As the sun rises on Saturday, September 1, in South Dakota, Nebraska and throughout the upper Midwest, look for hunters set up on their favorite pond, around sunflower, millet, wheat or CRP fields and near shelterbelts to take a shot at dove hunting.
Take a shot, may not be the correct words as it may take many shots to down these small birds when the dove hunting seasons opens.
Believe it or not, doves are the number one game bird in America, forty-two states having dove seasons with over 20 million birds harvested each year. Even, with this large of number of doves taken, their population is growing and the range expanding.
Dove hunting is a challenging sport, as doves are the aerial acrobats of the bird kingdom. They seldom fly straight, darting and dodging from side to side, changing altitude in the blink of an eye as they zig-zag their way across the sky.
It does not take much of a load to bring down a dove, just as long as you can catch up with and get a bead on the little buggers.
It takes a while to get onto hunting doves, so do not lose your faith and feel bad if you miss several birds, as studies indicate that the average dove hunter will shoot as many as ten shells for each bird that he drops.
I am sure ammunition manufacturers lick their chops because they know that ammunition sales are going to skyrocket just prior to the dove opener.
You can hunt doves with any gauge shotgun, with those hunters I hunt with use every gauge imaginable, hunting with twelve, twenty, twenty-eight and even four-ten gauge shotguns.
When it comes to what what shells to use, we pretty much agree on Winchester AA, eight or nine loads.
Our plan on opening day is to set up around a farm pond or stock pond, with our most productive hunting occurring in the late afternoon until sun down, as doves make their way to these areas for water just prior to going to roost.
The ponds you want to set up on should have open ground around the edge, those with dead or dying trees nearby really attract the birds as they give doves a place to light, rest and observe the pond before flying down.
Doves are not in a hurry to do anything until you take a shot at them, as they will set in the trees, on power lines or hill above a pond for long periods before coming in.
The reason open ground around a pond is important because that is where the birds land before they will saunter down to the water.
Those ponds with heavy vegetation along the edge do not attract doves because the heavy cover makes it impossible for the birds to get to the water to drink.
When hunting around ponds, a good hunting dog is necessity, as much of your shooting will be over water and a dog can retrieve those doves that come down in the pond.
Doves love weed seed, preferring hemp-marijuana and ragweed. If the pond you are hunting has a weed patch nearby, chances are there will be plenty of dove activity in the area.
When hunting ponds, your best hunting is if there are several groups of hunters on the surrounding ponds, as it keeps the birds moving, jumping from pond to pond.
On larger ponds, it is a good Idea to have several hunters stationed around the water. Doves are such erratic flyers; you never know from what direction they are coming. By having hunters stationed around the pond or on several different ponds in the area, you have an extra set of eyes letting you know what direction the birds are approaching as well as more shooting opportunities, which helps to keep the birds in the air and on the move.
Hunters will find good numbers of doves in 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 does not 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 will help to bring them in.
If you use stationary dove decoys, place them as high as possible on the trees as this gives the doves an opportunity to locate and zero in on them at greater distances
Over the years, dove hunters have found out that some sort of movement such as a wind driven or a motorized dove decoys near the area they hunt helps to bring these educated migrating birds into range, with the movement of the decoys wings attracting the doves to your set up.
Doves have good eyes, so you need some camouflage or clothing that blends in with the terrain you are hunting. We wear regular camo patterns or a natural or neutral color such as brown or light green to blend in. Around small ponds, it is easy to find a wash out, downed tree or a clump of weeds that you can hide yourself in.
Since doves are migratory birds, they fall in under the Migratory Bird Act and some of the regulations that apply when hunting doves include, doves that are not flying may not be shot, and you cannot hunt doves with a shotgun capable of holding more than three shells.
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 will hunt in before heading out into the field.
Hunting doves is a challenge, but it is an opportunity to get in some early wing shooting and allows us to get out with our dogs for some early season exercise and practice.