How to Hunt Mourning Doves: 8 fundamental tips for dove hunting success
- 10 Dec, 2018
In many parts of the U.S., Mourning Dove hunting is a very popular outdoor sport and often serves to introduce young hunters to the sport of hunting because dove hunting requires very little equipment and very little pre-season preparation. In fact, dove hunting in the South is often elevated to the level of a social activity complete with large groups of friends on the field and post-hunt tailgate barbeques. But, what really seems to appeal to most avid wingshooters is the fact that an active dove field provides hunters with a seemingly endless array of targets which can make for a very exciting day as well as a sore shoulder. However, any avid dove hunter will tell you that Mourning Doves present an extremely challenging target and thus, unless you own an ammunition factory, a good day on an active dove filed can be somewhat expensive! Thus, below you will find eight tips to help you improve your dove hunting success.
- Habitat Preferences – Like all creatures, Mourning Doves have specific habitat needs and thus, they gravitate to locations that provide easy access to food, water, grit, protected perches, and roosts. Also, Mourning Doves have a distinct preference for small seeds such as Millet, Milo, Wheat, and Sunflower and, they prefer to feed on bare ground. Thus, you should look for freshly harvested grain fields surrounded by large trees with a water source such as farm pond nearby.
- Scouting – Mourning Doves tend to feed early in the mornings and late in the afternoons with visits to their favorite gravel patches and/or watering holes after each feeding period. In addition, they also have distinct flight paths that they like to use to enter and exit their feeding grounds and thus, they use landmarks such as points, corners, ditches, fence lines, tree lines, tall trees, and other such structure as reference points. Therefore, wise dove hunters scout prospective dove fields before 9:00 AM and after 3:00 PM in order to observe the preferred flight paths, feeding areas, and perches and then position themselves accordingly to ambush incoming birds.
- Time of Day– Mourning Doves tend to feed most actively from dawn to mid-morning after which they return to perches adjacent to their feeding grounds. Then, the like to feed again from late afternoon to early evening after which they return to their favored roots after a stop at their favorite water source. Thus, avid dove hunters arrive at their chosen field before dawn and stay till dark. In addition, because doves often perch in trees adjacent to the field from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, hunters can sometimes flush doves into flight by slowly walking along these edges.
- Choosing a Position – Of course, the purpose of scouting a dove field is to determine when and where the doves are entering and exiting a field so that you can properly position yourself to ambush them. Therefore, experienced dove hunters carefully observe each locale to locate certain “structure” that doves use to navigate. For instance, a dip in perimeter timber may serve as an entrance or exit point and, corners also tend to funnel doves in and out of fields. In addition, points, ditches, borders between stubble and plowed ground and, fence and tree lines all serve as designated flight paths. Furthermore, mid-field rises and humps are often preferred feeding sites because they provide a better view of approaching danger. Therefore, experienced dove hunters will position themselves adjacent to these entrance and exit points, funnels, flight paths, and feeding sites in order to ambush birds. In addition, dove hunters should also look for both watering sites and graveling sites since they too are key features to good Mourning Dove habitat. Thus, hunters should be aware that Mourning Doves tend to prefer to drink at muddy ponds, seeps, mud holes and stream banks with edges free of tall vegetation. Thus, still bodies of water with a wide swath of exposed mud or sand along shore are ideal. Last, dove hunters should also be aware that doves need to ingest grit to aid their gizzard in grinding up the seeds that they eat. Therefore, rural roads, sand bars, gravel quarries, and other graveling spots close to feeding, watering, and roosting sites are also excellent places to ambush doves at mid-day and in the early evening.
- Wear Camouflage and Minimize Movement – Although blinds are not necessary for hunting Mourning Doves, the wise dove hunter always wears appropriate camouflage clothing and minimizes their movement because Mourning Doves have very keen eyesight and will veer away from exposed hunters. Thus, experienced dove hunters will conceal themselves in the available foliage or shade and will wait until the last possible moment to shoulder their shotgun.
- Deploy Dove Decoys – Because Mourning Doves are social animals, they prefer to feed in flocks and thus, deploying a small group of dove decoys is an excellent way to draw doves to a specific location. Therefore, decoys should be placed on bare ground or on perches such as fences and exposed tree limbs adjacent to favored feeding sites.
- Choose the Right Choke – Choosing the correct choke for your shotgun’s barrel is also very helpful when hunting Mourning Doves. For instance, when shooting at a range of 20 yards or less, choose a Skeet choke. When shooting at range of 25 yards, choose an Improved Cylinder choke. When shooting at a range of 30 yards, choose a Modified choke and, when shooting at a range of 40 yards or more, choose a Full choke.
- Use the Correct Lead – Because Mourning Doves can fly at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour and weave, dip, and dive while flying at high speeds, they can be a very challenging target to hit. In fact, most dove hunters fire three to five shells for every bird that they harvest. However, the main reason that most dove hunters miss their target is a failure to properly calculate the required lead. Therefore, because there is very little information on how to properly calculate wing shooting lead available on the Web, wise dove hunters purchase a copy of a book titled Wing Shooting Lead by author Emit J. Nelson which presents tables called Lead-O-Tables that definitively list the correct amount of lead for birds flying at various speeds at various distances using various, standard, shotshell loads.
So, if you are member of the small army of Mourning Dove hunters who eagerly await opening day each fall but, often have trouble finding the best fields and/or the best locations to hunt, then following the tips listed above on habitat preferences, scouting, and time of day will aid you in locating productive dove fields. In addition, following the tips on position, camouflage, and decoys will greatly enhance the number of shots you get at passing doves and, following the tips on choosing the right shotgun choke and determining the correct amount of lead will drastically increase the number of birds that you harvest during each hunt. Thus, by employing the eight tips listed above, you are certain to become a far more successful Mourning Dove hunter!
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