How-To: Dove Hunting Basics

By Cody Larrimore

water dove

The dove shoot marks the beginning of hunting season here in the south and around the US. Dove hunting is one of the simplest bird hunting sports. All you need are the proper licenses, a shotgun, and a place to hunt. A lot less hassle than the waterfowl or deer hunting sport, although dove hunting does require that you have good shooting skills. Dove are very adept at flying. You may get a lead on a dove and have the bird drop 3 feet in a split second.

Hunting for dove is a challenging sport in that it is not as easy as you would think. It is recommended that you practice skeet or sporting clay shooting before dove hunting as the dove can be an elusive prey. This article will cover the following elements of a dove hunt:

  • Facts about dove and dove hunting
  • Scouting – Where to find them
  • Best types of guns and ammo
  • Camouflage and Decoys
  • Tips on shooting and retrieving

Dove are generally found in areas in which there are a lot of trees, a water source, a food source, a graveling spot and a place to roost.

Dove eat seeds from crops such as wheat, sunflowers, millet and almost any seed producing grain crop. They also eat seeds from many different types of weeds. These seeds are consumed on bare ground if possible as dove have legs that are not all that strong.

They consume grit (graveling) to help them digest the seeds that they’ve previously ate. This grit is found in sand bars, dirt roads, gravel pits, and so forth. Dove usually gravel during mid-day however it’s been noted several times a smaller period which they gravel – typically between mid-day and sunset.

Dove can be found around watering holes right after dawn and before they go back to roost around dusk. These watering spots generally are near the dove’s roost and usually are an open area of water with banks free of vegetation. Although dove are not above flying a few miles from a watering hole to a feeding spot.

During the day, after watering, dove feed until about midday, then they hang out at just perching on power lines or their roost, graveling, or at watering sites near the feeding area for an hour or two. Next they go back to feed for the rest of the afternoon. Before going to roost again, the dove will water at a nearby stream, pond or mud hole.

Scouting – Where to find them

After reading the above habit of dove, you should have a general idea of where and when to look for them. A good idea would be to start scouting for your dove before hunting season begins. Dove are creatures of habit and can be patterned like any other migratory bird and they usually will use the same areas until they migrate.

A pair of binoculars and some time before 9 am or after 3 pm and the dove scout is on. We know that dove can be found at the following places:

  • Along Trees and Power Lines
  • Fields – Especially just harvested grain fields
  • Watering Holes
  • Graveling Sites

By scouting the areas mentioned above you are likely to find a band of dove. If you watch this group of dove you will find all of their spots and be able to choose when and where to hunt them.

The Dove Field Huntdove field hunt

Of course there are sweet spots that have all of the criteria for dove to hang out at and these would be newly harvested fields of grain crops. These areas should be scouted as to when and where the dove are entering and exiting. You should look for areas such as ditches, field humps, and borders between plowed grounds to see if the dove fly over these areas. If so then you know where to place yourself for the hunt.

A field hunt generally takes a few people to keep the dove stirred up and flying. Remember that hunting pressure for more than a day or so will make the dove leave the area.

Please note that there are strict federal laws about hunting over baited fields. You should read up on what is considered a baited field before you hunt a field.

Best types of guns and ammo

Most people hunt dove with a shotgun of 20, 16 or 12 gauge that is also a semi auto. A pump or other shotgun will work fine but remember that are adept at flying and being able to get off three shots may make the difference of whether you make the shot or not.

The proper load of your shells for hunting dove is between 71/2 to 9 which are smaller shot sizes but remember it only takes a few pellets to bring a dove down. Also there are more pellets per load on the smaller shot sizes.

Some people spend a little extra and buy target shells as those used for skeet practice. They say that these shells, although they cost a little more, are manufactured to better standards and may improve your dove shots.

Remember it is not unusual to go through quite a few boxes of shells while dove hunting. Dove are not easy to hit and prior target practice, such as skeet shooting, is recommended.

Camouflage and Decoysdove decoys

As with most wildlife, dove have sharp eyes when it comes to spotting hunters. When hunting dove, you should where camouflage that closely matches your surroundings. You also want to camouflage your gun with camo tape if possible and wear a camo net or paint on your face.

A blind can conceal your location to incoming dove. You can build your own blind out of materials that are in the area you wish to hunt. For instance you may build a blind out of brush or old corn stalks.

Using Dove Decoys

Dove, like other birds, are attracted to more dove and this is where the dove decoy becomes a useful hunting tool.

Dove decoys should be placed near where you are hiding to get dove to fly close in by you. You can also place dove decoys on a fence about a foot apart on the top strand. Dove decoys can be placed as high as you can get them into trees but back from the tips of branches a bit.

Note – place all decoys facing into the wind as that is how dove take off and land.

Dove decoys may also be placed at dove watering spots. I have heard of hunters taking large branches and sticking them into the ground. Then, place full body dove decoys high on these branches and sit back and wait for the dove to come flying in for water.

Here are a few tips on shooting dove:

  • Pick a stand that will allow the dove to come within 25-30 yards of you
  • Be sure and remain still until a dove is within your range.
  • When you shoot, shoulder your gun quickly, keep your head on the stock, swing through the dove, pull the trigger and follow through with the shotgun swing all in one continuous movement. Practice make this easier.
  • Always take plenty of shotgun shells with you, more than you think you need. Dove are very evasive and adept flyers. Studies say that dove hunters average 3 birds per 25 shots.

Tips on shooting and retrievingdove dog

It is very easy to lose a dove after you have shot it, especially in tall vegetation. The scenario goes like this you shoot the first dove and another flies into range and you shoot at it forgetting where the first dove landed.

The best way to handle this is to keep your eyes on the first dove you shot, watch where it falls and no matter how many are in the air keep your eyes on the shot dove and go and pick it up. Now you can look up and start shooting at the dove flying over.

I have seen people who had Labradors or Retrievers trained to pick up their birds when they shoot them. This of course negates the above statement, if you have a retriever to go get your downed dove for you.

Now that you’ve completed Dove Hunting 101, it’s time to get in the field and start scouting. Employ the tips and tactics you’ve learned here, and you’re sure to enjoy the exciting, fast-paced wingshooting provided by America’s favorite game birds.

Via:: How-To: Dove Hunting Basics

Charles is the editor for 248 Shooter a midwest based gun news and gear review site as well as Online Content Director for On Target Magazine. He is an avid student taking classes from top tier trainers around the country. Charles shares his love for training as well as experience and opinions on some of the most talked about gear and products used by competitive shooters, military, leo and civilians.