Dove hunting season has opened across much of the Midwest. Opening day is always popular. Public lands can be crowded early in the season. But as time goes on, the crowds thin out and many dove fields become devoid of competition. Doves are still around in droves, so don’t overlook these fast flying, great tasting birds as an excellent early season hunting opportunity.
A mature dove is only around 12 inches long, possesses a wingspan of 18 inches and weighs a whopping six ounces. Doves are small targets when you consider the fact that they reach flight speeds of up to 55 miles per hour. Knocking enough of them out of the air to fill a limit is a tough task.
Dove hunting is a challenging and exciting experience. When the birds are there, the action can be fast and furious. Connecting with these pint-sized rockets isn’t. One would do themselves a favor to spend some time practicing by shooting clay targets before hitting a dove field. Practicing your wing shooting at a trap and skeet club or sporting clays range is a good idea before hitting the dove field.
If you don’t have access to a commercial club or range, there are many options for using your own clay thrower. These range from simple handheld throwers to professional machines. Something in the middle, like the Caldwell Claymore thrower, allows you to transport a quality clay bird thrower to any field where you have permission to practice shooting. A few good practice sessions should save you some money on shells down the road and some frustration from too many misses.
The equipment needed for dove hunting is minimal. As far as firearms go, any 12-, 16-, or 20-gauge shotgun will work fine. Some like the challenge of a 28-gauge or .410. Take plenty of shotgun shells with you, because you’ll need more than you think. Size 7 1/2 or 8 birdshot will suffice. Make sure you know whether or not the property you are hunting requires the use of steel shot. Many public properties require the use of steel shot only.
When deciding where to situate yourself and your party, try to locate an already harvested crop field with a water source nearby. Doves roost overnight and often fly to water early in the morning and again at dusk. Keep the sun at your back. Doves are hard enough to hit without blinding yourself by looking into the sun. Camouflage isn’t necessary, but doves do have great eyesight. Hunter orange is not required but is a good idea when hunting in a group. Sitting still and breaking up your outline with natural brush or sitting next to a structure of some sort will bring more doves into range. Stay still until they are right on you. Don’t stand until you’re ready to shoot, or just shoot sitting down.
Dove are usually found in good numbers around harvested agricultural fields, especially grain fields. Scouting early and late in the day, when doves are moving to and from fields, especially freshly picked fields, is a guideline for success. Look on power lines and fences for doves. They’ll hang around roosting areas and water holes, too.
There are few hunting opportunities better for spending time in the field as a family than dove hunting. You do need to be somewhat still and quiet when dove hunting, but you can talk and enjoy the company of those you are hunting with. There should be plenty of shooting action, or at least you hope so. If all goes well, you’ll end up with a pile of doves and sore shoulders.
Doves are great to eat. Each one provides two good sized nuggets that, when grilled, baked or fried, offer a rich, delicious game meat. My favorite means of preparing dove breasts is to douse them in Worcestershire sauce, sprinkle with sea salt and cracked black pepper, wrap each breast in bacon, stick a toothpick through it, and drop it on the grill over medium heat.
See you down the trail …
Brandon Butler writes a weekly outdoors column for the Daily Journal. For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast on www.driftwoodoutdoors.com or anywhere podcasts are streamed. Send comments to [email protected].