Dove hunting is one of the most popular fall hunts there is. So popular in fact that U.S. Fish and Wildlife estimates that approximately 1 million hunters will go out and knock down between 15 and 20 million mourning doves this year. Dove hunting is one of my favorite hunts to take people on. It’s fast paced, fun and less intense than some of the big game hunts. This makes it ideal for new hunters in my opinion. If you’re getting out to the field for the first time this year, here are a few tips to help you have a successful hunt!

Scout – Doves are always looking for 3 things, fields full of seeds, water and gravel. When you’re scouting, especially on public ground, doves are easy to spot lining the power lines, large dead trees and fence posts. But don’t just stop when you find birds, make a mental note of any near by water sources and dirt roads as they will be traveling between these 3 areas throughout their day. 

Camouflage – Dove have incredible eye sight and some biologists believe they can even distinguish a limited range of colors. So make sure to match your camo pattern to the field you’re hunting. If you’re hunting something like a tree row near a field, a good practice is to get into a shadow and keep your back to the sun. This will help conceal your movements from any cruising birds. The last and probably the most important tip for concealment is remain still! Since most birds are prey animals, they pick up movement very well so hold still until you’re ready to make your move. 

Decoys – Decoys are a great way to put birds at ease when they approach a field. They also draw their attention giving you that extra little leg up when they approach your set. While decoys are great, especially early season, doves will soon get wise to your setup and motion decoys especially can cause them to flare off later in the season. Keep an eye on the bird’s behavior as they approach the field and if they start to hesitate to come check it out, try pulling down your motion decoys and stick with the clip on decoys. 

Choose the right equipment – When it comes to shot for doves, there are several approaches. Generally speaking, a 2 3/4 inch shell with 1-1 1/8th oz shot, No. 7s, 8s or 9s will work just fine. If you’re a crack shot and know you’ll be taking further shots, you might go as low as 4s-6s as they won’t lose as much energy when you have to reach out there. Likewise, the choke you choose will depend on the distances you plan on shooting. Skeet, improved cylinder and improved modified are all perfect for dove hunting. If you’re like me and hunt with an over-under, you can setup each barrel with a different choke to make sure you’re ready for whatever shot opportunity is presented to you. 

Shooting tips – Doves are one of the fastest sport birds out there flying at speeds up to 55 mph. They also have an uncanny ability to dodge, dip and duck your shots making them frustrating for even experienced shooters. Make sure you lead the bird more than you think you should. On those cross shots, you’ll want to lead a good amount. Remember that about 1 inch of lead with the barrel is equal to about 1 foot of lead on the bird at an typical shot distance. You’ll have to lead more the further away the bird is. Similarly, if the bird is flying directly away from you, you’ll want to aim under their body. I like to let them float above the barrel just a little before I squeeze off my shot. If you’re hunting over a food source and decoys, don’t be in a rush to knock them down. Give them a chance to come in and they’ll flare their wings right before landing on a sunflower or fence wire. One of the best ways to practice for dove hunting is by shooting skeet or trap clays. They’re similar speeds and will give you a good idea how much you’ll have to lead your target once your in the field. If you can’t make it to the range, don’t worry, snap caps are a great tool to help you with your technique. Just follow birds around your yard and practice a smooth follow through and trigger squeeze and it’ll work wonders once you get in the field. 


Hopefully these help you get a good start to your dove season this year. But remember, the most important thing about any hunting isn’t hitting your limit or even eating your harvested game, although those aren’t bad things. It’s getting to experience the outdoors with friends both new and old. As a parent, I know that when my boys recall our hunts years from now, they won’t remember a full vest of birds, they’ll remember spending evenings in the field swapping jokes and talking about life with dad.