Tracking the swiftly moving, darting gray target, I squeezed the front trigger of my double barrel and watched as a small puff of feathers signaled the load of No. 8 shot was on target. My first dove of the season was in the bag!
Clean your shotguns, break out your camouflage clothing and shoot a few practice rounds…it’s time for dove hunting!
Here are some tips you can employ that will help you bag more of these speedy gray flyers over the next few months.
Pre-scout Before The Season Starts
Try to spend at least a couple of afternoons scouting before dove season opens. Stay back far enough that the doves aren’t alarmed by you or the vehicle and simply watch, using both your naked eyes and binoculars. See if you can figure out what routes the birds are using flying into fields. Based on that information, pick out several potential ambush points.
Focus on The Right Stand Locations
When selecting a site for a dove stand, search for spots that are different than the surrounding habitat. Look for a single tree sticking up along a fence row, a point of unplowed weedy land jutting out into an agricultural field, the corner of a field where it adjoins woods, a gap in an otherwise straight line of tree tops. Also try to pin down prime dove foods such as corn, milo, millet, wheat, sorghum, sunflowers, or weeds such as thistle.
Use Cover Wisely
You don’t need to build a blind, but try to locate a bit of natural vegetation cover to sit or stand next to. Find a cedar, fence post, brushy point or uncut row of corn to hide near. Standing out in the open is a sure way to make doves flare out of range.
Use The Right Load
To start off on the right foot, make sure you use the right load. Although doves are strong enough to fly hundreds of miles, they’re actually small-bodied birds and weigh just a few ounces. Early season doves are best brought down with No. 8 shot. Later in fall, as they gain weight from feeding, go with size 7-½ shot in heavier high brass loads.
Choose The Best Gauge
Actually, any gauge from 12- to .410 will work, but the truth is only expert shots should use a 28 gauge or a .410. Stick with a 16- or 20 gauge if you have a young or small-framed hunter you are introducing to the sport. The “kick” from these guns is very modest. Most other hunters will be happiest with the 12 gauge.
Settle on The Best Choke
There is no single perfect choke for dove hunting. In some situations a wide-open skeet bore is actually the best choice if birds are passing close to your position. For a more typical situation of shooting birds at random distances from 15 out to 35 or 40 yards, go with improved, modified, or in a double barrel shotgun, a combination of those two chokes.
Wear Camo or Drab-colored Clothing, Avoid Movement
Blaze orange has its place in many kinds of hunting, but not dove hunting. These birds see color and will flare when they detect bright-hued clothing that sticks out from its surroundings.
Also, stay rock-still when a bird or flock is in view. Once they’ve been exposed to a bit of hunting pressure, doves become particularly wary and will flare and swerve if a hunter repositions himself or starts to raise the gun before they are in range.
Get Out Early
Opening day is often the very best time to hunt doves. The birds have not been shot at yet and they often fly close, presenting easy shots. Another reason to be in the field on opening day is that lots of other hunters are out. That keeps the birds moving from field-to-field, presenting more shooting opportunities.
Bring The Right Gear
Extra equipment besides your gun for a dove hunt should include ear plugs, sunscreen, insect repellent, a hat with a brim to keep the sun out of your eyes, snacks, cold drinks or water, binoculars to track dove movements, and shooting glasses or sunglasses. Decoys are an optional item you can add to the list.
Don’t Raise Your Gun Too Quickly
If you do this, you lose the natural swinging motion that makes wingshooting a fluid, graceful activity of raising the gun, aiming and firing. Wait until the dove is just about into shooting range, and then raise the shotgun in one smooth motion, firing as the barrel tracks ahead of the target.
Follow Through With Your Swing
This is one of the most common flub-ups in shooting doves. Track the bird, keep your cheek down tight to the stock and fire as the barrel covers the quarry, but continue swinging. Otherwise your shot will go behind the dove.
Watch For Sudden Short Periods of Dove Activity
Some hunters think all the best shooting will occur in the final hour or two of daylight. That’s not always the case. Often throughout the afternoon there will be spurts of dove activity when several groups of birds fly in and out of fields for five or 10 minutes, followed by a lull. Be ready when those waves of flights occur.
Take Care of Your Bounty
Finally, dove hunting often takes place in hot weather, making spoilage of the quarry a possibility. Don’t pile doves up in the back of a hunting vest. Instead, spread them out in a shady area so their body heat can dissipate. Alternately, place them in a cooler with ice.
Follow these tips and I believe you’ll up your odds for a successful dove hunt this fall.