For many years, I wondered why the pursuit of dove was called hunting. To my way of thinking, “shoot” was much better suited. After all, one doesn’t really hunt dove, right? Well, through the years, I’ve changed my opinion on this matter. I guess as a young dove shooter I did very little hunting. I simply positioned myself on a pond dam or along a tree line bordering a grain field and banged away at passing dove. Truthfully, I sometimes harvested dove and sometimes wished there were dove to harvest! I had left hunting out of the equation!
Granted, dove often aren’t hunted in the same manner as many other game birds and animals, but they should be! Take goose hunting for instance. I’ve enjoyed many successful goose hunts from the Canadian border to the Texas coast and every hunt had one common denominator: preparation. Scouting occurred the day before the hunts and decoys and calls were used to attract the birds within shotgun range. I’ve never tried using dove calls to bring passing birds in close, but I know for a fact that proper scouting is important to locate concentrations of birds and a mixture of stationary and spinning-wing decoys will bring the birds in close for the shot.
Here are a few things that I’ve learned about dove hunting from almost a half-century in the dove fields each fall. I bet if you’ve spend very much time pursuing this great game bird; you can add a few of your own tips to my list!
SCOUT FIRST – Most of us are limited to the fields we can hunt. Individual fields may not be red hot on any given hunt, but scouting before the hunt will insure you set up where your percentages are best. From a good vantage point, use binoculars during early morning and late afternoon and determine the flight pattern used by doves. Then, locate a good spot to ambush them. The end of tree lines, grown up fence rows, or even high weeds adjacent a grain field can be good spots to hunt. If you’re hunting over a pond, chances are pretty good that dove have a particular area they prefer to come to water. These watering zones usually are areas with clean banks that provide grit for the birds and protection from predators. Also, pay attention to the wind when choosing a spot to hunt. All birds take off and land into the wind.
CROSSING SHOTS ARE MOST DIFFICULT – For most hunters, crossing shots at dove are the most difficult to make, especially shots on fast flying birds. It’s very common to shoot behind birds flying right to left or left to right. Nothing sharpens the eye for these shots better than a few rounds of skeet or trap. Practice by beginning your shotgun swing behind the flying bird (clay target), seeing daylight behind your shotgun barrel and the flying bird, and pulling the trigger. The trick for the shotgunner is to know just how much daylight is required in order to put the shot string at the exact spot where the bird will be! This study in physics has challenged the wingshooter since the invention of black powder and shot; it’s also what makes dove hunting so much fun. To my way of thinking, dove are the most challenging of all birds to knock down with a scattergun.
BLEND INTO YOUR SURROUNDINGS – Back in the early sixties when I first began hunting dove, blue jeans and a dark colored T shirt was the uniform of the day. Dove have excellent eyesight and from their elevated position, they can easily spot anything that looks out of the ordinary (i.e. hunters wearing solid colors). These days, I hunt dove in the same light weight, breathable camo I use for early season bow hunting. Wear camo and avoid movement until you begin your shotgun swing and chances are very good that you will have a heavier game bag at the end of your shoot!
RETRIEVE YOUR BIRDS IMMEDIATELY – Dove blend well into their surroundings and many are lost by hunters that take their eye off of a falling bird and shoot at another. Unless shooting over a recently cut grain field or an area with short grass, It’s a good idea to watch your bird hit the ground after the shot and go immediately to retrieve it, especially if you’re not hunting with a good retriever.
USE DECOYS – Ten years ago, decoys were seldom used by dove hunters, but we’ve caught on to the fact that doves are flocking birds and they respond well to decoys. Motion type decoys (spinning and flapping wing) have proven to be highly effective. My current decoy spread includes three stationary decoys and a couple of flapping wing decoys from Edge by Expedite. These decoys run on three AAA batteries and with removable wings, are easy to transport into and out of the field. On many occasions, I’ve had dove actually fluttering overhead above the flapping wing decoys. They work and I use them on every hunt.
HUNTING OPPORTUNITIES ABOUND AT RANGER CREEK RANCH
Ranger Creek Ranch in Knox County has long been one of my favorite places to hunt for a wide variety of game and birds. This rugged “cedar break” country adjacent farmland is a Utopia for game and birds. During the past couple of decades, I’ve enjoyed many hunts on the ranch. The dove hunting here is usually excellent with large numbers of native and migratory birds. This past week, I visited with ranch owner Ranell Scott and learned of some exciting new hunting programs the ranch has in place this year. In today’s busy world, fewer people have the time to take care of a season hunting lease. Ranger Creek is currently offering “mini” hunting leases. Don’t let the name “mini” fool you, the name doesn’t refer to acreage! Hunters can have their own lease for four days, which includes a comfortable house where they can stay and prepare their meals. These leases are under the same wildlife management plan as the rest of the ranch. Hunters show up, are given a tour of the area they will hunt, and left alone to enjoy their somewhat “do it yourself” hunt. Scott says these hunts are generating lots of interest from families that wish to enjoy the experience of a “deer lease,” but simply don’t have time to fill feeders, work on the cabin, etc. For more information, contact Ms. Scott through www.rangercreekranch.com or call 940-888-2478. More about the ranch and other hunting options, including four day “hog leases” in an upcoming column.