Dove hunting is one of the most fast-paced and challenging pursuits many hunters will encounter. These quick, erratic flyers have been known to cause even the best wingshooters some frustration from time to time.
If you’re consistently breaking clays at the range, however, and doves are still leaving you with nothing more than a few stray feathers and boxes of empty shotgun shells, there may be more than your technique to blame. Here are some reasons you may be missing—and how to fix them:
1. Aiming too Much
When it comes to any sort of wingshooting, the temptation to focus on your shotgun bead can often be a lot to overcome. For some reason, this is even more true when dove hunting—especially after a few misses.
Pick a single bird to focus on and let your bead follow naturally. Ensure you make the first shot count and emphasize your follow through. Let those natural instincts take over and you’ll see your average rise.
2. Hunting Distracted
Doves have an uncanny ability to show up out of nowhere, then quickly dart back out of range. If you’re sending a quick text or scrolling through Facebook you’re going to be forced to rush your shot—if you even get one off at all. Keep your phone in your pocket and you’ll put more doves in the bag.
One of the best parts about dove season is the social aspect. Unlike deer or turkey hunting, you can sit relatively close to other hunters and carry on a conversation when the action slows. Don’t let this hinder you, however, from taking home your limit. You can still bust your buddy for missing that last shot while keeping your eyes to the sky.
3. Not Using Dove Decoys
The right decoy setup will bring doves closer that may have otherwise flown out of range. Decoys also become a focal point for circling birds, giving you more time to raise your shotgun without causing them to dart and flare. If you are hunting without a few dekes you’re at a serious disadvantage.
Consider this a shameless plug for the Mojo VooDoo Dove Decoy. The fact of the matter is, this thing flat out works. Spend a little extra to get the motorized version if it’s legal in your state—you won’t regret it. Position a few clip-on dove decoys on adjacent trees, fencing, or on the ground to complete your spread.
4. Picking a Poor Setup for Dove Activity
Dove hunting is a lot like real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. The first challenge is scouting potential fields for dove activity. Look for feeding areas, water, gravel, and potential roosting sites. Learn to dissect your property to determine dove travel routes so you can setup where most birds will be flying naturally.
When selecting a “stand”, ensure you’ll have plenty of cover to disguise your outline and movement. A lack of concealment can cause birds to flare early or avoid your position entirely. You don’t need a thick stand of timber to blend in—a few shrubs, some tall grass or even a telephone pole is often enough to conceal your profile. Wear a quality camouflage shirt & hat, and settle in on a dove bucket with a swivel seat. This will allow you to easily swing with incoming birds as they come into range.
Ensure that your decoys are setup well within range of your shotgun. You want to be able to easily shoot birds skirting the outside edge of your dekes. Pick your shots carefully—if birds are too far on the first pass they may circle back into range. Holding back on low-percentage shots will keep you from educating doves, and keep your confidence high for when birds do filter into the sweet spot.
5. Staying Stuck in One Spot
After taking the effort to select the perfect location and setting up your decoys, the hardest thing to do is often to get up and move. Don’t make the mistake of becoming too comfortable while doves fly across the other edge of the field. Things often don’t go as planned, and the best hunters know how to adapt. Don’t be afraid to pack up and relocate if your current position just isn’t working.
6. Using Cheap ShotShells
When you know that you’re likely to burn through more than a few shotgun shells, it’s tempting to buy the biggest discount box of game loads you can find. Don’t make this mistake. Discount loads will often have lower shot velocity than premium shotshells, meaning you need to those fast-flyers even more than before. Spending a little extra on shells may compensate for some of your mistakes and allow you to connect more often--which can actually be cost effective in the long run.
If you’ve been missing more than your fair share of doves, try avoiding these common mistakes and watch your average rise. With plenty of amazing dove recipes to try, your mouth will be watering before you even leave the field. When you do miss, which you will, shrug it off and load another shell—they may be circling back around.
Tip: One of the most frustrating aspects of dove hunting can be connecting on a shot and not being able to recover your bird. If you’re hunting without a dog this can be especially difficult. As soon as you see a dove go down, keep your eyes on the spot. Move directly to it, mentally marking the line from your location and any nearby landmarks. If you don’t locate it immediately, begin walking slow circles from the spot it went down. More often than not, you’ll find your bird closer than you think.