You may know them as the bird of peace, a frequent visitor to backyard bird feeders and fountains, or the birds that roost in your trees and on your roof. However, around the nation, come September, the various species of dove become sporting fare for field and table.
Dove hunting is so popular that it is, by far, the most popular game bird in the world. The average mating pair of doves will have 3 to 4 clutches of eggs per year. The prolific nature of their reproduction, as well as the millions of acres of refuge available to them in and around homes and subdivisions across the nation, translates to a zero net impact from all of the millions of doves harvested by hunters every year.
If you ask avid wingshooters anywhere, they will tell you that these aerial acrobats are some of the most challenging shooting available. Dips, dives, sudden turns, and my personal favorite, the upside-down flap (Yes, the dove literally flips upside down in the air and drops several feet) mean that even the best shooters post about 50 to 60% accuracy, but don’t let that discourage you.
If you haven’t hunted doves, here are several, excellent reasons to give it a try.
- Dove hunting can be very social hunting. Opening day of dove season is often celebrated by large parties with shooting fields complete with a barbecue, cold soft drinks, and much camaraderie of family and friends.
- Aside from actually hitting them, the rest of dove hunting is rather easy. Generally, you find a place where doves are roosting, feeding, or going to water, sit, and wait for them to come. Some people use decoys; others simply wait over a watering area or food source.
- Because the weather is generally nice and dove hunting can be social, it is a great way to introduce children to hunting, shooting, and the outdoors in a pleasant, relaxed, and fun way.
- Doves are excellent table fare. Whether you pluck the entire bird, peel out the breasts, simmer them in a roux, or throw them on the barbecue, dove is hard to beat.
My personal favorite wild game meal is whole, plucked doves that are smoked with mesquite or hickory chips. Second to that is an either boneless or entire dove breast wrapped in a slice of bacon and stuffed with a jalapeño pepper and cream cheese and cooked on a hot charcoal grill.
I’ve known people who swear they would never eat wild game because it tastes “gamey,” come back for seconds of the Mexican rumaki they tasted at my home.
Seasons for dove tend to be long, often into the New Year, and can offer many opportunities beyond opening day or weekend.
After opening day, many of the surviving birds will become educated to shooters and you will need to change your methods just a bit to continue success.
Some things the most experienced dove shooters recommend:
Don’t shoot or conduct morning and evening hunts in the same place. This gives the birds a chance to rest and go back to their pre-opening day patterns.
While complete camouflage is not necessary, wearing it can help to conceal your silhouette from the more skittish birds. More important though is keeping movement to a minimum. Doves in flight have excellent eyesight and can detect movement from a surprisingly long distance.
If you have access to decoys, now is the time to use them. By strategically placing and allowing the incoming birds to focus on the decoy, you will be able to take more shots consistent, straight-flying birds rather than ones that roll and dive to the ground because they’ve seen you. My experience has always been, the more dove decoys, the better.
A spinning-wing decoy—if legal where you hunt—combined the detection of movement by the bird with a dove or doves’ profile.
A good tip to remember is to bring a cooler with you into the field not only for drinks, but to also put your downed birds into a cooler to prevent spoilage. It doesn’t take long, in over 60 degree weather, to turn a delectable meal into an unpleasant experience by improper game handling.
Finally, please remember to pick up your spent shells and not leave a mess—that includes game cleaning. It is our responsibility as good sportsmen and stewards of the land to leave an area we hunt cleaner than we found it.