The challenge of the dove

Posted by Dan Carlson on Jul 26th 2023

The challenge of the dove

Mourning doves present hunters with some of the most challenging wingshooting opportunities available. Small in size, highly maneuverable and capable of flying 40 mph, doves hold the honor of requiring the most shotgun shells per bird harvested in North America. But dove hunting is also one of the least-strenuous bird-hunting sports, and that makes it ideal for very young hunters, those with physical limitations and those of us getting up there in years.

Doves are plentiful and have a high reproduction rate. Even though an estimated 20 million are harvested by hunters annually, a mating pair can produce up to six two-bird broods per year. They can be found across the U.S. and southern Canada. Doves feed on small seeds and show a preference for millet, safflower and cracked corn in bird feeders. Hunting them is most productive in grain-producing agricultural locations near water sources such as stock ponds and watering tanks.

Dove hunting is one of the most affordable game-pursuing pastimes as it requires a minimal investment in gear. All you need is a shotgun, ammo, lightweight camo, a license and a harvest information program (HIP) number to report your harvest numbers at the end of the year. Because the season begins in late summer and the birds move south to warmer areas when cold weather arrives, there’s no need for more expensive heavy camo and insulated footwear. One helpful option to have is a comfortable lawn chair or stool to sit on while you wait between flights of birds, though be certain your seat is a color that blends in with the area where you hunt.

Any shotgun is suitable for dove hunting, though anything smaller than a 12-gauge handicaps the shooter by reducing pellets in the air per shot. I know some who shoot doves with .410 and 28-gauge shotguns to increase the already formidable challenge of hitting them. Given hunters expend an average of seven shells shot for each dove brought down, I choose not to afford giving myself such a disadvantage. Most shots tend to be close, so improved-cylinder or modified chokes work best.

Nexgen Outfitters has a great assortment of shells suitable for dove hunting. I’m a fan of the Federal shotgun shells , though I’ve also had excellent results with Winchester offerings. You’ll have better success if you use a shot size of 7.5 or smaller. Though I’ve used everything from 6 to 9 shot over the years, No. 8 shot seems to work best for me with my Benelli M2 Field gun.

In areas where doves are flying but not coming near you, try putting up some dove decoys. You’ll be surprised at how far away doves can spot one another and motion decoys add a touch of realism to seal the deal. Make sure you’re covered in camo appropriate to the environment and limit your movements in your ambush spot. It doesn’t take much to spook wary doves, especially after they’ve been shot a few times in days following the opener. Using a dove call is another way to lure the birds in.

A word of warning concerning dove hunting. It is highly addictive. And once you’ve experienced the thrill of bagging some of North America’s most challenging aerial targets, you’ll get to experience the delightful table fare they create. Try marinating dove breasts in teriyaki sauce, then wrap them in bacon and skewer with an optional jalapeno slice. Slow cook them on a grill for a mouthwatering treat. Or stuff peppers with marinated dove breasts and cream cheese before baking for a delightful appetizer. Fun and easy to hunt, great on the plate. What more could you ask for from an outdoor adventure?