By Rhett L Fletcher
Dove hunting season is an exciting time of year. It kicks off the fall hunting season and can be a whole lot of fun as well as a chance to get tuned-up for fall and winter bird hunting. When heading out to the dove field I prefer to take my Baretta 12 gauge auto loader, but a 20 gauge with 7/8 ounce loads of 8 shot is a great dove gun. Here are a few tips to help make your dove hunt a success:
1) Match the choke to the conditions
Using the wrong choke will seriously affect your shell/bird ratio. A common mistake is using chokes that are too tight for dove. Granted, some shots at dove are pretty long, but shots requiring full chokes are not common. Fortunately, today’s modern shotguns have screw in choke tubes so you can hit the field with every choke you might need and make a quick change in a matter of seconds. Carefully consider the range your shots are likely to be and make your choice. A good rule of thumb is that improved cylinder will get you about 25 yards, modified to about 35 yards, and full to about 40 to 45 yards. A 45 yard shot at a dove is pretty hard to hit, most dove shooters will score about twice as often at 25 yards than 40 yards.
2) Pick a good spot
As dove are seed eaters most dove hunts are around fields that have been cut or recently planted for fall crops. Hunters will position themselves around the field but some spots are definitely better than others. A gap in the trees could be a gap for doves coming and going. Power lines attract dove, and a right of way is even better. Doves like to sit in trees around water so if there’s a pond or stock tank nearby, get closer to it.
3) Stand in the shade
There’s a couple of good reasons for this. The first, obviously is because it’s cooler than standing in the sun. Second, is your level of visibility. The hunters standing in the shade aren’t nearly as visible to incoming birds as hunters standing in the sun. Also, always try to put the sun at your back so that you have a clearer view of incoming birds and the sun is in the bird’s eyes making you harder to detect.
4) Use what cover you have
Try standing next to a brush or fence row. With a decent camo pattern you can stand in front of it as effectively as behind it. If good cover isn’t an option, a pop-up blind may be a good option. If other hunters are standing out in the open, the birds, not seeing you behind your blind, may see your direction as a good avenue for escape and fly your way.
5) Camo down
Dove have sharp eyes and will swerve away from anything that stands out. Wear lightweight camo shirts and pants and a cap that keeps the sun out of your eyes and hides your shiny face. I can tell you from experience, if you have good cover camo isn’t necessary. Utilizing good cover and playing the sun to your advantage can get you a lot of birds.
6) Don’t move or mount your gun until the bird is well within range
Doves will fly straight as an arrow until they see movement, then they’ll dip and twist to try to avoid the threat. If you start your gun mount too early they’ll never get within range. Be patient, then be quick and careful. Shooting clays is great practice for dove.
7) Decoys don’t hurt
Adding some decoys in front of your spot can allow you to use a more open choke. Doves are flock birds and will try to land and gather where there are other dove. In other words, dove love decoys!
8) Get some quality practice for the coming seasons
Hunting dove can be great practice for the other bird seasons coming up. If you use a different gun for pheasant, duck or geese, take it to the dove field. Generally, you’ll have a lot more shots at dove than you will at any other birds so use the dove season to sharpen your skills with your other bird guns.
9) Don’t forget the dog
Doves can be hard to find so having a quality dog on your hunt can be a huge plus. It’s also a great way for your dog to get some good training time as well. Just remember to utilize the shade and give your dog plenty of water as dove season is generally in pretty warm weather.
There’s nothing quite like a good dove hunt, especially when you’re shooting well. It kicks off the hunting season and sets the tone for the rest of the year. Hopefully, you’ll leave your dove field with your bag limit of dove and shells in your pocket! Good luck!
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