When it comes to shooting doves, there is one thing that I am sure we can all agree upon; do not wait until opening day to start your wing-shooting practice.
The same philosophy holds true for finding a place to hold that inaugural event of the dove season. You should have your scouting done and your plans made far in advance.
This is not to say that you cannot “luck” into a great dove spot. I remember back in the mid-1980s when seven of us went south heading to the Cairo, Ill., bottoms. We knew the county we would be hunting in, but that was about all. We saw a few doves, asked permission, and began hunting around 7:30 a.m. Our shooting was pretty slow. We were hunting in a cotton field and the doves were not actually coming to this field, they were just flying over, going somewhere else.
I told the other guys that I was going to take a hike and find where all the birds were headed. After crossing two big cotton fields, I found about 60 acres of wheat stubble and about 600 doves. I shot my limit before I went back to get the others. All seven limits were filled within the hour.
Find Good Dove Habitat
Days like that are mostly few and far between. I usually spend several hours the week before the opener traveling gravel roads looking for dove habitat. There is the key folks! You should look for where doves will be, not where they are. Doves may roost in a different location than where they feed. They come to one spot just for water, or to dust. Knowing what to look for can help make an opening day limit easier to come by. Let’s examine what attracts doves.
Food is the primary source of high dove population densities. There are few food items that attract doves above all others. At the top of the list are sunflowers. I cannot explain what goes through a dove’s mind when it sees sunflowers, but it must be very close to the feeling I get when I drive by Bill’s B-B-Q Shack and take a deep breath. No amount of gunfire will keep doves out of sunflowers.
A good thing to keep in mind when looking for a dove field is that the number of birds over the field at any given time is trivial. Do not make the mistake of deciding to leave a field after checking it out for 10 minutes and finding only six or eight birds. The field you watch may only have a few birds at the moment you are observing it, but eight birds every 10 minutes can burn up your shells pretty quickly!
Wheat Stubble A Hotspot
As mentioned, wheat stubble is another good choice for a dove field. Last year, I found about five acres of cut wheat between two bean fields and managed to limit out three days in a row, with a 28-gauge shotgun. And do not think that just because you are in short cover that downed birds will be easy to find. Even in that wheat stubble, Sam, my yellow Lab, saved me one-half-dozen birds.
Another good food source to hunt, that is usually not too hard to find, is a silage field. I have probably thrown as much lead at dove from silage as all the other places combined. This too can be a situation where no amount of movement or noise will keep the birds out. I almost think they huddle and make strategic plans on just how to fly between five gunners and not get hit.
Besides these obvious types of food sources, I have occasionally found a spot that was totally unexpected. My friend Mark Hardy and I found a 10-acre watermelon patch along a Mississippi River drainage ditch one afternoon and shot every shell we brought. At times it seemed like the Alamo as we attempted to defend our little spot against clouds of incoming doves.
Check Local Regulations
Regardless of what food source you shoot over, check it out thoroughly ahead of time. Also, be aware of state laws concerning dove hunting. I know shooting hours differ from state to state. Also check legal limits, and always get permission before starting a hunt.
I will assume at this point that you will all scout, find a good dove field, and be very successful. Let me end with a very short tip on what to do with the succulent pile of dove breasts that will be the reward for your efforts.
Marinate the breasts in Italian salad dressing in the refrigerator overnight. Wrap each breast with a strip of bacon and anchor it with a toothpick. Cook the dove over charcoal until the bacon is crispy or even burnt. Eating the bacon is optional but there will probably be a fight for the last breast. Good luck this year dove hunting! And be safe!
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