Dove Hunting Tips
Dove hunting season is officially open in 43 states. Consistently knocking doves down without destroying them requires a lot of practice and a lot of shells, because these birds aren’t easy to hit! The following article will discuss dove habits, hunting preparations and key tips to improve your hunting skills.
Dove Habits and Activity
You’ve got your licenses, your shotgun, and a great spot picked out to start dove hunting. Now it’s time to learn about a dove’s habits and daily activity to scout their whereabouts. Doves follow the same routine for watering, feeding, graveling and roosting before they migrate. They also prefer the same terrain features when carrying out these activities.
Look for Doves at Nearby Water Holes
You can find a huddle of doves at watering holes around sunrise and again around dusk before they roost. The best waterholes are surrounded by an open area that have bare banks and are close to the doves’ roosting and feeding spots.
Common Feeding Sources for Doves
Doves generally don’t search for their food through thick foliage and prefer to eat their seeds on bare ground. Their main food staple is seeds from various sources such as weeds, corn, oats, millet, sunflowers, and wheat. Doves also have to eat grit to help them digest the seeds they eat and will gather on dirt roads, and gravel spots and sand banks around noon and up to two hours afterward.
The Most Popular Dove Hangouts
Doves can be seen perched in a network of trees, power lines, water towers, windmills, or gather in ditches, plowed ground borders, harvested grain fields, field humps, bushes or shrubs. They may return to their feeding spot and stay there for the remaining part of the afternoon, drink from a body of water close by and then roost after dusk.
Your Biggest Challenge is Hitting Your Bird
The most challenging aspect of becoming a good dove shooter is hitting a small, zigzagging target successfully. The majority of moving targets are missed because the shooter fails to complete their swing action. Other hunters try to shoot their target too soon. You can try skeet shooting to correct your technique and form and guess your lead time at different distances and different angles.
Check Your Visuals for Better Shooting Accuracy
Shooting is easier and more effective when you shoot with both eyes open. Some hunters may have a cross-dominant eye issue. Testing (Miles Test) to see which eye is dominant will help you gain better sight alignment/sight image so you can hit your intended target.
- Use Ear Protection While Hunting - It's also a good idea to wear earplugs or ear muffs to mute the sound of loud gunshots. Some ear protection devices can also enhance the sound of light animal movements.
Why Camouflaging Yourself is a Crucial Step
Many hunters fail to camouflage themselves properly to blend into their surrounding environment. This is one of the most critical steps before you even reach your hunting spot. It’s suggested to cover your face with camo grease, a camo face mask, camo hat, camo shoes and camouflage clothing. It’s also important to minimize gun movements by covering it with camo tape and stand in a tree’s shade if you can.
Why You Should Use Dove Decoys
Dove decoys are items many hunters use to attract doves with less effort. They should be placed close to your hiding place so that you can get your birds to fly closer to your location without getting spooked. A good place to plant decoys is by watering holes or on fences. You can use open ground decoys, tree decoys, fence decoys, and even stick large tree branches in the ground. Check to make sure spinning-wing decoys can be used legally in your hunting area.
How to Do A Field Hunt
The field hunt is typically done by a few people aside from yourself. The idea is to flush doves from their hiding places so that they can be targeted easier. A field hunt can be done in newly plowed crops where a high concentration of doves would naturally enter and leave throughout the day.
Choosing the Right Time to Hunt
Choosing the right time to hunt whether it’s morning or evening will require patience. Some hunters choose to use binoculars to watch their birds from a greater distance. Hunting for doves in the morning should be done before 9 A.M. Position yourself in your location shortly before daybreak (7:40 A.M.) If you’ve chosen the right place and the right time but no doves appear, it’s time to fold your tent. Sometimes hunting before dusk is better. Doves have finished feeding and watering by this time and will be ready to roost.
Choose an Improved Cylinder Choke
The improved cylinder choke is frequently used by hunters. Its constricted barrel makes shooting doves in a field much easier to do and will keep your bird intact if you should hit it at close range. The improved cylinder choke is a good choice to hunt Eurasian collared doves, white-winged doves or mourning doves and is most effective from 20-35 yards.
Why You Should Choose High-Quality Target Loads
Good shotgun target loads can greatly improve your dove hitting averages and include the following:
- Remington STS loads
- Winchester AA loads
- Federal Top Gun loads
Practice the Swing-Through Method
The most widely used and preferred technique for hitting dove among hunters is the swing-through method. This action requires you to swing your shotgun’s muzzle from behind the target, get ahead of it, and then fire as the muzzle covers and moves a little past the target.
The Best Way to Execute a Long Range Lead
Some expert hunters believe that the best way to target a dove is to start the lead in front of the dove’s head instead of its butt when shooting it from a long distance. When shooting a dove, narrow your focus to the dove’s head; this technique will help your shotgun move at the same pace with the bird. Continue to move the shotgun over past the dove’s head. Pull the trigger and continue to move your shotgun over. Watch this YouTube of dove hunting to learn how to properly lead them.
How to Determine a Bird’s Range
A simple way to tell if a dove’s in range is when you clearly see its feathers which will look dark. If the feathers look blurry and grayish, the bird is too far out of range.
Avoid Hunting in Baited Fields!
