Knowing where to position yourself on a field for dove hunting often is the make-or-break decision. Here are some tips to help with that decision.
Dove hunting really is done before the shooting begins. When gunners spread out across a dove field, stationed at different spots waiting for birds to wing in, it’s a shoot. But the hunting is almost over.
It may sound crazy, but over the years I’ve learned that in many respects “reading” a dove field’s hotspots is much like locating prime deer hunting places. Whitetails relate to edges or anything that’s “different” in their wild world, like field corners, timber points, power-line rights-of-way or tangled edges of creeks, clear-cuts and swamps. Doves are very similar. They are attracted to things in a field that are different than surrounding terrain.
A lone tree in a field is something doves find attractive. Hilltops and points of woods that extend out into fields are other similar hotspots doves relate to and use during normal flights to and from roosting and feeding sites.
Learn to recognize anything different about a dove field; in other words, “read it” before you shoot it. Take a stand on such a well-read spot and it’s a good bet doves will wing your way. If you can shoot well, you may be the first person — or the only person — to down a limit.
During large dove shoots, when many hunters are participating, it sometimes pays to watch and wait before selecting a dove stand, especially on a field with plenty of good-looking spots you’ve never hunted previously. This can save a lot of needless walking around in a field after shooting starts.
Sit on a field edge and watch hunting action other sportsmen experience. On many dove shoots, there normally are some early birds that come into a field to feed before the bulk of the doves arrive. Learn from them. Watch where they enter a field, and where they exit. These paths, or flight lanes, often indicate the routes from which other doves will approach and depart the field as bird numbers increase and the shooting heats up. Be sure to note tree lines, fence lines, hilltops and other terrain features birds habitually fly over.
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On big dove shoots in the South, sometimes there are 200 hunters or more on enormous fields. I used to rush out into a field like everyone else when I was young and didn’t know any better. But I learned that most of the time I’d move my stand around three, four, five times or more before I finally got in a place where doves flew well. That’s why now I often wait, watch and observe a dove field long before moving into it and taking a stand.
Usually most gunners get on stands way too early, and it’s way too hot. I prefer to sit in the shade, by my vehicle, and watch and wait until I locate a pretty good area where birds are winging in. Then I’ll pick a spot where there’s some cover, and take a stand.
Studying a dove field carefully with binoculars has been one of the most helpful parts of my dove hunting. Also, on some fields it’s possible to drive around the perimeter to get a better, close-up look at the best places to take a stand when birds begin to fly.
Here are some favorite and productive field spots for dove stands:
Any prominent dip or slot in perimeter timber of a field can be a natural travel lane for doves. Take a stand 50 to 75 yards out in the field facing the gap so you can spot incoming birds before they pass you. Birds leaving the field and flying toward the gap won’t surprise you from behind because hunters farther out in the field likely will be shooting at them, which will alert you to turn around.
These are “perching sites” where doves sit just before landing in fields. Such islands usually consist of trees, but similar islands can be formed by old, abandoned farm machinery, dilapidated farm buildings, brush or log piles and broadcast towers.
FENCE, POWER, TELEPHONE & DITCH LINES
Any line on the ground a dove can follow, it will, much the way flying ducks follow ice edges and weed lines in open water. High telephone and power lines are especially good since they also serve as perches for birds coming into a field.
Lines on the ground made by farming practices can be travel lanes for doves, too. Such a line could be a strip of standing sunflowers next to a harvested section. Often such farming lines are difficult to notice. But doves looking down as they fly high overhead easily see them. Places where two or more lines meet are especially good for a stand, because they draw birds from different directions. The juncture of two fence lines, for example, may be prime.
A high spot in a field, even a slight one, is easily seen by doves and is a natural flight target for them. Gaps or saddles between two hills that funnel birds into and out of a field are choice, too.
Anything that projects out into a field and forms a point is a natural entering and exiting spot for doves. Perimeter trees and fences along fields form the most common points.
Like a point, a field corner is a target spot for doves working in and out of a field. Plus, a corner usually is a place where two fences join, which form travel lines for doves. Look for tree-line gaps in a field corner for an especially great hotspot for a stand.
Take note of the sides of fields having the largest stands of woods, especially mature pine trees. Timber is where doves roost, and it is from the roosting sites they’ll enter fields for feeding. Timber is the home or sanctuary of doves, kind of like thick bedding cover for whitetail bucks.
A “tank,” pond or cattle watering hole in a grain field is a hotspot, since doves invariably water after feeding in late afternoon. The best water holes have low, slow-sloping banks, preferably with sand, but without much brush where doves can land safely and drink. A stand located between a water hole and a gap in perimeter timber surrounding a grain field may be the best of all possible dove hunting locations.
One of the most important rules in dove hunting is to stay mobile. Never be so convinced a stand site is so sure a spot that you miss out on the shooting, because another prime place across a field may be attracting more doves.
Today, for example, a dead tree may be the hotspot in a particular dove field. But next week, birds might shun the tree in favor of a fence line 300 yards away. Don’t try to reason why doves fly a certain path. Just be observant and recognize that they do change their travel lanes to different field locations. When they change locations, so should you, and do it quickly.