The sun sets on a pair of dove decoys positioned along a fenceline. The hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset are typically the most productive times to catch doves in motion between roosting areas and food and water sources.
Fall is fast upon us. The speed of mourning doves and the rapid approach of their federally-set hunting season comes as quickly as the turn of the calendar page every September. These small, flighty and erratic upland birds can provide a carnival-like shooting atmosphere and come in to decoys like geese and ducks do, providing a perfect mix for early-season hunters. What follows are some tips for gearing up for fall’s first upland season, and patterning these pint-size pursuits in time for their Sept. 1 opener. With these ideas and the help of the experienced staff at your local Running’s you will be set for success.
Due to their small size and fast rate of flight, think of mourning doves as a clay pigeon with the moves of Muhammad Ali. Doves are capable of closing their wings and dropping several feet in mid-flight, or with a quick flick or two, jumping and juking out of a perceived flight path, leaving shooters amazed and frazzled by the birds’ mobility. As doves are a tiny target in comparison to other upland species, shotgun shells containing smaller diameter shot, such as 7½ or 8 are the ticket to connecting. Hunters will find the best success by using 20 gauge or 12 gauge shotguns which can deliver bigger payloads of shot. Many Running’s sporting goods departments have firearms counters where you can pick up the gun that not only fits your frame, but also your pursuits.
Location, Location, Location.
Mourning doves, like most upland birds, need three things – food, water and grit – to survive. Additionally, some tree cover gives them a position on which to perch before moving in to either feed or drink. Combine all four elements, and you’ve got a fantastic place to set up for an evening of dove hunting. Target the hour or two after sunrise and before sunset to catch doves on the move from daytime roosts to favorite watering and feeding spots.
The traditional dove hunting location is an overgrown stock pond, with a grassy, brushy or tree-ringed rim that provides cover for camouflaged hunters and a place to put out a few decoys. If such a spot can be found within half a mile of a small grain field, a gravel road and perhaps a shelterbelt or farm grove, all the better. Small grains like wheat, canola and sunflowers are favorite forage for mourning doves, and water holes which have receded a bit from their upper banks with the summer heat give doves the dirt they like to stand on to get a sip of water. Nearby trees – especially old sprawling boxelders, or smaller volunteer cottonwoods – give the birds a place to rest before flying in for water and a spot for you to prop up some decoys to further convince them to visit.
Dove decoys come in many varieties, but simple foam models like those by Mojo or Lucky Duck with built-in clips are perfect for drawing in doves. The silhouettes are realistic and their light foam and plastic composition make them easy to pack in and out. They can be quickly attached to fences, tree branches, or stands spiked into the dirt around a chosen hunting spot, which are easily seen by incoming birds and serve as convincing signs that all is clear. Additionally, motion decoys, like Mojo’s Voodoo Dove can be set up near water or with clip-on decoys atop a portable Dove Tree decoy stand for a realistic spread that brings doves fluttering in to your hunting area thanks to the added motion of what looks to be a landing bird. Check the regulations in your area as they pertain to motorized decoys, as some agencies may prohibit their use – they’re that effective!
Position dove decoys at various distances around the area you’re hunting. A pair on a branch ten to 15 yards away from the water serves as a reassuring sentinel. One next to the water’s edge confirms that the coast is clear, and maybe a couple farther out, say along a fenceline behind you or on a more distant tree, give the impression that everyone is waiting for a chance to stop at the neighborhood watering hole. Motion decoys should be placed close by to distract incoming birds with the illusion of a fellow dove coming in for a landing, sealing the deal. By placing your dekes at three different distances within a 30-yard circle, makeable shots set up from all angles and incoming birds are less likely to bail.
September is still technically summer, and it’s not uncommon to set up a decoy spread in late day temperatures which are in the 70s or even 80s. Dress accordingly with a pair of light camouflage pants and a light camo t-shirt or long sleeve tee and a baseball cap, to keep from getting sweaty in the field, while providing enough cover to keep late season mosquitoes away. Don’t forget to pick up a folding seat, like the Ameristep Dove Stool or the Primos QS3 Tri Stool for a comfortable vantage point that packs up easily and provides full range of motion for shots at moving birds.
Resident doves will move out from the upper tiers of the Midwest by the end of the month, so it’s not likely you’ll face very cold conditions during your September dove hunting adventures. Throughout the month, watch for northern doves to make their way through the area, replenishing resident birds that get harvested or get out of town. By the time pheasant opener rolls around, most doves have migrated out of the area entirely.
Before the other upland seasons start to ramp up around the region, doves provide a great introduction to another autumn of wingshooting, with a challenging quarry that can test the best aim. Get the most out of your fall hunting by spending a handful of nights over the next few weeks pursuing this small but exciting bird. With help from the friendly staff at your local Running’s, you’ll have everything you need to make your September sits for mourning doves even more successful!