Dove Hunting Tips for the Beginner

Video dove hunting techniques

Relax, my apprentice

First remember that shooting a dove is not easy. Perhaps that is why it such a fun hunt! It is important that you relax and understand up front that you’ll miss and when you first start hunting dove you’ll miss much more than you hit.

Also at the beginning the more you stress the more likely you are to miss. So with that in mind, take a deep breath, point, aim, lead and fire!. Then on the to the next one. Patience and you’ll get your limit.

Know thy target

As in any hunting it’s important to be able to distinguish your game from chaff. Dove can be particularly hard to identify as a beginner as a lot of times they’ll be flying with other birds.

The cities are full of dove so practice identifying them there so you don’t mistaken a non dove out in the field. Pay attention to some tell tale signs such as the smooth, swift flight and the physical characteristics such as color, shape, size, tail, etc. depending upon dove species.

More lead, more lead!

One year we were blessed with being able to hunt in the ultimate mecca of dove hunting, Cordoba, Argentina. It was an amazing experience that all dove hunters absolutely MUST do at least once in their lifetime.

But while there I realized how truly bad of a shot I was. You must understand hunting in Argentina is like nothing else and the number of birds flying at you all day long is hard to describe. You’d think that even a bad shot would get lucky hits but that wasn’t true.

After every other shot my hunting guide would yell, “More lead, more lead!” as in shoot where the bird is flying to not right where it is. The bird is moving so you have to let it fly into your shot or you’ll miss every time. Practice makes perfect as it can feel unnatural.

Shoot at what you can hit

A typical hunter can be effective out to 40 yards when dove hunting but it is important that you find out your range as soon as possible for several reasons. First off, shells can get expensive. If you are going through a bunch of boxes and not hitting anything way out there, then the birds might be too far away.

It is common for birds to fly 50 yards away from you and a buddy knowing that neither of you can hit it. Second and perhaps most important is even if you do happen to nick a bird at over 40 yards or so but it flies off it could end up dying later and that isn’t what you want to do. Save money and only shoot at those you know you can bring down and find.

Down goes dovie!

When you shoot and hit a bird watch it intently and if it falls down or lands mark it in your mind and try not to take your eye off the spot where it landed even if there are other birds flying. When you are sure it is safe to walk out into the field then walk directly to the spot, keeping your eye on it.

When you get there look down and keep you eyes peeled. If you do this. You’ll find most of your birds and a lot quicker than you would otherwise. And the quicker you find your bird the more time you’ll have to get another one!

Make ‘em comfortable

Where legal, decoys are an outstanding way to bring birds to you. There are many types of decoys from inflatable birds that sit on a fence to plastic birds with battery powered wings.

Decoys can be very handy to help get birds comfortable with coming closer to where you are sitting especially if you are not concealed well enough.

Camo, they can see you!

Dove have very good eyesight and can see you from a long way off. If you are dressed in color and clothing that makes you stick out from the ground, shrubs and trees then you’ll probably start wondering why the birds are always flying just beyond your reach.

It is imperative that you at least wear drab clothing that helps you better blend in with your surrounding. Most will tell you to wear camo pants and a camo shirt. We prefer a camo or drab color shirt and the same for our shorts! Pants are too hot!

Hide, I said they can see you!

As we said previous dove have pretty darn good eyesight. So in addition to wearing proper clothing you’ll want to try to use other options to conceal or break up your silhouette. If you can find a shady spot to hunt from you will be more comfortable and more concealed from the bird’s eyes.

Sitting under or next to a tree with a low enough overhang to hide you but not too low that it gets in the way of your shooting can be a good option. If there are no trees around try sitting among high weeds or sunflowers. You can also sit next to hay bales, fences or other farm implements that the dove may have gotten use to already. Just use your best judgement and use what is available and you should be OK.

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“Don’t move! He can’t see us if we don’t move.” – Jurassic Park

Not sure if that would have been true with a T-Rex or not but it does have some truth to it in dove hunting. When sitting and the birds are flying, try to be as still as possible.

Moving is like a sonar bleep to a dove and can give you away causing them to maneuver away from you and out of range. Get your gun into a position that will allow you to quickly raise it, aim and take a shot. Then sit and try to be still until the last possible moment when you think they’ve committed to their path then raise your gun, aim and fire.

Help a buddy out

So if you’re trying to stay still and not move then how can you be looking around for dove. They can come from every direction. One thing you can do is move your head slowly but also utilize your eyes. Move your eyes to look around.

Also, if you’re hunting with buddies and you see a dove heading to one of them, yell at them to get ready. Some say that yelling can throw off a dove if it hears your especially on a still day with no other noise but that’ll just have to be a risk you take. Besides, yelling to your buddies back and forth is all part of the fun.

