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Doves, The Aerial Acrobat 2014 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.

August 7, 2014

Summer is quickly slipping away with the fall hunting season right around the corner.

Late summer is when I start to think about the upcoming hunting seasons with the dove season the earliest to open.

Most of the states in the upper Midwest now have dove seasons opening up around September 1.  We have two species of doves in our area we can hunt, the Morning Dove and their larger cousin, the Eurasian Collared Dove.

The weather plays a big part in the dove season, as it will not take much of a weather change for the birds to pack up and migrate south.

If a cold front or damp weather arrives around opening day, hanging around several days, many of the doves will begin to move out.

The good news is that unless the “fowl” weather stays for an extended period, the doves from up north will move down, stopping over in our area, giving us another chance to take a few doves.

Pic-Decoy Perch 5

Doves enjoy each others company making the use of decoys a plus. When there is no place to put your decoys, an easy to make PVC stand gets your decoys off the ground, where the doves can see them. (Gary Howey Photo)

If the numbers of birds that we see in the upper Midwest this year are any indicator of what the hunting seasons are going to be like,    it should be an excellent one.  There are large groups of doves around ponds, especially those that have the dove’s favorite foods growing nearby.

Good concentrations of doves love to hang out in harvested wheat fields and areas that contain ragweed or hemp, as doves will fly long distances to feast on the seeds of these plants.

Perhaps the hemp or marijuana is one of the reasons a doves flight path is so erratic.  About the time a shooter fires, the birds will fold their wings losing altitude and wing off in a different direction.

It always seems that doves will zig zag across the sky, changing altitude and direction at will.  Unfortunately, for many hunters, just about the time they shoot, the bird drops a few feet, causing the shooter to miss.

The dove season generally opens up on September 1 and there should be plenty of these dodging and weaving game birds to shoot at.

You will notice that I said shoot at and not shoot or bag, as doves can be some of the toughest of all game birds to bring down.  This is especially true after you have fired your first shot and missed!

Once a dove has heard the first shell go off, they go into an aerial flying act that would make any of the pilots from the Blue Angels envious.

The choice of a gun is up to the shooter.  Some prefer the lighter 20 or 28 gauge while others like the 12 gauge since 12 gauge shells are less expensive to shoot.

For ammunition, and believe it when I say, you will need a lot of ammunition as the average shot per bird is somewhere around six or seven. I use Winchester AA Trap load in a 7 1/2, 8 or 9 shot. They are inexpensive and if you are into reloading, the casings can reload numerous times.

The best hunting is generally during the late afternoon or early evening as this is when the birds stop by the local ponds for a drink before heading to the roost.

I have found the best location to set up would be around one of these watering holes and this year, there should be plenty of them to hunt. When hunting around water, a good retrieving dog really comes in handy as many of your birds will end up in the water.

The dams or ponds that have a small open area around the edge of the pond seem to be the most attractive to the birds.  Doves like to fly to the edge of the grassy area and then walk across the bare dirt to the edge of the water to take a drink.

If you can find a pasture area with several ponds in it, the hunting will be much better.

Station shooters around each of the ponds and the birds will jump back and forth between them, giving the shooters many more opportunities to take the doves.

As I mentioned earlier, if there are weeds around or adjacent to the dam, doves will spend more time in the area.

Another item that makes a dam attractive to the birds is dead or defoliated trees.  Doves will land in these trees and look over the area or rest before and after visiting the watering hole.

If you can set yourself up between the trees, weeds and water, chances are you will have the opportunity to shoot at quite a few doves as the wing back and forth from one spot to another.

Camouflage isn’t necessary, but it’s best to have something to duck down behind or a tree to rest against as this gives you the element of surprise and a chance to get off at least one shot before the dove starts it’s aerial maneuvers.

Many hunters like to put out a few decoys in an adjacent dead tree or on a dead branch.

I do a lot of my hunting on a pond where there are no dead trees, so I had to come up with a way for my decoys to be seen. I used ½” PVC pipe, to build a stand to put my decoys up on, making them easier for the doves to spot.

The stand (See Photo) consists of six short (2′ to 3′) pieces of ½” PVC pipe cut into several lengths and put together with PVC joints and couplers. I start with a 13″ piece of PVC and then attach a 3-way coupler for my first 10″ perch; above it, I add another 14″ piece of PVC with a second 3-way coupler for a 7″ perch. Then I add another 13″ piece of PVC; topping it off with another three way coupler with a 10″ perch on one side and an 11″ on the other. The stand can be as short or tall as you like, make it to fit your hunting situation.

Generally, 4 to 6 decoys are plenty to catch the bird’s eye.  I put the decoys off to my right or left depending on the terrain.  You will want the decoys to be on the down streamside of the dam so that the dam does not block them from view.

Since I carry all of my gear into the pond in a bucket, I do not glue the unit together, making it easy to put together and disassemble. I leave it the original color as the lighter color makes it easier for the doves to see.

Dove hunting is a great way to get in some early practice for both you and your dog.  You will want to take along a lot of ammunition because one dove for every six shots is about what a decent shooter can expect.

Give dove hunting a try, it can be a real humbling experience, but it is a good way for you and a couple of friends to sharpen you shooting eye and to get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

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