting and you should not spook many.
I love to sit in wood strips, especially when there is high grass or weeds between the trees to provide a natural blind. Good camouflage will break up your human shape in thick vegetation. Again, excessive movement will ruin the day.
When selecting a dove hunting spot, make sure you have excellent cover and a wide field of view. Sit at the cover’s edge so you can observe the entire field. Doves might come from any direction.
EQUIPMENT: Shotguns with improved or modified chokes are generally used. Most hunters shoot 7, 8 or 9 shot. Smaller pellets give you more patterns for catching up with the dipping and diving doves.
A camp stool is excellent for staying in one place long lengths of time. Sitting on the ground is for the birds – sorry. Plastic buckets are even better. You can store shells, decoys, food, drinks or whatever in the bucket that makes a comfortable seat. Commercial buckets have padded tops and are painted green. Avoid using a white or brightly colored bucket. Doves are not color blind. Some hunters paint their buckets a suitable color to blend in, generally olive green or black.
Decoys are good dove attention getters. Some hunters clip them on a limb while others set up a portable clothesline and line up the decoys. Remember to place them in areas where they will be highly visible.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com.