Make sure that the field you choose to hunt doves in is NOT baited. Check to make sure a field is planted in accordance with legitimate agricultural practices. Deliberately hunting on a baited field can cause a hunter to receive a citation and a very costly fine.
The following hunting tips will help you shoot more doves successfully with less wasted ammo:
15 Dove Hunting Tips
Tip 1: Protect Your Eyes with Safety Glasses
It’s recommended to always wear safety glasses when shooting. You must be able to focus on your target at a distance with natural or corrected sight and determine where to point. The frame’s design on your safety glasses should hold the lenses up and must be snug to the head. The lenses should be impact resistant and over-sized.
Tip 2: Choose the Right Shotgun
Many hunters hunt with a 12, 16 or 20 gauge auto-loader shotgun. The downside of using an auto-loader is that you’re limited to 3 shots by Federal Law. The average dove shooter drops one dove for every four to five shells when they upgrade their shotgun shells. Watch this Dove Hunting 101 Youtube video to see how to properly shoot a dove with a shotgun.
Tip 3: Learn Your Firearm’s Range
Knowing the maximum projectile range of your firearm is a critical safety measure. You’ll also know exactly what distances you can shoot from to make a clean kill. The kill range will always be less than your firearm’s maximum projectile range.
Tip 4: Upgrade Your Pellets
Dove shots are best taken from 15 to 30 yards. Choose 4, 5, or 6 pellets which can hold their energy longer at a longer range.
Tip 5: Choose High Brass No.9 Shells
Choosing high brass No.9 shells provide a more powerful shot when shooting doves short range. You might also find it useful to use a skeet barrel to gain wider spread. Higher-quality shells tend to be more durable than bargain-priced shells, the pellets are consistently round and travel better. No. 9 shells (438 pellets) hold enough energy to drop doves at 20-25 yards.
Tip 6: Choose No. 8 Shells for Longer Yardage
Choose No. 8 shells when you shoot doves at a range of 35 yards. You have the choice to work with a tighter choke or shoot with heavier loads when you need a denser pattern.
Tip 7: Correctly Mount Your Gun
The correct gun mount is done without using the shoulder but with the front hand. The front hand should push the shotgun forward and move the stock to the bottom of your cheekbone at the same time. The stock should sit directly on your shoulder. This mounting technique allows you to hold the shotgun still as you make your swing movement.
Tip 8: Use a Modified Choke as an Alternative
Using a modified choke is also great for shooting doves. It has moderate constriction and is considered the “universal” type of choke used for general hunting.
Tip 9: Stand Level on the Ground
You can sit on a stool to shoot doves. But doves tend to spin and flip as they fly so it’s very important to remain flat-footed to increase your chances of a hit. There are a few advantages of shooting doves while standing up such as:
- Your body and feet can gain better balance.
- You can adjust your position while mounting your gun to target your dove.
Tip 10: Practice Shouldering Your Gun
Practice shouldering your gun quickly and keeping your head on the stock when shooting your dove using the swing method. The swing method should be done in one continuous movement.
Tip 11: Stay Ahead of Your Target
Remember, one inch of barrel movement equals one foot. Move your barrel ahead of your target dove by six inches to increase your chance of a hit as it moves in front of you.
Tip 12: Build a Hunting Blind
Doves are very savvy at detecting a hunter’s presence. Hunting blinds are a great way to further mask human scent and reduce being detected. They can be made from bramble, underbrush or corn stalks or can be made of wood or metal or both. A blind allows you to view your doves while sitting. Place your blind by a timbered area or a cleared ditch bank since these places will encourage more doves to drop down. Watch the following YouTube video on how to build an inexpensive huntingblind.
Tip 13: Place Dove Decoys in Natural Areas to Attract More Doves
- Place tree decoys in a higher position facing into the wind and away from branch tips on a dead tree.
- Space fence decoys about 12 inches apart on the fence’s top strand.
- Space four or five decoys and bunch up a few without setting any distinct patterns.
Allow a dove to lower over decoys and swing your barrel below it. Shoot as soon as the gun barrel blocks your view of the bird.
Tip 14: Use Cooing Whistles
Blow your cooing whistles slowly preferably within a group of trees after setting up decoys. Use cooing whistles in the late morning and during evening hours. Take time to shoot your target dove especially when it’s among a group. Don’t talk and stay still. Blow the dove call or whistle to attract the birds closer to you. Try to hit only one bird and then single out another.
Tip 15: Get a Trained Dog to Retrieve Your Doves
It’s easy to lose track of your downed birds, especially in thick or tall foliage. So getting a retrieving dog is helpful with finding and fetching your doves right away without the extra hassle of retrieving them yourself.
Hunting doves doesn’t require a lot of equipment and is a great sport for beginners. The biggest challenge of hunting doves is their flight pattern which is very erratic and unpredictable. Believe it or not, much of your dove hunting will involve adequate preparation, patience and practice before you actually go out in the field to reduce wasting shots. One way to sharpen your dove shooting skills is to first practice skeet shooting.
You’ll get the feel of how to target your prey correctly using the right mounting position. With practice, you’ll know how to down a dove with more shells to spare. Don’t rush shots which will make you more prone to miss! Make sure your gun is mounted correctly. A correct shotgun mount will always bring the eye and the shotgun’s bead in alignment. Lastly, pick the right time and location to hunt doves and use adequate camouflage gear.