"Dove hunting is as much a social event, as it is hunting."
Hunters will crowd a field on opening day of dove season and the action will be fast and sporadic. Volleys will echo all around as you watch the skies for the small gray streaks called mourning doves. The reward at the end of the day is a bird the size of your fist with a breast even smaller that is one of the finest fares in the upland world.
Dove hunting is also a great way for beginners to enter hunting because it requires minimal gear and skills. True, you will bring home more birds with proper form and follow through on your shots, but new dove hunters still have plenty of opportunities and can enjoy a novel experience.
Table of Contents:
Dove Hunting Gear Essentials
Dove Hunting Shirt
The hot days of dove season will definitely make you sweat, so be thankful that doves don’t have the sense of smell white tailed deer have. Staying cool is difficult when you are saddled up to a hay bale with little shade; the FORLOH SolAir shirt is made just for this. I prefer the longsleeve version because the 50+ UPF keeps the sun off my skin, while the brrr technology keeps me cool. Depending on the crop you’re hunting over, either the Exposed or Deep Cover camo patterns will break up your outline.
If you plan on hunting for a few days, you can pack a couple of shirts or let the two Polygiene treatments, Biostatic and Odor Crunch, do their work keeping odors down. These shirts are tough; I’ve pushed through thickets I thought would pull and pucker the fabric and found on the other side they held up to whatever we pushed through.
Dove Hunting Pants
If you’re lucky and the mornings are cool and crisp, a softshell beanie is nice to keep your noggin warm. As the day grows warmer, you’ll want to switch it out for the Camo Mesh cap. Bright sun will blur out images from a distance and make them seem washed out. Having a cap with a brim cuts down on both visibility issues and helps hide sunglasses with reflective lenses.
Quality Hunting Boots
While you’re not likely to walk long distances during a dove hunt, you will encounter obstacles where sneakers won’t hold up. An uninsulated, ankle-height boot with leather uppers will do the trick. Make sure they are waterproof and have Gore-tex for breathability. Always keep your feet dry and in between flights you can take your boots off and let your feet cool down.
Boots are a piece of gear that are worth spending a good portion of your hunting gear budget on. Quality boots will last for many seasons (my current pair are entering their 6th season with no repairs) if you maintain them properly. I use Obenauf’s Heavy Duty LP to keep my boots waterproof and the leather supple.
Dove Hunting Tips to Consider
How do you learn dove hunting basics?
Finding another hunter who can mentor you on your first dove hunt will grant you the benefit of another’s hard-earned wisdom. Dove hunting is fairly straightforward, but the difference between being close to the birds and ON the birds is huge. Experienced dove hunters know what the birds are feeding on, which tells them what fields they will fly to and which ones they will be flying from when they return to roost. For beginning hunters, befriending someone knowledgeable is easily worth the cost of buying a burger and beer afterwards.
When's the best time to dove hunt?
The best time to hunt these birds is when they're flying between roosting and feeding areas. In other words, the mornings and evenings. This means, if you see doves in a particular area in the morning, but miss your chance, it's likely that they'll return to the same place in the evening. The only time you're not likely to find much action is in the middle of the day.
What do doves eat?
Doves mainly eat grains, fruits, and small insects. I’ve found that they're especially fond of grains, oats, and cracked corn. Each region will likely have something that they will key in on, depending on growing seasons and rotation. Once your scouting shows you what the birds prefer, use that to expand your hunting areas, so you can ‘rest’ a field a couple of days in between shoots.
Best Dove Load
These birds are relatively small and don't require a large or expensive load. The most common is the 12 gauge with a 3” shell and 7 ½ shot. However, dedicated dove guns in 20 gauge are becoming much more popular. They shoot lighter, with similar loads, and don't tend to do as much damage as a 12 gauge. As a general rule, the lighter you can get away with, the better a dove breast will look on a plate.
Best Choke For Dove Hunting
What choke you use will also depend on if you are using steel/non-toxic or lead. Early season shots will be closer and an improved cylinder will work well. For later season dove hunting, you may need a modified choke to have a tighter pattern down range.
What dove hunting accessories do I need?
First and foremost, you need to have the right clothes for the environment and weather. You'll also need the following:
- A shotgun
- Shotgun shells
- Safety gear
- Hearing protection
- Eye protection
- Dove belt
- Chair or hunting stool
- Standard outdoor essentials like water and bug spray
Preparing For Dove Hunting: Final Thoughts
Remember to have fun and not focus on the end result. As you spend more days in the field, your proficiency will increase which leads to more dove dinners. Try to bring home one new lesson each time you go afield. This is something I still do, after a lifetime of hunting.
Start with a few pieces of quality hunting gear to begin with and add to it as needed. Don't forget to share once you find an abundance, whether that's doves in the freezer, or knowledge in the brain. Dove hunting is always more fun with friends sitting next to you.