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Gary Howey

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Dove Hunting Pass shooting at its Finest! By Gary Howey

Entered by Gary Howey

Former tournament angler, hunting and fishing guide. Inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing "Hall of Fame" in 2017. Active member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW), Past Executive Director (AGLOW). Howey has been an outdoor communicator since 1980 with his award winning syndicated "Of the Outdoors" columns appearing in magazine, newspapers, and tabloids throughout he upper Midwest and nationally.

September 15, 2016

  Well, it’s underway as I found out this week the dove migration has begun. The other evening my lab Mo Jo and I spent a couple of hours hunting doves on a small pond.

  It started out slowly, as it often does but by 6:00 pm, the doves were plummeting into the pond in groups of four to eight from all directions.

  The humidity was high, making it quite uncomfortable, but the number of birds coming in made me forget the heat as I did my best with my 20-gauge to get a bead on these acrobatic little birds.

  This was our first shotgun-hunting season of the year, when hunters head out to their favorite pond, harvested wheat or oat fields and shelterbelts to take a shot at dove hunting. 

  When I say, “take a shot”, I should have said take numerous shots as dove hunting can be a challenge!  Doves are the aerial acrobats of the bird’s kingdom, seldom fly in a straight line, darting from side to side and changing altitude in the blink of an eye as they zig zag their way across the sky.

  As far as a load to put a dove down, as long as you can catch up with and get a bead on the little buggers, a light load is plenty. 

  You shouldn’t feel bad if you miss several birds, since studies indicate the average dove hunter will shoot as many as 10 shells for each bird they bring down.

  Ammunition manufacturers lick their chops as dove season approaches, because they know that ammunition sales are going to increase dramatically.

  Any gauge shotgun you want to use will work for dove hunting.  The hunters I hunt with use every gauge imaginable, 12, 20, 28 gauge and 410 shotguns.

  When it comes to the shells to use, we pretty much agree on Winchester AA 8 & 9 loads.

  We’ll set up around a local farm dam or stock pond in the late afternoon until sun down, as this is when doves make their way to these areas for water.


Decoying doves works well on a farm dam and gives the shooter and his dog much needed practice before the other seasons open up.

  Look for ponds with open ground around the edge of the water and especially those with dead or dying trees nearby as they give doves a place to set to rest and observe the pond before flying down. 

  It doesn’t seem as if doves are in a hurry to do anything until you take a shot, as they’ll set in the trees or on a hill above a pond for long periods before flying down.

  Open ground around a pond is important because that’s where the birds land and then they’ll saunter down to the water.

  Ponds with heavy vegetation along the edge just don’t attract as many doves because the heavy cover makes it impossible for these smaller birds to get to the water to drink.

  When hunting around ponds, a good hunting dog is necessary, as much of your shooting will be over water and a dog can retrieve those doves that fall into the water.   

  Most hunters enjoy hunting doves because of the challenge, it’s also an excellent opportunity to get both you and your dog tuned up and out for some early season exercise and practice.

  Doves feed heavily on weed seed, preferring hemp-marijuana and ragweed. If the pond you’re hunting has a weed patch near by, chances are you’ll get plenty of dove activity in the area.

  When hunting ponds, hunting is best if there are several groups of hunters on the surrounding pond, which keeps the birds moving as they jump from pond to pond.

  On large ponds, it’s also a good Idea to have several hunters stationed around the water.  Doves are such erratic flyers, you never know which direction they’re coming in from and by having hunters stationed around the pond or on several different ponds in the area, and you’ll have more shooting opportunities as well as keeping the birds in the air and on the move.

  Other areas where hunters can locate good numbers of doves include areas adjacent to shelterbelts or heavily wooded areas where the birds roost and near hemp or other weed patches where the birds feed.

  During the early season, it doesn’t take much to draw doves into a pond, but as the season progresses, doves become more wary and can be tough to attract.  In the late season, dove decoys can help to draw them in.

  As those hunting waterfowl have found out, doves are attracted to movement such as a wind driven or a motorized decoy near the area you’re hunting as they help draw those educated migrating birds into range.

  Unlike other types of hunting, camouflage isn’t very important when you’re dove hunting, as you can get by wearing natural or neutral colors such as brown or light green to blend in.  Around small ponds, it’s easy to find a wash out, downed tree or a clump of weeds that you can hide yourself in.

  Some states like Nebraska require a HIP number while hunting migratory birds, so be sure to check the state game laws of the state you’re hunting in before heading out into the field.

  If you want to sharpen your wing shooting skills and enjoy some fine eating, give dove hunting a try!  It’s a great way to get in on some early season shooting and dog training!

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