Ah, it’s finally here—dove season! It’s the sign that all-things hunting are back in full swing. While this time of year is also the return of big game archery seasons for many states, today we’re discussing doves, and a few ways you can improve your game that maybe you haven’t thought of before.
When it comes to actually hunting doves, the barrier to entry is low. Got a shotgun, field and light-weight camouflage? You’re in. But anyone who’s tried it knows these “lovebirds” are actually more like aerobatic fighter pilots, dodging every attempt to bring them down. The good news about dove hunting is that if you miss one group, another’s likely coming soon. While skeet practice and actually hunting is the best teacher, these tips from our team can help you limit out.
1. Aim Small Or Miss Them All.
On a good day, you’re going to have several encounters with large groups moving through. These are the easiest times to miss. Quickly choose your target and focus on a single bird. If you aim at the group, you’ll miss them all. If you’re panning on a crossing bird, aim out front. The exact distance to aim ahead will depend on the speed of your shell, distance from the bird, and the speed of the bird, but lead the bird so far that you think you’ll miss and work it back from there as you shoot throughout the day. Remember: These birds can easily hit 40 miles per hour, so if you aim at the bird, it’ll be long gone by the time your pellets catch up. Anything outside of 40 yards is a tough shot, so just sit tight. More will come in time.
2. Sit Smarter. Sit Still.
Doves have great vision, and your camo is not going to single-handedly fool these birds. We’ve seen hunters get lucky by sitting in the open on the edge of a recently cut field, but your best bet is to sit low next to stalks of corn, a power line pole, or in the cover of a few trees. Doves are migratory, so they’ve likely passed by someone else who looked just like you and took a few shots at them. The further south you live, the more true this statement becomes. So really think through your spot, and don’t move until the bird gets into range. You’ll notice they often dodge spots with squirmy hunters or the guy calling “bird!” It’s not a coincidence.
3. Don’t Get Choked Up.
If you haven’t taken your turkey choke off, now’s the time. It only takes a few pellets to bring down a dove, and a wider spread is going to help bring down more birds. Use your shotgun’s modified choke to ensure you’ve not only got a better chance at longer range shots, but also not annihilating your dove meat.
4. Don’t Get Discouraged.
If you have a bad day on opening day, don’t get discouraged. Whether they weren’t flying, or you weren’t hitting, it’s OK. Tomorrow is another day because unlike most animals you are going to hunt, a new flight is on its way. So just stay aware of how you’re shooting, make thoughtful adjustments, and have fun!
5. Give Your Birdies a Salt Bath.
Dove meat is a fantastic dark meat, but if you overcook it, you can end up with a chewy and dry nugget. It’s very lean, and can dry out quickly, which is why so many people wrap them in bacon. The bacon insulates the breast, and also moistens the meat as the bacon fat cooks and renders. You can also keep your birds moist and flavorful with another trick: a salt bath.
Mix about a cup of salt per gallon of water and soak your breasts overnight before freezing them. This closes the pores, locking the moisture into the tissue. From here, you’re ready to cook or freeze, whichever suits you!
Remember to always be safe, pack plenty of sunscreen and shells, and to follow your state’s hunting laws! Hopefully these tips help you bag a few more birdies for this season. Enjoy!