General

Dove hunting isn’t complicated, so don’t make it that way!

Hunter sitting on Plano 1812 Hunting Stool shooting a shotgun

Those who enjoy a hunting lifestyle are fortunate. Because hunting isn’t always easy—especially for the millions of Americans looking to get into the sport. Competition for hunting ground, a significant financial investment in gear, and time spent on hunter education, scouting, and shooting practice are just a few of the barriers to hunting participation. Thankfully, some types of hunting (Doves) are simpler than others.

By Josh Lantz

Hunter sitting on Plano 1812 Hunting Stool shooting a shotgun
Dove hunting may be hunting at its most basic and fundamentally-joyous level. It’s a social hunt that dosen’t take an abundance of gear or preparation; just a little upfront legwork to find concentrations of birds.

Not too long ago, rabbits and squirrels were the most-pursued game in our country. It was easy to put a single-shot .410 shotgun or .22 rifle into the hands of a young person and, with a bit of instruction, safely plant the seeds that could grow into a lifetime of passion for hunting and wildlife conservation.

While somewhat less popular today, small game hunting remains one of the best and most accessible options for getting into the field. Farmers and landowners who lease their land to deer or turkey hunters may be willing to let small game hunters use their property, especially if a supervised youngster is involved. And the required gear is minimal.

The month of September marks the opening of dove hunting season in 40 of the lower 48 states. With an estimated population approaching 300 million, the mourning dove is one of the most abundant and widely distributed game birds in the country. Each year, about 1 million dove hunters typically spend more than 3 million days afield, harvesting between 15 and 20 million birds. These fast-flying fowl present challenging shooting and are exceptional tablefare. And, as with with squirrels and rabbits, hunting doves is a relatively easy proposition.

A Place to Hunt

Most states offer public-ground dove-hunting opportunities, and specifically manage properties or parts of those properties for doves. Realize, however, that hunting one of these properties—especially during the opening week of the season—may require advanced registration.

1812 Hunting Stool
Serving double duty as a comfortable seat and practical carryall, Plano’s new 1812 Hunting Stool may be the ultimate dove hunting accessory.

Private-ground hunting opportunities are available to those who are willing to do some scouting and knock on a few doors. Understanding a few basic factors will make scouting for doves easier. Doves are seedeaters, feeding on waste grain from many agricultural crops including wheat, corn, millet, barley, sorghum, sunflowers, and others. They also eat weed seeds such as foxtail, thistle, and croton. Doves prefer to feed on relatively bare ground, and typically do so twice a day—once in the morning and again in the late afternoon.

Doves also need to drink and pick gravel to help digest the seeds they eat. They’ll visit clear-water sources such as ponds and streams a couple times a day, usually after feeding. Barnyards with gravel lanes and puddles of standing water are often excellent places to ambush doves in the afternoon—especially when located near preferred feeding areas.

Roosting habitat is also an important factor in locating good dove hunting spots. Doves prefer overhead lines and dead or dying trees with sparse vegetation. Such roosting habits favor the dove hunter, as they make the birds highly visible. Doves tend to flock to the best habitat, so finding a great hunting location can be as easy as spotting several birds roosted on an overhead utility line.

Once you’ve located some good areas, it’s time to knock on some doors. Be polite, introduce yourself, and explain why you’re there. Listen to any specific instructions or concerns, and assure the landowner that you’ll remove all traces of your hunt. Always let the landowner know when you’ll be coming and going. Bring along a simple, prepared permission slip that states you have permission to hunt the property and ask them to sign it in case you are questioned by another hunter or a conservation officer.

Get Ready… Go!

A small game hunting license from your state’s Department of Natural Resources or wildlife conservation agency is required to hunt doves. Because mourning doves are migratory, they are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, so a Federal Duck Stamp is required. These stamps are available online, from most hunting license vendors, as well as most U.S. Post Office locations.

Dog retrieving a dove
If you don’t have a dog, most kids are more than happy to participate in the hunt by retrieving downed birds.

Almost any shotgun is suitable for dove hunting. Doves are fast and small, so a model with an open or modified choke is ideal. This will spread the shot out and create a larger pattern. Double-barrelled, autoloading and pump-action shotguns allow for fast follow-up shots.

