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Kenneth Kieser: Learning the angles of dove hunting in September

By Kenneth L. Kieser
Special to The Examiner
This hunter used a blackpowder shotgun to harvest his doves.

Dove season opens soon. Are you ready for some shooting action?

Doves are unique birds that not only fly fast, an estimated 45-50 mph, but they can change direction in a split second.

Violent body maneuvers are a useful survival tool when being chased by birds of prey like the Cooper’s hawk. Perhaps this is why many shots are missed when a hunter jumps up too quickly for a shot. Doves see danger and twist into different angles, creating an exciting hunt.

Kenneth L. Kieser

Doves fly at all heights and angles. You can hear the wind whistling through their pinions as they fly around looking for a safe place to land. Likely the easiest shots are when doves don’t see you and are gently approaching their destination.

I highly recommend a trip to the local shooting range before hunting this challenging bird. You would best imitate what a dove will do on a sporting clays, skeet and trap range. Problem is, all of these flight angles are used when a dove turns on the emergency power and performs a miniature air show.

My brother and I use a hand thrower and send clay disks in every imaginable direction or angle. The shooter never knows where the disk is going or how to make the shot. Practicing like this is good for all game bird hunting, including doves. We keep track of the numbers of disks hit. The loser – generally me – buys lunch.

Scouting for a productive dove hunting spot is highly recommended. Doves search out good food and water sources. Binoculars and keen eyes are important. Check rural areas for food, water, gravel and power lines or dead trees.

Food sources between two watering spots are generally the best. You can spot the doves on power lines or trees. They avoid trees with leaves or heavy ivy. Sitting in a foliage-covered tree makes it easy for a bird of prey, snake or critter to sneak up on them.

Corn, milo, soy beans, sunflowers and wheat or hay fields are excellent areas to hunt. Weed patches are sometimes good too. A mixture of weeds and grain may be a good bet if there is a water source and good roosting areas, generally dead trees without leaves.

My family once raised hogs with self-feeders full of corn. The porkers spilled a lot of this bright yellow grain on the ground, sometimes attracting migrating doves in large numbers.

We had good hunts by sitting against trees in fence lines close to a small pond about 100 years from the feeders. We made a point to never shoot close to the hogs to avoid spooking or shooting them. The doves noticing these grain spills while passing by was quite a tribute to their incredible eyesight.

Doves have exceptionally sharp eyes and this helps them avoid landing where danger might strike. Problem is, once they land almost everything wants to eat them including a big black snake laying on a limb or hiding in row crops. Their unique vision makes it necessary to blend in the natural surroundings.

Good camouflage that matches the vegetation and breaks up your human shape in thick vegetation is essential. Quality camouflage shirts, pants, hats, gloves and face masks give you an extra edge.

However, note that this means sitting perfectly still while only moving your eyes while watching incoming birds. Doves make a living by spotting movement that signifies danger.

Many of our hunts are under camouflage netting while sitting on plastic buckets. This allows comfort and the buckets are useful for transporting shotgun shells, decoys, water, snacks and other equipment. There are even better portable hunting seats available at sporting goods stores.

I have always been surprised that more hunters don’t use dove decoys. They are social birds that seem to enjoy the company of other doves. Watch a field full of birds and you will see several sitting together. We have had doves land beside our decoys and once an owl grabbed a decoy and flew away, dropping it about 100 yards away.

What shotgun to use is an age-old argument. Many prefer pump shotguns while others use a semi-automatic version. Some swear by a 20- or 28-gauge, while others only shoot a 12-gauge. I spent the first years of my hunting life shooting doves with a 16-gauge. The best skeet shooters might even use a 4.10 shotgun.

Modified or improved cylinder chokes are proven for delivering successful dove hunting patterns. Doves are delicate birds that do not require big shot. I have successfully shot dove with 7 1/2, 8 or 9-shot.

A few hunters use black powder shotguns with light loads and light shot. Shooting a limit with this more primitive shotgun is quite a challenge.

You have shot several doves, now what?

We grill dove breasts with a strip of bacon while basting with Italian salad dressing. Some marinate the breasts in Italian salad dressing or buttermilk. We occasionally add jalapeño peppers filled with cream cheese – good stuff!

I had a friend many years ago that grew too old to hunt. He lost most of his sight and could barely walk. I took him a limit of doves and cut out the breasts. He covered the doves with cream of celery soup and baked until done. He spoke fondly of that dinner every time I saw him the rest of his life.

– 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 kieserkenneth@gmail.com.