Bring up the subject of dove hunting and most sportsmen picture images of vast fields of harvested grain surrounded by dozens of shooters waiting for birds to fly under a hot afternoon sun. The coolers are full of soft drinks and a party-like atmosphere prevails. Friendly ribbing and banter is shouted back and forth as the birds begin to fly, swooping and swerving like gray dive bombers.
The shooting is fast and frenetic, especially at a few of the better stands around the field. At others it's only fair, but since there are so many shooters, one can't simply move to where the birds are flying. Someone else is probably already in that prime spot.
But there is another kind of dove hunting. And though I've enjoyed a number of social dove shoots over the years, this is the type I prefer: dove hunting alone or with one or two friends.
Minimize Your Group
Contrary to common belief, you don't really need dozens of hunters to surround a field for a good dove hunt. Excellent shooting can be enjoyed alone or with a few other hunters. I've specialized in such small-party dove hunting for over 30 years, and it's yielded more than a few delicious dove dinners. It also gives me the feeling that I've really been hunting, instead of simply filling some designated stand site.
Time must be allotted for scouting and locating good areas to hunt. Then you have to watch the birds to see which flight routes they're using, just like you might pattern a buck's movements from bedding to feeding areas. But the feeling of accomplishment when you bag birds is greater, since you use your own hunting skills rather than simply showing up at an organized shoot.
Another advantage of this type of dove hunting is that if the initial spot you select doesn't produce action, you're free to move to where more birds are flying. If a large number of doves land in a field using a route you haven't covered, you can sneak up and try to jump shoot them and get the birds flying again-perhaps past your partner's location. There's a satisfying feeling of being in control of events.
Another plus of this type of hunting is that you can shoot fields or even hunt close to watering holes without driving the doves away. Big, high volume shoots can burn out areas in just a day or two.
Doves are abundant throughout most of the country and you can hunt them by yourself or with a companion or two just about anywhere except in dense forest habitat. It does help, though, to focus your attention on agricultural land and in particular, smaller farms.
Scout Isolated Areas
If you do some searching you can usually find some isolated, neglected farms tucked away here and there where a solo hunter or small group can enjoy good shooting. Some smaller state public hunting areas also offer good opportunities for low-key dove hunts, especially after the opening day crowds leave.
When possible, make at least one or two scouting trips before the season opens. Drive back roads in the area you hope to hunt and watch for birds flying or resting in dead trees or on power lines. The nice thing about hunting by yourself or with a couple of friends is that you don't need a large concentration of doves to enjoy good sport. A small grain field or cutover being used by a few dozen doves will suit just fine.
Find a slightly elevated spot if you can and look over quite a bit of territory using binoculars. Watch birds long enough to determine their main flight routes and feeding destinations, then approach the landowner and ask permission. Be sure to indicate that you'll only hunt with a couple of other people or alone, and that you'll watch where you shoot and make sure gates are closed and no trash or empty shells are left behind.
Shy away from big agricultural spreads. Chances are clubs or other groups will have already locked up those fields if they are good for dove shooting. They aren't as easy for just a few hunters to cover anyway. Keep an eye peeled especially for farms where corn has just been harvested. Other grains are also used regularly by these birds, though, such as millet, milo and sorghum.
A pond nearby for water, plus a few evergreens for roosting and a power line or two for loafing add to the appeal an area has for doves. If possible, also look for setups with a hedgerow along the edge of the field for cover and a couple of old leafless trees for the birds to land and rest in before swooping down into the field to feed.
Don't Just Stand There
|One of the perks about dove hunting alone is being able to move around to find better hunting sites.|
As you enter the field, don't just barge in. Instead, hunt your way to the stand location. Doves may already be in the field and more than once I've got a good start to bagging a limit before even reaching the stand by jump shooting the gray speedsters.
Another non-traditional tactic I sometimes use is to go out into the field and flush birds after my friends and I have taken a stand if the doves aren't flying well. You can't do this on a big social shoot, but if your friends and you have agreed on the tactic ahead of time, it can pay to occasionally send one person out to stir things up. That hunter might get a shot as the doves flush or he might send them flying past those on stand.
Don't feel like you have to stay at the same spot all afternoon on a dove hunt by yourself or with a few friends. Flexibility is one of the great appeals of this type of dove shooting. If your stand site isn't panning out or cools off after a while, switch to another spot where more birds seem to be flying. I've changed location as many as three or four times during a hunt. If you can bag a few birds from each spot before it dries up, you'll have your limit before sunset.
Don't ignore large-scale social dove hunts if you get an invitation to one. But do yourself a favor and try some small-scale solo shoots or hunts with just a friend or two this fall and winter as well. Hundreds or small fields that are useless for the big clubs are waiting for a single hunter or small group to enjoy. And when you use your hunting skills instead of simply showing up and taking an assigned stand, you'll find the satisfaction of bagging this speedy gray quarry runs especially deep.