By Jorge Ramirez (@upland_jitsu)
August 1, 2019 - When September 1st rolls around every year, you can bet that many hunters have one thing on their mind: Dove Hunting! Mourning Doves are a migratory bird and they are the nation’s most hunted game bird and arguably one of the most hunted species of any game in the United States. Annual harvests are in the tens of millions! And we are not even putting a dent in their populations. Aside from Mourning Doves, other species of doves are huntable during the season as well, and a lot of fun to chase.
Types of Doves
There are several species of doves, but these are the three most commonly hunted species:
- Mourning Dove – Mourning Doves are the most prolific dove species encountered by hunters and number in the millions. They are easily identifiable by their sleek grey/brown bodies and pointed tail. They also have black spots visible on their wings.
- White-Winged Dove – Similar in appearance to Mourning Doves, however, they lack the black spots and instead have long white bars on their wings. They also have rounded tails.
- Eurasian Collared-Dove – Eurasian Collared-Doves are an invasive species and most states recognize them as an unprotected species. That basically means there are no set bag limits and you can hunt them yearlong (check your hunting regulations for specific restrictions, however, as not all states recognize this). Larger in size, they appear light-grey with a sometimes-creamy white underside and black “bar” across the back of their neck. Their tails are long and squared off.
These different species will often intermingle, so be prepared and able to identify them in flight. Buy a couple of bird-watcher flashcards and study up. Be sure to check your hunting regulations for specific seasons and bag-limits of each species as well, as that will be necessary knowledge in the field.
Where to Find Them
Doves migrate through, or are present in, much of the United States. Some of the best spots to hunt them are in well-established “fly-ways”. With a little research, you can locate these areas. Many of these flyways pass through or near agricultural areas, and these are the areas where doves will be the most prevalent. Many state agencies plant fields with milo, sunflower, and other grain crops to attract doves to give people enhanced hunting opportunities. Check with your states game agency to locate one near you, and then get your butt out there!
What You Need
So, let's get started! You don’t need much to start hunting doves. Most waterfowl or upland hunters will already have most of the basics, but just in case you don’t, please read on.
There are various gauges and configurations when it comes to shotguns. But let’s keep it simple! I recommend a 12 or 20 gauge. Face it. If you are doing a ton of shooting in a high-volume dove area, you are going to want ammo that is readily available. On that topic, I also recommend a fast-shooting semi-auto or a reliable pump-gun. Both a semi-auto and pump-action are going to give you that extra shell, which is often needed for multiple birds… or in my case, missed shots!
Most people will tell you to tighten up your choke to FULL. I say that’s not completely correct. Unless you are taking really long shots, leave the full choke at home (unless you like hunting with a handicap, of course). My preferred choke is a MODIFIED choke because it's a bit more versatile in range. You can still shoot over decoys and take mid-range targets up to 40 yards with a modified-choke. #8 or #7.5 shot will do a fine job of bringing down doves.
Much like waterfowl hunting, the name of the game is staying out of view and taking a shot before any wary birds bust you and fly back the other way. You may want to consider wearing some camo and keeping your bird-dog out of view until a retrieve is required – just to be safe.
Typically, early dove-hunting occurs when the seasons are changing from summer to fall. During this seasonal transition, we will find a good mixture of green and browns in the field. I find that Duck Camp’s Short Sleeve Midland Wingshooter Shirt works well during early dove-season and especially in some the semi-arid areas where I hunt. This shirt will also help keep you cooler in the heat of all that dove action!
These are often a game-changer in the field while out dove hunting. Doves congregate when feeding, and they respond well to your old plastic decoys in feeding positions or clipped onto dead-trees or fence posts. And if you happen to throw in one of those battery-powered Mojo’s, you have a recipe for success.
If your dove-spot allows the easy access, bring a small cooler. Typically, early season dove-hunts are still experiencing summer temperatures. If you happen to be hunting in Yuma, Arizona for instance, the temps can be well above 100 degrees in September! It is important for you and your canine friends to stay hydrated, so please be sure to bring enough water and drink plenty of fluids. Snacks are always a good idea too. Unless you like to stand for hours, you may want to consider bringing a “dove-bucket” or collapsible camping chair (get the one with the drink-holder).
Dove hunting is enjoyed by more people than any other form of hunting. Many people who otherwise never hunt go all out when September rolls around. It’s no wonder why! It’s fast-paced, high-volume shooting and completely fun. So, what are you waiting for? Grab your shotgun, camo, decoys, and don’t forget…. bring plenty of shells! Good luck out there.