The national average is around 7 shots per dove harvested, so choose affordable shotshells that won’t wear you down. Leave the 3” and 3-1/2” magnums at home. Standard 2-3/4” shells deliver plenty of payload for doves, and your shoulder will thank you after a morning or afternoon afield. Most dove hunters shoot 6-9 shot, and many consider standard number 8 target loads to be ideal. Lead is still the most popular shot material for hunting doves, but check your state’s regulations. Many require steel or other non-toxic shot on public hunting properties. Shooting skills are certainly a factor, but each hunter should plan on using about 4 boxes of shells to harvest a limit of 15 mourning doves.

You’ll need a way to carry those shells and other supplies into the field, as well as a place to sit while hunting. One of the best options available for this purpose is Plano’s new 1812 Hunting Stool. This clever and affordable seat is built around a magnum-sized Plano 1812 Field Box that holds ammo, tools, snacks, drinks, and other necessities inside its customizable divided interior—supplemental to several built-in pockets on the seat’s nylon—camouflaged exterior. It features a tethered seat cushion for all-day comfort and a padded shoulder strap for easy transport. When the hunt is through, the 1812 Hunting Stool will tote your birds, empty shotshell casings and the rest of your gear back to the truck. The versatile Plano 1812 Hunting Stool sells for around $50 and has many other practical applications for the hunter or outdoor enthusiast.

Hunter with shotgun over shoulder holding a dove
With a population approaching 300 million, the mourning dove is North America’s most abundant and widely-distributed game bird.

Like most birds, doves have fairly good eyesight, so tuck yourself into some cover if possible. Camouflage clothing is advisable. A dove decoy or two can be helpful in bringing birds within shooting range, but aren’t a necessity. A nifty tactic some old-timers use is to toss their cap a few feet into the air and let it land on the ground to catch the attention of passing birds. Doves may think a bird has landed to feed and come closer to investigate.

Dove hunting is a highly social activity that a family or larger group of friends can enjoy together. It’s also a great way to wrap kids and others new to the outdoors into the action, traditions, and excitement of hunting. They don’t need to be quiet or hold excessively still, and even if they aren’t hunting themselves, kids love to watch and retrieve the downed birds.

Dove hunting represents, perhaps, hunting at its most basic and fundamentally-joyous level. It doesn’t take an abundance of gear or preparation; just a little upfront legwork to find concentrations of birds. And the feast that follows after the hunt? Well, that’s an entirely separate article.

Do you hunt doves? Share your best dove hunting story in the comments section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (11)

  1. Dove hunting is some of the best memories I have of my dad. Warm September days and evenings with corn fields just starting to turn brown. A couple of tips from a hunter that rarely didn’t limit out.

    Doves mainly roost in the middle of the day. Walk tree rows until maybe 4 hours until sunset. They prefer half dead trees with plenty of bare branches so that they can get a good view of the area.

    They feed and water periodically through the day in small groups but go out in mass in that 4 hours before sunset time period. Hanging out by typical feeding spots where there is plenty of fresh grain sitting around (farm grain bin areas) are prime for about an hour. Decoys can make all the difference at these locations. I have frequently limited out before the real hunting began because they came in so well to a grain silo where there was always spilled grain around.

    About 3 hours till sunset they are getting rocks for digestion and get a little elusive. This is the cue to be at a good watering hole. You will want to scout out a good one if there is a fair amount of standing water around. But they seem to be pretty picky on what they like so it isn’t usually too hard to find a prime spot. They tend to like a little open ground between any cover and the water, plenty a perching space in full view of water (power lines, half dead trees, that kind of stuff) and relatively small bodies of water (something you could throw a rock across). When scouting you know you found a good spot when there are 30 doves or so sitting on a power line near a little pool of water where a horse tank has overflowed. Decoys can again make a world of a difference. I have seen a dove shot at aND missed three times to go land next to 2 decoys and then be flushed up and shot.

    Otherwise stay safe with planned shooting lanes for all shooters along with planned drop zones for birds. They are small and can be a bugger to find if you drop them in a corn field. If you do it right you get lots of shooting in and with practice a good meal too. I have had the privilege of having a few hunting buddies where we all limited out and had over 100 birds in a single night.

  2. As with every subject, there are two sides, and both can be right. Each individual has to decide what they can live with. As we get older we tend to value life more, but that does not mean we can’t still participate. We just become more selective. But there are benefits to hunting doves just as there are benefits to leaving them alone.

