Opening Day Dove Hunting

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dove hunting
Doves seen perching in dead snags are indicators of a good hunting area nearby.

At dusk, doves started pouring in. Some streaked in 90-to-nothing from across the pond. Others blazed in behind us. As the dove hunter swung on one, several more appeared, flaring as their guns boomed. For 10 minutes the action was non-stop, and then a short lull. The dove hunter found, to his amazement, he’d gone through more than half a box of shells. The barrel of his shotgun was hot, his knees were weak, and in the midst of all that bedlam, he only downed two birds.

One might think such a striking gamebird would prefer sparkling, clear water, but doves generally drink at muddy ponds, seeps, mudholes, or stream banks. A farm pond, stretch of lakeside or river bank with a broad, open dirt or mud border is ideal, especially when near roosts or feeding areas. Doves circle swiftly, eye the waterhole for signs of danger, and then, if all looks safe, swing in to alight at the water’s edge.

Some dove hunters always scout for shallow ponds that have suffered a dry summer and have large areas of open earth around the remaining water. It’s easy for mourning doves to land here and easy for them to flush if there is danger, just what thirsty doves are looking for.

Another deciding influence is the availability of perching places. Doves like to water, then fly to a dead tree to preen before moving on. Others circle the watering area and perch to look for danger before fluttering down. If no dead snags are nearby, look for power or telephone lines passing close. A sure sign of a winning waterhole is a number of doves perched on nearby wires or dead trees.

dove hunting over water holes
Water holes such as this small pond often serve up fast gunning for doves early and late in the day.

When you’ve pinpointed a productive waterhole, watch for patterns as birds come and go. For example, lets say that one pond you might have hunted many times is about 200 yards below a ridgetop highway. Running along the highway is a telephone line. Birds watering at this pond light on the wires before flying to the pond. As they fly down, they pass by a clump of bushes where you wait in ambush. Every bird passes within 25 or 30 yards, moving from left to right. That’s the best cross-shot swing.

Graveling sites are overlooked by many dove hunters, but these are also important to doves. Gravel roads, sand bars, gravel quarries and other graveling spots close to feeding, watering and roosting sites make an area more attractive to doves, and if your scouting reveals activity patterns, these areas, or locations near them, can provide alternative hunting sites during midday when doves aren’t feeding in fields.

Regardless of where you dove hunt, it’s important to continue scouting right up to the day you dove hunt. Doves activity patterns may change due to adverse weather conditions, changes in feeding-field conditions and other factors, especially early in the season. To have the best opening day dove hunt possible, be prepared. Identify several potential dove hunting sites. Visit them often. Watch doves throughout the day. Determine when and where they’re flying.

scouting doves
A field of sunflowers like this, if cut before dove season, could make a great hunting area if scouting reveals birds coming and going.

Personnel in the game division of your state wildlife agency can provide information on hunting public lands open to dove hunters, and details about specific tracts planted with grain crops attractive to doves. Most prime dove hunting lands are privately owned, however, and most sportsmen must turn toward private lands to meet their dove hunting needs. Always visit with the landowner prior to dove hunting or scouting, and continue with your activities only after you’ve been granted permission. Show respect for the landowner’s property while visiting, and be sure to express your thanks after the dove hunt by sharing game, sending a thank-you note and offering to assist with chores on the property. If you want private landowners to be your friends, be a friend to them.

Whether you choose to dove hunt them along an afternoon flyway, in a field where you can jump them from a rainy day meal, or by bagging them as they come in for water or gravel, doves can provide exciting shooting throughout the day. Thorough pre dove hunt scouting increases the odds you’ll take some home—if you can hit them.

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