There has always been a lot of excitement surrounding the beginning of fall. Cooler weather, hoodies and bonfires are just a few things we start to hear about around the first of September. But to most hunters, September means dove hunting and marks the beginning of the fall hunting seasons!
For most states, dove season is now underway. If you are thinking about bird hunting for the first time this year, I highly suggest giving dove hunting a try. It’s one of the simplest types of bird hunting to get into, as far as obtaining the proper licenses and the cost of hunting equipment. Plus, the hunting atmosphere is generally pretty carefree and relaxed, which I find is much needed compared to how serious whitetail hunting can become.
Here are a few dove hunting basics to keep in mind when preparing for dove season.
While I do feel dove hunting is one of the easiest and cheapest types of bird hunting to get into, I think doves are one of the harder game birds to hit. Not only are they small and fast, they zigzag through the sky making for a fun, but challenging hunt.
To prepare for my first dove season I practiced shooting skeet in my backyard prior to the season opener. I was new to bird hunting altogether at that time, so that helped me get more comfortable with handling a shotgun. If you have a sporting clay course near you, that is probably one of the best ways to prepare for shooting live birds since the targets are thrown at varying angles and speeds, simulating a more real-world hunting experience.
Licenses and Equipment
For dove hunting you will need a hunting license and Migratory Bird permit, which are both relatively cheap. Always double check with your state conservation department to make sure you have the proper permits.
Besides your hunting permits, you will also need a shotgun and shotgun shells. I prefer my auto-loading Browning Maxus shotgun. Again, make sure you check the regulations with your state conservation department. Most states require you to have a plug in your shotgun that won’t allow you to have more than 3 shells in at at time.
A good shotshell size for dove hunting is a 1 or 1-1/8 ounce load of 7 1/2’s, like these shells from Browning Ammo. It really only takes a few pellets to down a dove so you shouldn’t need to go larger than a 7 ½ or 8. Like it or not, with dove hunting you are going to miss sometimes, so always bring more ammo than you think you will need!
You may want to purchase a small stool or seat to sit on while out hunting. When the doves are flying good, you could be out hunting for hours, so you may as well make yourself comfortable and at home! This Dove Shooter Stool from AlpsOutdoorz is a good option. It has a strap that makes it easy to carry to and from the field. There is a cooler underneath the seat so you can bring lunch and keep your drinks cool. It could also double as a way to carry your shells or your doves. The front pockets are great for holding boxes of shotgun shells, or holding a few decoys!
You don’t have to have decoys but they often help bring doves in for a closer shot when they would stay out of shooting range otherwise. Placing a few decoys on open ground, as well as a few on nearby tree branches or a fence row is generally a good setup. When placing decoys on tree limbs, the higher the better. Doves tend to fly into the wind, so you’ll want to place your decoys facing that way.
Doves have good eyesight so you will want to wear camo that blends in with your surroundings. Where you and other hunters set up is also important. I like to set up along tree-lined edges and will often make a blind out of the surrounding brush or cedar tree limbs for added concealment. It’s also a good idea for your shotgun to be camouflaged, but is not always necessary.
Lead the Bird
What works for me is aiming ahead of the dove, squeezing the trigger and swinging through the shot. You may be surprised at how far you have to lead these speedy little birds, so if you keep missing I’d try leading the dove even more.
I admit that I missed every single dove I shot at during my first season. By the time my second season rolled around and I was able to connect on some birds, I learned what I had been doing wrong. Instead of leading the birds and swinging through the shot, I got anxious and was just flinging my shotgun up and forcing a bad shot. Once I actually hit a bird, I got a good feel for what I was doing right and it was much easier from there on out.
There are a few different places that are good for hunting doves. If you can find a location where there are food sources, watering holes, and plenty of trees for a good roosting spot you’ll be off to a good start. One other thing to keep in mind is doves need grit to help digest the different types of seeds they eat. The grit can be found on gravel roads or any location where sand and dirt may be, so if you can hunt field edges bordered by gravel roads you should be in a great spot.
Typically, doves will be located around the watering holes just after dawn and then as soon as they return to their roost at around dusk. In the daytime you might find them sitting on power lines near the gravel roads for a few hours before they return to their afternoon feeding spots.
Whether you have been bird hunting for years or are just getting started, dove hunting is a great way to sharpen your wingshooting skills. It’s also a good way to introduce your children to hunting and allows them to get in more shooting time than hunting deer and other big game. Plus, there’s no better way to ring in the fall hunting seasons than a good dove shoot!
Andrea Haas is a Pro-Staffer from Missouri who enjoys turkey hunting, deer hunting and bowhunting. She is also the founder of the Huntress View, an organization formed to help strengthen the ever growing community of women hunters.