I generally confine my writing efforts to subjects that I can comfortably say that I have a great deal of experience with and then pass along what I feel would be some helpful viewpoints and observations. Concerning the topic of Dove hunting, I must readily attest to be being for from anything resembling an expert, nor do I have more than a cursory amount of experience in pursuing what I am learning to be a fascinating, yet frustratingly cute little feathered rocket. I’m looking to change that and make a dedicated effort to figuring these little buggers out just a little bit better.
Here in South Dakota, we are blessed with high numbers of game birds of every shape and size. From a basically untapped Waterfowl resource and on down to Sharptail Grouse and Prairie Chickens-with huntable populations of Wild Turkey’s sprinkled in a few areas of the state. But by far and away; Pheasants, namely Roosters are king of the roost and are what we are most famous for. And for darn good reason…there is simply no other State that can even compare to what we have in terms of sheer numbers of birds.
What this amounts to is that if you have an affection for shotguns and game birds; it just doesn’t get much better than this. Maybe this is why most of us tend to overlook the diminutive yet downright desirable Dove. From a purely sporting sense, their unpredictable and erratically darting provides us with the ultimate challenge in wing shooting…at least in my opinion anyway. Just as they miraculously manage to slip through a load of 8 shot, they stay off of most hunters radar screen. Too bad as I have learned-they are just a ton of fun to pursue and tasty too boot.
Plus it’s kind of silly to waste an opportunity that is right in front of us as there are an awful lot of well heeled Sportsman that spend some truly big bucks travelling all over South America to partake in what we have in more than sufficient abundance right here in the good old Midwest. Just goes to show you that for a modest investment in time and ammo, the common man can get the same satisfaction and enjoyment within a short drive from home.
We had just as well take advantage of what is right in our back yards (literally). This provides us another natural outlet for our outdoor entertainment needs and a fine and valid excuse to get out of the house to shoot guns and burn up some shells. Hunting Doves also serves another valuable purpose. As the season for them opens before traditional upland bird and waterfowl seasons; they serve as a great way to fine tune our shooting skills. The weather is still warm, thus we have a relaxing and fun setting in which to get in some much needed practice.
And practice you will get. You will quickly discover you had best bring more than a box or two of shells to get through a shooting session. If you can become anywhere near proficient at consistently hitting these diving, darting, and downright daunting little devils…their far larger game bird counterparts will seem relatively easy prey. Plus, it’s a heck of lot of more fun and less expensive than standing around with a bunch of other potbellied hunters banging away at clay pigeons at a range. A dab of exercise prior to the other seasons doesn’t hurt the aforementioned potbellies a darn bit either.
The methods you use to hunt them can be as aggressive or laid back as your demeanor. Walking harvested small grain fields can no doubt get you some action, although it may be more akin to Pheasant hunting in that you will pick one up here and there. An option that offers a bit higher odds would be to walk along the edges of shelterbelts at mid-day when they are resting in the trees. It’s probably a good idea to have a hunter on each side in order to push them back and forth to each other. Once again, the exercise afforded will pay dividends-just as the shooting does-for game birds pursued later in the year. Take your hunting dogs along as well as they will benefit just as much from the work out as you do and it helps to brush up their hunting and retrieving skills as well. Just seems to get you and the dogs into the spirit of things to come.
A more laid back approach would be to set up somewhere between feeding and roosting areas in either mid-morning or late afternoon in an attempt to intercept them traversing between the two. It doesn’t appear to me that a great deal of cover or concealment is needed, just enough to break up your outline seems to do the trick. As they don’t receive an awful lot of hunting pressure, they appear to be far less wary than other game birds.
If you were wanting to go a step further, locating a source of water in between the roosting and feeding areas will serve to greatly up the odds in your favor. With just a little scouting, you should be able to find just such a location. Just pick them off as they swing in to drink as they travel back and forth. There are a number of different styles of commercially made decoys you could employ that will only sweeten the deal. Doesn’t take more than a minute or two to put them out and darn sure doesn’t hurt. Simply set up in a soft-sided folding chair and you shouldn’t have to wait long before the action starts.
Once the action does start, due to the metaphors used earlier to describe just how elusive they can be, a very light, quick, and lively shotgun is in order just to attempt to keep up with them. In other words, this is not the best place for your goose gun nor is a lot of firepower needed to bring them down once you actually get a bead on them. But if you have a lighter model gun that you use to shoot say Pheasants, Grouse, and Partridge; that will work just fine and is a good idea in the sense that you get some valuable practice in with one of the guns you will be shouldering later in the fall.
A particular model that I fell in love with last year is an Over and Under from Baserri Shotguns www.baserrishotguns.com. Namely, their Mari HR (hunting) model. With an aluminum receiver and weighing in at just 6 pounds 3 ounces in 12 Gauge, it just jumps to your shoulder and quickly and instinctively acquires the target. The real beauty of this is that it’s just as at home cycling a two and three quarter inch low base load of 8 shot at Doves as it is handling an ounce and five eights of nickel plated 4 shot from Fiocchi’s super hot 3 inch Golden Pheasant eXt loads for extra tough late season Roosters. A pleasant surprise is that although extremely light-due its unique design-the recoil is quite mild…even with the magnum 3 inch loads.
That being said, 20 Gauges are probably the most popular for specific Dove duty, but you can play around with the whole spectrum and still be fine. 28 Gauges pack plenty of punch to bring down any Dove flying and you have the added novelty of shooting something that very few folks ever have or ever will. Just adds kind of an air of aristocracy to the whole endeavor…even though you may not own a Castle and only be few miles from your humble family Home. The Basseri shotgun theme is much the same, giving you an elegant high dollar type gun…in an average man’s price range. I am very happy to announce that they will be offering a new line of Over and Unders that will be very similar to the Mari HR. This is their Irati series and interestingly enough, will be available in 12, 20, and 28 Gauge models. Thus, you have the option to go down a gauge or two and give the whole hunt a decidedly royal feel.
Now that we have a few tactics and tools in which to ground some of these fast flyers, we had just as well reward ourselves with some pretty darn good eating. I’m sure there are as many ways to prepare them as there is to skin a cat and the internet would be a good source for countless options. To me in order to keep things quite simple (as the best things in life are) a dab of seasoning of your choice and a slice of thick bacon wrapped around both breasts secured by a tooth pick and tossed on the grill is as good a route to go as any. Just leave them on long enough so that the bacon is completely done and you should be just fine.
Enjoy a beverage of your liking-beer suits my blue collar style although a fine wine keeps in spirit (pun intended) with the upper-class tone-while they cook and then just peel the meat from the breast bone with a fork and you end up with some fine and filling vittles fit for the King of your Castle…no matter how modest.
Dennis Foster is Prolific Outdoor Writer in addition to being a Hunting and Fishing Guide from Mellette, SD. To Book a 100 % Wild Pheasant Hunt; contact him www.dakotapheasantguide.com