    The Hunt:

    Doves can decimate a field of freshly planted seed. I have experienced this first hand. Some control reduces my losses and increases my chances of a successful crop.

    Doves do provide a sweet, albeit meager, meat. A delicious meal may be had from enough dove’s breasts.

    Dove are more difficult to shoot in flight and thus present a great challenge and sport. Learning to shoot a dove in flight improves necessary skills to be successful in other flight hunts (duck, geese. etc.), as well as possible self defense situations. These may be life saving skills. Such skills may also translate into any moving target shot, and being successful at it.

    As mentioned, doves are far from approaching extinction, and recently foreign breeds have started to invade other habitats. Some jurisdictions are greatly encouraging reduction and control.

    Not to Hunt:

    Beautiful birds with a wonderful song. They are very peaceful and enjoyable to listen to and watch. We don’t have to kill something to own it. We can own it by allowing it to live on, especially since we have the memory in our heads.

    They do stay mated for life, while they are alive, for the most part. There are a few exception to every rule. when one mate is killed, the other may take on another mate. But what a wonderful love story. Faithful for life! Tough to envision being the “evil” force of dissolution of that bond.

    Not really a cost effective meat source. The price per breast is not really reasonable by any means. When you figure a cost per ounce, all other meat looks like a bargain.

    The Bottom Line:

    It really depends on your personal needs and values. True hunters don’t kill just to kill. We all value life and as long as we hunt respectfully and fully informed, respecting all others and their opinions, we win. Even if we come home with just the story and a lack of game. We win no matter what. May we all live and appreciate life to its fullest!

    Sincerely,

    Russ

  3. This article states that a Federal Duck Stamp is necessary to hunt dove because they are a migratory bird. That’s wrong. A duck stamp is only required to hunt migratory waterfowl.

  4. The article states “Because mourning doves are migratory, they are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, so a Federal Duck Stamp is required.”. I don’t believe this is true. According to the TPWD website, The federal duck stamp is only needed for waterfowl..

  5. To Robert & all: Hunting & shooting Mourning Doves? Really!! What a shame! Talk about being out in nature and just enjoying it for what it is. Do it. That’s Great. But I wake up every morning to the soft cooing of these peaceful, harmless birds. I say, if you’re going to hunt, find something worth hunting!

    If you shoot Mourning Doves – unless you clean and eat every bird you shoot – you should be ashamed of yourself/s. The damn birds are so tranquil, they usually sit on a branch (paired for life, remember), and just look at you. EASY TARGETS. Unless, you’re teaching a young person and there’s nothing else available; I say, leave ’em alone.

    Grow some balls and go after something more challenging, like a menace creature… Perhaps a bear – or a pack rabid coyotes. Or grow some big ones, and see if you have what it takes to track and kill some wild boar. And while you’re at it, take a handgun ONLY. Grab a .45 ACP, get in close – and see if you can take down a 450 pound tusked beast without losing your entrails.

    Leave the Mourning Doves alone in nature. If you’re desperate for food, Shoot me an email with your address, and I’ll overnight a good steak.

    Dale

    1. @ Just Dale. Seems you have a reading comprehension problem. Maybe if you want to say your piece, try just saying it to everyone, instead of directing it at a specific person. I take offense to your comment, but not in general, as I feel the little birds are beautiful, and more of “value” enjoying them alive in nature.
      But if I had to depend on hunting to feed my family to keep from starvation, I just might eat YOU. If hunting isn’t your “thing” and you come here to criticize everyone, then you are a troll.

  6. Never went dove hunting. Not much meat per kill. Although had someone give me a dove cooked, it was wrapped in bacon. Just the breast meat. Very delicious. They pair up and have the same mate for life. Just can’t bring myself to shoot them. I hunt just big game, and not very successful at that. Turkey, deer, hog, elk, and bear. But it is more about being in nature which has just a calming feeling mostly. I have let small bucks trot on by, and during doe season, I didn’t shoot two days in a row because mama doe had little baby( the past spring )with her. What a SAP i must be, though I will shoot a four ,six, eight or ten pointers if I know I got a viable shot. Used to squirrel hunt as a teenager and three or four at a time made a good meal for the family.

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