Protect yourself from sneaky snakes, but be comfortable doing it

Safety is key when hunting and an important part of that is making sure you’re protected from venomous critters. Always be sure you look about and where you’re walking. If you dove hunt in an area like we do in Texas that is a hotbed of slithering activity especially during dove season then eventually you will run into a snake…or two.

Snakes can ruin a great weekend. Wear snake boots and longer socks. Luckily though snakes boots can be pretty comfortable too. You’ll want this comfort cause more than likely if there are enough birds flying to give you a shot at your limit then you’ll be doing quite a bit of walking to collect those birds.

Comfortable boots are worth their weight in gold. Just remember, snake protection and comfort is possible at the same time so take advantage. You’ll thank us.

Have a (good) seat

You’ll probably be out in the dove field for several hours so no doubt you’ll want to sit down at times. There are all sorts of buckets and chairs that you can use while dove hunting but just be sure to find one that is comfortable to you and allows you to rotate and make comfortable and safe shots. There is nothing to be ashamed about if you are comfortable while dove hunting.

Water, nectar of the Gods

If you hunt dove in an area of the country that is swelteringly hot throughout the season such as we do in Texas then you MUST have plenty of water with you. If you think you will need to drink three bottles of water while hunting bring six!

It is amazing how much water you will sweat out just sitting there waiting for birds. Just imagine a active hunt where you are walking a bunch to get your birds. Even if you’ll be sitting in the shade, take plenty of water and drink often to stay hydrated. Nobody wants their buddy to pass out from a heat stroke. Don’t be that guy.

You lead a dove to water….

Dove need to drink especially when it is hot and dry. Find water and you will find some birds especially in the evening hours. Do remember that a dove can and will drink out of a rain puddle instead of a tank or pond so if it rained recently then that may spread out the birds. If you’re lucky though and are able to hunt over the only water source in miles then you’ll probably be in business.

A Day in the Life of a Dove

Dove have their routines just like us and luckily they are pretty much the same every day so you can use that to your advantage. Hunt at sun up to catch them coming off their roosts and mid-late afternoon while they are looking for some food and water prior to going back to their roost for the evening. How similar does your typical day look?

Sunrise: Fly to field to eat

Early AM: Might go to water

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Mid AM: Fly to cover to loaf

Midday: Loaf

Early afternoon: Still loafing

Mid afternoon: Fly to field to eat

Late afternoon: Fly to water to drink

Twilight: Fly back to roost

Where did the birds go?

Sometimes you’ll find that the amazing field you hunted the day before is downright dead of activity the next day. This is because the birds tend to move on to other pastures when shot at a lot, wouldn’t you?

After all they aren’t called migratory birds for nothing. Luckily though you typically don’t have to wait too long until a new batch of birds migrates down to your favorite hunting spot. Just be patient.

Hunt near roosts

If you are hunting out in a field if might behoove you to take a look around and try to figure out where the dove are roosting. If you see a tree line then that might be a good indication.

Try hunting close to that tree line and try to get them as they come down in the morning or as they are coming back in the evening. If you put yourself where you know they’ll be flying that gives you an edge.

Watch the weather

This is important for several reasons. First you don’t want to get caught out in the field when a monsoon or tornado comes through for obvious reasons. But secondarily, you’ll want to watch for rain storms and cold front in the area.

Dove don’t like cool rain and will move on when it comes through but if you can see that a cool front is on its way to your hunting area that might mean that you’ll hit the jackpot and get a whole bunch of birds flying through that are trying to stay ahead of it. This could be an amazing hunt with a bunch of limit opportunities.

What’s that you said?

Do you like your hearing? Would you like to keep it? Then always wear ear plugs when dove hunting or doing any sort of shooting. No exception and a no brainer. Of course if you don’t have a brain then your excepted from this requirement.

Always keep a backup pair in your bucket/chair. I like to keep backups of the backups. Hi, I’m Justin Case, nice to meet you.

But how do I communicate?

As we’ve said when dove hunting it is important to communicate with your buddies to “keep em flying”. Yelling “Dove!” or “On your left” to your buddy doesn’t do any good if he can’t hear you.

Because I shoot right handed I sink my right ear plug to the max but only put my left plug in about half way. This still protects my hearing but it allows me to hear a bit as well.

A good game or good tunes

We mentioned that noise can affect birds at times but you’ll just have to use your judgement on this one. You’ll be hunting during football season so take a radio out to the field with you and tune in to your favorite team’s game. Or listen to some good tunes. Make it an experience rather than just a hunt. And if your team wins, all the better!

