Scout now for opening-day doves: Part I

Courtesy Keith "Catfish" Sutton

Before dove season opens, it pays to scout your hunting area, looking for heavily-used flyways doves travel when moving from one activity area to another. Doves usually fly from their night roost to a watering hole shortly after dawn, then quickly move to feeding areas where they stay until midday. They loaf at perching, watering or graveling sites near the feeding area for an hour or two around noon, then return to the feeding area for the remainder of the afternoon. Before going to roost, they stop to drink again. By determining the exact time and locale of these activities, you can ascertain the best place and time to hunt at a particular site.

To determine dove activity patterns and pinpoint a good hunting spot, drive slowly through a likely area, stopping now and then to scan the countryside with a pair of binoculars. Scout before 9 a.m. or after 3 p.m. when birds are more likely to be moving, watching for doves in the air and on the ground. When you locate birds, stop and scan the spot for 15 to 30 minutes. If more birds follow, you've found a potential hunting site.

Most dove aficionados hunt feeding areas, usually fields of harvested seed crops like milo, sunflowers, sorghum, corn or wheat. Additional scouting when you have zeroed in on such a field can improve your dove score tremendously.

Try to determine when doves are entering and exiting the field, and examine each locale thoroughly, looking for different types of "structure" doves orient to when migrating to and from the field. A dip in the perimeter timber of a field may be a well-used travel lane. Field corners may funnel doves in and out of a field. Open mid-field humps may be preferred feeding sites as they provide a better view of approaching danger. Doves often light on dead snags or power lines before landing or while loafing. Points, ditches, borders between stubble and plowed ground, fence and tree lines, tall trees, waterholes and other structure all serve as reference points for flying doves. If your scouting indicates numerous doves are flying near such spots, you've found a place to take your stand.

Finding good dove shooting often means changing tactics. Scouting on one September morning, a friend and I could only find one small milo field that was harvested. A half dozen doves were graveling on the road next to it, the only birds in sight. We stopped and watched the field for 15 minutes, but no doves flew into it. Because we already had permission to hunt that farm, we decided to try jump-shooting.

Jump-shooting is a way to stretch a hunt during hours when doves are seldom flying. It may be the only way to find doves when a long stretch of bad weather keeps them grounded.

Jump-shooting is best done with a partner, because the birds always seem to flush where you're not. Get about 50 yards apart and walk across the field where doves are feeding. If the field is still unharvested or has a cover of stubble or short grass, you can sometimes approach within 35 yards of the birds before they jump. Draw a fast bead on flushing birds, or they'll be out of range before you shoot.

The milo field my friend and I hunted only covered about five acres, and it didn't take long for us to walk it out. As we stomped the stubble, we flushed a dozen doves, half of which we bagged. Nothing to brag about, but not a bad average, and at least a little action when little else was going on.