Reprinted from the Sioux City Journal
Sept. 1, is the opening day of dove season throughout our three-state area. While there will be many hunters in the field this evening, the big push will not come until the weekend.
I’ve hunted doves for years, mostly in Nebraska and South Dakota, long before Iowa had a season. I’ve enjoyed every hunt, and doves, when prepared correctly, can be mighty good eating.
If dove hunting is a new experience for you, and for many Iowans it will be even though we have had a season for a few years now, I’ll try to get you started.
There are numerous ways to hunt doves. The way I really prefer to do it is to set up at a farm pond to await the evening flight. It is, however, important to pick the right pond. Doves like to fly in, settle on a mud bank and walk down to the water to take a drink. So it is important that you pick a pond with good mud banks at least on one side.
Doves roost in trees at night, so a pond near some timber where doves roost can make one pond fit the “super” category and another just “average.”
This is where scouting comes into play. Just like any other hunting, you want to set up where the game is. It helps to get out and drive around looking for good places to set up. Take a pair of binoculars because they can help you spot doves.
Most landowners will let you hunt doves, but explain your tactics to them so they know what to expect.
Iowa has lots of public shooting areas that have good flights of doves, especially those that have food plots planted for doves. Go to the Iowa DNR website and click on the banner dove picture to find the listings.
South Dakota has over a million acres of “Walk-In” land in addition to a great many other public lands that you can hunt. Nebraska does too. Go to their websites to get all the information.
Two other hunting methods are walking shelter belts and flushing feeding doves from grain fields. They are especially partial to sunflowers. I’ve also had very good hunting in South Dakota by hunting stands of hemp. Doves love hemp seeds.
You’ll find your best hunting early and late in the day. That’s when the birds are moving the most and actively feeding or getting that last drink before roosting.
Dove hunting is a good way to introduce a youngster to hunting. That’s because there is lots of action and the daily limits are high. Daily limits are 15 in Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska.
Doves are fast and erratic fliers, making them very challenging to hit. They’ve been clocked at 50 miles an hour. You may encounter the Eurasian collared dove in the field, although the majority of them seem to prefer staying in town. This is an invasive dove species and can be hunted year-round in Nebraska and South Dakota. It is much larger the the mourning dove and has a black band around the base of the back of the neck.
You can use any gauge shotgun, but open chokes will help your shooting considerably. I use a 28-gauge over-under for most of my dove hunting, but I also like the 20-gauge. The 16-guage is another good dove gun and sometimes I break out my 16-gauge double and run a few dove rounds through it. I seldom use a 12-gauge because I think that is a little bit overkill, and I don’t like the recoil. It’s not unusual to run through 50 rounds to get your limit and it often takes more.
I like light target loads in shot sizes no bigger than 7 1/2 or smaller than 8 1/2. If you are shooting steel shot pick a six- or seven-size shot.
When setting up on a pond bank, light camo will help but isn’t entirely necessary. Bring a bucket to sit on and carry your water, snacks, shells and whatever else you think you will need. The bucket will also carry your birds back home. You don’t need to conceal yourself in a blind. We usually just sit still as the birds approach.
We use decoys on every pond hunt, but the fact is you don’t really need them. We usually put out a couple of Roto Dove decoys on stakes, pin a few others on a fence or on tree branches in the open and a couple more on the mud bank. I’ve never been certain that they actually lure doves in, but we have them and what could it hurt?
Since doves are migratory, you will need to obtain an HIP number and keep that with you while hunting. In Iowa you can go to the online license purchase site. You must enter your hunting license number, your social security number or your driver’s license number and click on the “Dove Registration” button and you will be automatically registered. If you don’t have access to the internet call a toll-free number: 855-242-3683. Enter your DNR ID number and date of birth (mm/dd/yyyy) using your phone’s keypad. If you have a license then you will be automatically registered to hunt doves.
The best dove hunting will be the first two weeks of the season. Doves don’t like cold weather so when that first cold snap hits, most of them will head south. There will still be plenty of doves around to hunt, however, as more northern migrants move in.
When cleaning doves, don’t leave feathers lying around. Bring a big garbage bag in which to clean the birds and clean the site up when you leave.
If you haven’t tried dove hunting, I’d recommend it. It’s a great way to tune up for pheasant and duck season. And if you only bag five doves out of a box of shells, don’t worry, that’s the national average.
More outdoors information can be found at http://siouxcityjournal.com/sports/recreation/outdoors