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Six Tips for More Doves

Scouting, practice and sensible shots make all the difference.

By Russell A. Graves

September 1 may be the most popular day in all of Texas outdoors. Friends and family from all walks of life take to the dove fields across Texas in pursuit of the winged rockets. Even with all those hunters afield, the stakes are still tilted in the dove’s favor. Their penchant for fast, zig-zagging flight makes them a formidable game animal. Most shots people take at doves never connect. Some people may never get very many shots because they’re hunting in all the wrong spots.

Don’t fret. Success in the dove field doesn’t always happen by chance. Like any other style of hunting, a little bit of preparation goes a long way.

Scout faithfully
My dove season starts a couple of weeks before September 1 as I head afield looking for doves. I search for possible roosting and feeding areas. Doves love to rest on barbed-wire fences and high-line wires, so if you can find them congregating in any appreciable numbers, there’s a good bet that food or roost trees are near.

During dry years, doves are bound to be close by anywhere you can find water, as they fly to and from troughs and stock ponds to drink.

Find the food
Doves need lots of energy to survive, so they are constantly feeding during the day. Since they dine on small seeds, likely spots to find birds are in sunflower patches, harvested hay patches or harvested milo fields. The simple rule is: If you find the food, you can find doves.

Practice
A bit of practice can add a great social element to your dove season. A few friends and a box of clay targets is all it takes to hone your skills before opening day. For less than $20, you can buy a box of clay targets, an inexpensive thrower and a box of shells.

Practice all sorts of scenarios. Have the birds launched towards you and across from each side. By varying the flight paths, you can learn some valuable skills in making a variety of field shots.

Wear camouflage
Doves have great eyesight. In fact, if you sit out in the open in a dove field, you’ll see dove flare away from you if you are wearing everyday clothing. Therefore, wear camouflage.

Although some dress from head to toe in camouflage, that isn’t always necessary. Usually, jeans paired with a long sleeve camouflage T-shirt and cap suffices. The trick for effective camouflage is to situate yourself in the shade of a tree or behind some other cover to help break up your outline.

Use decoys
Doves are somewhat social game birds. They congregate in flocks as they feed, roost and fly.

Take advantage of that innate behavior and use decoys. Dove decoys are cheap. Just about any sporting goods store carries them right before the opening day of dove season, and they usually run just a few dollars apiece. The best decoys are ones manufactured with clothespin-type clips on the bottom. These clips make it easy to put the decoys on barbed-wire fences, in dead mesquite trees or anywhere doves like to congregate.

Make high-percentage shots
I read a statistic once that the average dove hunter fires 10 shells for every bird he hits. That’s only a 10 percent success rate! Granted, doves fly erratically and are hard to hit, but you can improve your odds by taking high-percentage shots.

Generally, high-percentage shots are when a bird is either crossing in front of you or flying towards your position, and when it is close. I always find that birds quartering are a bit harder, as are birds coming from behind me.

Keep in mind the altitude of the bird as well. Don’t waste shells on high-flying birds, as they are more difficult to hit. The greater the distance between you and a dove, the more you will have to lead it to take a shot. Naturally, the more you have to lead a bird, the harder it is to hit. So, as a bird is flying toward you, wait a second or two longer before taking the shot.

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