Mourning Dove season is one of the greatest hunting seasons in my books. It’s that time between spring Turkey season and Whitetail deer season when you start to get the jitters, or withdrawals, as my friends say. It marks the start of football season for some, but for a lot of us, it starts a 5 month long hunting season for a variety of different animals. It allows us to get together, hone in on some shooting skills, and partake in some of the tastiest little vittles man-kind has come to put on the smoker. In short, Mourning Dove season, well, it’s just plain fun!
If you’ve never hunted for Mourning doves before, don’t sweat it, it’s fairly simple if you’re good with a shotgun. The key to hunting Mourning Doves is location. Mourning doves need the following:
• Roosting location: Typically a dead tree on the edge of a field, or near a water source, and even the power/phone lines on the edge of fields near a gravel road are great places to start.
• Food Source: Doves main diet consists of small seeds and grains such as corn, sunflower, hemp, millet, wheat, & ragweed, etc. A field that has been recently cut/harvested is a dead ringer in most cases.
• Watering Hole: Doves, just as humans, need water multiple times a day. They are typically found at water locations just off of the roost in the morning and just prior to returning to the roost in the evening.
• Gravel /sand: Doves need “gut grit” to help digest their meals. The “grit” grinds down the grains and seeds inside of their gizzard. This is why you will see doves pecking away on a gravel road, or sandy location many times during the day.
Scouting your hunting area is the first step in preparing for Mourning Dove season, keeping in mind the 4 keys mentioned previously will allow you to locate potential locations. Mourning Dove season starts September 1st in Iowa, and I typically like to start scouting a few weeks prior to this date. If you don’t have land of your own, or have permission to hunt, don’t worry as the State of Iowa has many locations that are Mourning dove habitat and hunting friendly.
The best times to scout for Mourning Doves are between sunrise and 10:00 a.m., and then again from around 5:00 p.m. until dusk. This will allow you to pattern the doves as to where they are roosting, what fields and food sources they prefer, and times that they are leaving to water, locate grit, and or head to the roost. A pair of binoculars, a cold drink and time is what you need for a successful scouting operation.
Once you have located the area that you want to hunt, and you have patterned your birds, the next step is the hunt. Obviously, like with anything, a Mourning dove hunt takes some preparation to be successful, your set-up should be as important as your scouting. Mourning Doves use keen eyesight, and can pick out threats, like hunters, from hundreds of yards away. Making sure that you blend into your surroundings is key to a successful hunt. I try to brush in my location as best that I can, but staying still and not moving around a bunch helps increase your odds of staying invisible as well.
Decoys can help draw attention to your hunting area, and I typically carry 3-8 of them with me depending on my location. I have an assortment of decoys, from clip on ones, pole mounted ones and some from the craft store that I use around the ground. As with waterfowl hunting, a spinning-wing dove decoy works pretty well to catch the eye of nearby flying doves, increasing your chance at a fly-by shot. I typically like to have 3 decoys on the ground, one spinner in the air, and then a few clipped onto a fence or tree branch around my location. Making sure your decoys are facing into the direction of the wind is key in a good setup. I tend to look for field edges, with great food source in front of me, open dirt, gravel or sand around me and areas to perch above me. Being close to a water source, even a man-made mud hole close by, is a plus!
Once you have your location picked out and you are all set up, it’s up to the birds so to say. Patience is the name of the game, as with many things in life, hunting isn’t always predictable. Once you start seeing birds approaching your area, remain still until the birds are within your comfortable shooting distance. For beginners, anywhere from 25 to 35 yards give or take is a great shot. Don’t be overly anxious to walk out and retrieve your fallen trophies if more birds are closing in on your location, just sit and wait for things to die down. Once things have settled, I like to take my birds and place them in the trash bag, then set them in the top of my bucket on ice until the hunt is over, keeping them fresh. Being able to move around to different spots throughout the day depending on bird travel, weather conditions and food sources will increase your odds at taking some of these under rated flying delicacies!
Always make sure that you are following all state & federal hunting guidelines, as well as being safe. Mourning Dove hunting is also a great way to get kids involved in shooting sports and into the outdoors. Hopefully this season will be your first of many!
Keep calm & Hunt on!