Few hunts in North America can match the fast-paced action of wingshooting mourning doves. As one of the most popular game birds in the country (sorry, Michigan), there aren’t many secrets to a successful hunt, but that’s the beauty of targeting doves. You don’t need much gear and you don’t need an elaborate game plan to score a limit. However, if you want to put more dove jalapeño poppers on the table, here are a few tips to increase your success.
Like any other hunt, doing a little homework can be a difference-maker. Doves have the same basic needs as any other game animal: food, water, and shelter. Find these three needs concentrated in a small area and you’ll find a dove sanctuary.
A dove’s diet is comprised of almost exclusively seeds. Some of their favorites come from sunflowers, hemp, millet, sorghum, wheat, corn, and native grasses. Doves also require sand or gravel to help with digestion, so finding one of those nearby can be the cherry on top of an already good spot. While conducting your pre-hunt scouting, keep an eye out for suitable roost trees. Doves prefer to roost in tall, dead trees whenever available.
The best way to scout is to cruise country roads at dawn or dusk near known water sources and favorable crops. OnX can make it easy to find both. And one of the best parts of dove hunting? Landowners almost never tell you “no.” Dove permissions rank right up there with squirrels for likelihood of a farmer letting you hunt.
If you have to rely on public lands, start by finding properties with water. Fishing access sites, Army Corps lands, and BLM that has cattle can be quality places to find at least two of a dove’s needs.
Hunt with Purpose
Once you’ve located an area that contains everything a dove needs, it’s time to develop a simple strategy. Like other game birds, doves will feed in the morning and evening and spend midday roosted. The exception would be a midday trip to their preferred water source.
With a general understanding of their daily patterns, it’s a foolproof strategy for morning or evening hunts to place yourself between the food and the roost. Birds will volley back and forth from sunrise until lunch, giving you action until they plant themselves in the roost. Conversely, midday hunts can be effective employed by finding an ambush site near water.
The timing of your hunt can be a difference maker. Migratory by nature, doves will often fly south after a few cold nights. If you live in the North and are hunting local birds, the early part of the season is your best bet. In other parts of the country where migration isn’t as weather-dependent, seasonality might not be as severe.
The Ideal Setup
In my mind, the best part about dove hunting is the camaraderie and easy-does-it vibe. Stealth and concealment aren’t the crux of a dove hunt, though they shouldn’t be completely neglected. A good hiding spot is often the difference between pass shooting airballs and gimmies at unsuspecting birds. A little camouflage paired with some brush to break up your silhouette will go a long way. Like hanging a tree stand, set up to kill doves, not just see doves.
Most seasoned dove hunters stack the deck by utilizing decoys. A few hard-bodied decoys on a dead tree, hay bale, or fence line, paired with a spinning-wing decoy can really put doves at ease. (Dove decoys are damn cheap. You can get a six-pack of regular decoys for $20 and a spinning-wing decoy for $13.) Decoys won’t attract birds from extreme distances or make them commit to an area, but they will give you a much closer shot if you’re set up on the birds’ flight path.
With a little extra legwork and deductive reasoning, a thrilling dove hunt can be had no matter where you call home. Find a place with food, water, and gravel near each other and put your shooting skills to the test. It’s a great way to kick off fall and get warmed up for upland and waterfowl seasons—not to mention the morsels of meat that rarely even make it to my freezer.