Ever notice how most successful dove hunters seem to bag their limits quickly? Such deadeye wing-shooters can hit most of the birds they swing on, but they also are veteran students of knowing where and how to best position themselves in a dove field. They’ve learned from long experience that the easiest way to drop a limit of the fast birds is to select the best stand locations, as well as to utilize the best gear and tactics. Equally important, they know how to recognize and avoid poor stand sites in a field.
Sometimes doves change their flight plans after the shooting starts, however. If you pick a stand site that looks like a winner but doesn’t pan out, don’t hesitate to change location. Naturally, be courteous to other hunters and don’t encroach on their hunting spots. It’s common, however, for a hunter in a hot stand to take a limit quickly and leave. Be aware of such hot spots; when the hunter moves out, be ready to replace him.
Following are some suggestions about where to find the best stand locations in a typical field. If the place you hunt this fall has all of the following features, congratulations–you’ve found a great place to hunt.
1. Scout the layout
Study a dove field carefully with binoculars a day or two before a hunt. On some fields it’s possible to drive around their perimeters to get a better, close-up look at the best spots for stands. Sometimes checking a field at dawn reveals where to hunt that afternoon. Look for perching sites where doves sit just before landing in fields. Such spots usually consist of tall, though sparse, trees and can be found in overgrown mid-field fence lines or field “islands” of timber. Similar islands can be formed by old, abandoned farm machinery, dilapidated farm buildings, tall brush, log piles or broadcast towers.
Don’t assume that a stand that was great the last time you hunted a field will automatically be a hot spot this time. Conditions change, and so, too, does the way doves work into and out of a field.
2. Watch the early birds
Be patient before choosing a dove stand. Sit on a field edge and observe the shooting action that other sportsmen experience before rushing in. On most dove shoots there are early birds that wing over a spot before the bulk of birds arrive. Learn from them. Watch where they enter a field and where they exit. These paths or flight lanes often indicate the routes other doves will follow to approach and depart a field later in the day.
3. Close the gaps
Station yourself near a prominent dip or slot in perimeter timber, a noticeable place where the prevailing height of trees is significantly shorter. This can be a natural flight lane for doves. Take a stand 50 to 75 yards out in a field facing the tree 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; hunters farther out in a field likely will be shooting at them, alerting you to turn around.
4. Cover the corners
Don’t overlook hunting a corner, which can be a focal reference for doves working in and out of a field. In many fields, a corner might also be the place where two fences join. This is useful; fences form travel lines for doves. The best corner might be one that has a tree-line gap adjacent to it, or perhaps a large isolated tree with sweeping, open limbs.
5. Take the high ground
A hill or high spot in a field can be a dove magnet. Even a slight rise in a field is easily seen by passing doves and is a natural flight target for them. If you can take a stand between a hill and a perimeter woods line entrance spot for birds, you might have a choice stand for doves arriving and leaving a field.
6. Hunt in the dirt
Freshly plowed ground is attractive to doves, especially when it is adjacent to a grain field. The birds like to feed in newly tilled dirt since it contains seeds and affords them an unrestricted view of their surroundings. Plowed ground beside a harvested cornfield or standing sunflowers is choice.
7. Hit the points
Points that jut into a field are natural entering and exiting spots for doves. Less conspicuous points can be hot spots. Check out fences that bulge out into the field, especially those points that have a large, prominent tree at their tip.
8. Set up by water
If there is a pond or tank in or near the field you’re hunting, head for it in late afternoon, which is when doves like to water before going to roost. The best water holes have low, sandy banks without much brush, where doves can land safely, watch their surroundings and drink.
9. Identify the lines
Doves have a habit of flying down “lines” along the ground, such as a strip of standing sunflowers missed by the farmer or weeds along a drain. A place where two or more lines meet is a good location for a stand, because birds might converge from different directions. Doves also track fence, power and telephone lines. Phone and power lines serve as perches for birds coming into a field.
10. Stake out the trees
Toward late afternoon, if you still need a bird or two for a limit, start moving toward the side of the field that has large trees, preferably pines. Doves roost in such trees and sometimes use them for a staging point before flying down into a field. As the sun sets, doves that are feeding in a large field often fly toward tall timber after their evening meal is done.
A Different Kind of Dove
There’s a new target darting into America’s dove fields and it looks as if it’s here to stay, much to the delight of many wing-shooters. The Eurasian collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto) is slightly larger than a mourning dove and a bit lighter than its cousin. As the name suggests, its distinguishing feature is the dark band of feathers at the back of its neck. The collared dove doesn’t dive and dart as much as a mourning dove. In size and flying patterns, it is perhaps more similar to the common pigeon.
The Eurasian collared dove was introduced to the Bahamas in 1974. Apparently the first migrants were swept into southern Florida by hurricanes and strong winds. Colonies of Eurasian collared doves have since become established throughout Florida and the adjoining states of the southern Atlantic Coast and the Gulf Coast. In the U.S., verified sightings have been made as far north as eastern Long Island, N.Y. The birds thrive in rural and suburban settings.
The take of collared doves usually does not count against a mourning-dove limit. Check regulations, however, before hunting in areas where they are likely to be.–B.McN.
Making a Move on Doves
Dove decoys are effective for attracting birds, and innovative models with moving wings are the most appealing.
The Mojo Dove is the latest derivative of the highly popular Mojo Duck and works similarly. The lifelike plastic dove decoy has a pair of lightweight PVC wings that, when activated by a 6-volt battery (included), spin and draw the attention of passing doves.
A Mojo Dove attaches to a 4-foot support pole. It can be positioned in the middle of a field or strapped to a fence post or small tree. The unit is lightweight, and a 6-volt battery will last all day. The wings detach from the decoy body and the support pole disassembles into two pieces for transport. (About $50; mojooutdoors.com.)