Have a plan

When hunting a field or water you’ll want to be able to enclose the birds once they enter into the area you are hunting. The goal is to keep em flying, so that if one hunter misses another hunter may get a shot.

Safety should be the first consideration, however, so be sure you separate your hunters far enough from each other. Hunters 100 yards apart should be minimum if possible and lay out designated shooting lanes so all are aware.

Alcohol and dove hunting

This should be an obvious No, No. It is safer and better to just avoid drinking while dove hunting and shooting firearms in general. You’ll need all your faculties to stay safe while aiming at a elusive bird in the air so stay sharp and insist that your fellow hunters do the same as well. You don’t want an accident ruining the hunt or a life. Besides, the beer tastes better after the hunt is over anyway.

Bird belt vs. vest

So how should you hold all those shells and dead birds. I prefer a bird belt. The bird belt typically has three pouches with one for birds, another for empty shells and the last for live shells. It gives you an easy way to quickly reload your gun after shooting and a place to put your bird once you recover it out in the field.

The bird vest offers the same things and it does put less weight on your hips but can make you hot. One is not necessarily better than another so go with what is most comfortable to you.

There are many like it but this one is mine

One of the most important yet overlooked or ignored things you must do to stay a successful dove hunter. You must keep your guns clean. I try to clean my gun every third hunt or so. I always wipe my gun down with a gun cloth and some lite Rem oil after every hunt though. You invest your hard earned money into this tool and after many successful hunts it becomes a part of the family. So take care of her and she’ll take care of you.

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Get you a bird dog!

Birds dogs are perhaps the best part of hunting. Nothing is more rewarding than to see your birds dog track down a cripple bird and bring it back to you. And it is convenient to have the help as dogs can find some of the hardest birds.

Take care of your best friend

Rinse your dog in cool water before going hunting and in the early season find shade and hunt near water for their sake. And walk your dog in the heat of the summer to get them used to the heat again. It’s good for both of you!

Know your dog and watch him carefully in the early season with the heat. If you notice that your dog is overheating call it a day and get the dog in the truck AC and take her home. Remember freshwater is a must for these feathered mouths! Be sure to bring lots of fresh water for your furry friend and change it often.

Snake avoidance & treatment if necessary

If you’re hunting in an area that is full of rattlers like we do in Texas then you’ll want to take steps to train your dog to get out of the way. Thankfully there are lots of opportunities to snake train your dog. Take your dog to one of these classes so they learn to avoid these dangerous slitherers.

If you want to take it one step further, most vets in rattlesnake infested areas offer a rattlesnake vaccine that is given to the dog every 6 months or so. This vaccine helps buy time for the dog should it get bit. We recommend having a plan outlined ahead of time just in case you or your dog have an unfortunate meeting with a rattler.

Smokin’ hot guns

After a long day of shooting your gun will probably be smoking a little. Just remember to never put a hot gun into a case. Let her breath and cool down a bit before storing her to travel back to camp.

Use a gun case

Along those lines, make sure you protect your gun to and from the dove field by using a case. A case is important to keep out dirt and other foreign particles that over time can wreak havoc on a gun. If you can pay up for a nicer padded case. It’s worth it.

Leave the field cleaner than before you were there

If the birds were flying and you’ve had a good hunt chances are that you’ll have a bunch of shells lying on the ground around you. It is a no brainer but be sure to pick them all up. You don’t want some curious calf to stumble upon your pretty little yellow shell and think it is food then hear from the guy running his cattle that he lost a cow cause of stomach issues. Just clean up after yourself so you leave the country pristine. Common courtesy.

Don’t forget to document your hunt for posterity

When your hunt is over it is tradition to take a picture with your and your group’s birds especially if it was a limits around type of hunt. Group pictures are fun and a great way to remember an awesome hunt. Just make sure you all divvy up your birds appropriately after the pictures. Game Wardens do not like piles of birds!

Wait, you have to clean these

Now the fun work begins! It’s time to clean your birds and get those delicious breasts ready for cooking. A tip for helping that process along is after you have clipped the dove’s wings off and effectively gutted the bird throw the bird’s breasts in some water. This will help loosen and remove those pesky feathers for you.

Teach the future

Like with every form of hunting, take kid whenever possible. Teach then the ropes and guide them along a path of love and respect for the sport. They are the future!

Texas Style Dove!

On of the most popular ways to prepare and grill dove is by cutting a slit between the meat and the breastbone on either side and placing a slice of a Texas 1015 onion on one side of the dove breast and a jalapeno on the other side.

Wrap it in bacon with a toothpick and throw it on some mesquite coals. Another method is to cut the meat off the breast bone and wrap it in bacon with some cream cheese and a slice of jalapeno. Either way, SON! You’ll be in heaven!

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>