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Gearing Up for Dove Hunting [Beginner’s Guide]

Dove season marks the end of that depressing, empty time of year without a hunting season.

When it kicks off in early September, it’s been months since spring turkey. And although we haven’t quite made it to deer season, shooting a few tasty doves will help tide us over.

350 faxon legend and a dead deer
It might not be deer season just yet, but you can get your hunting fix with doves!

That said, dove season isn’t just a lame coping mechanism for hunting-starved outdoorsmen.

It provides tons of fast-paced hunting excitement all its own.

Not to mention, it’s also a highly social event, allowing hunters to spend time with family and friends and even introduce a youngster to the sport.

Must Have Hunting Gear New Hunter
Take your friends and family along!

Whether you want to touch up your shooting skills, bag a tasty dinner, or just have fun outdoors, dove season has something for you.

If you’re new to dove hunting (or looking to increase your success), you might be wondering about gear and how to get started.

But, no worry, we’re here to help! We’ve some gear recommendations to get you up and running as well as a few tips.

So, keep reading…

Table of Contents

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What You Need

If you’re a duck hunter or upland bird hunter, you already have the basics. If you’re completely new to wingshooting, here are the essentials.

A Shotgun

Although almost any shotgun will work, some models make popping doves off the wing easier than others.

Doves are small, agile, sometimes acrobatic fliers. They can reach flight speeds up to 55 mph, and they have a level of in-flight agility that makes Simone Biles look like a clumsy oaf.

To pull a bead on these boogers, you’ll need a shotgun that is easy for you to aim and maneuver. Look for something well-balanced and not overly long.

And while pump-actions and double-barrels are the traditional dove-shooting weapons, a semi-auto is invaluable for making quick, accurate follow-up shots, especially for new shooters.

Mossberg Retrograde 590A1 Right
Mossberg Retrograde 590A1 pump-action

Dove hunting often requires high-volume shooting. You’ll want ammo that is affordable and readily available, so stick to a 12- or 20-gauge to make your life easier.

12ga Birdshot
12ga Birdshot

If you’re looking for a dedicated dove gun, you can’t go wrong with the most popular shotgun ever made.

There’s a good chance the Remington 870 has killed more doves than any other shotgun on the face of the planet.

Remington 870 (17)
A collection of Remington 870 shotguns

The 870 Express model is super affordable.

It also inhabits that sweet spot between being lightweight enough to follow a dove’s evasive maneuvers and substantial enough to soak up recoil through repetitive use.

If you want to go semi-auto, which is a wise decision for dove hunting, the Winchester SX4 is hard to beat.

Highly reliable, well-balanced, and affordable, this is an awesome option for fast-paced wingshooting.

Choking Up

Many modern shotguns feature interchangeable choke tubes.

Choke tubes constrict the muzzle of your scattergun, either widening or condensing the spray of pellets as they leave your gun.

shotgun choke flush choke tube
Choke in shotgun.

But that full choke you use during turkey season isn’t going to cut it for doves.

It takes fewer pellets to take out a dove than it does a full-grown gobbler.

Plus, if you hit a compact mourning dove with a compact pellet spray, you’ll be left with little more than dove hamburger when all is said and done.

Shotgun choke chart
Shotgun choke chart

A wider pellet spread will play in your favor, so use an improved cylinder for best results. 

If you want to brush up on your choke tube knowledge, we go over all the details in the Best Shotgun Choke Tubes.

Stock Up on Ammo

Choosing the right loads can have a major impact on your dove hunting success.

Doves have lightweight, compact, aerodynamic bodies. Their body structure demands pellet quantity, not pellet mass.

7.5 Birdshot at 10 Yards
#7.5 birdshot at 10-yards

Smaller shot sizes like #7.5 and #8 will supply more pellets per shotshell than larger loads. (Look for 1 ounce or 1 1/8 -ounce payloads.)

Having more pellets in your load increases your hit potential.

Target loads designed for skeet and trap shooting (like Federal Top Gun) work perfectly for dove hunting.

Although they may cost a little extra cash, target loads are typically manufactured to tighter tolerances, making them more consistent and reliable.  

Dove hunters go through tons of shotshells.

We know ammo prices are still on the high side, but you really should take more rounds than you think you’ll need.

12ga Birdshot, Opened
12ga Birdshot, Opened

Practice, Practice, Practice

Shooting flying birds requires an entirely different skill set than shooting relatively stationary targets.

You can be a certified sharpshooter and still absolutely suck at wingshooting.

Lead Free Ammo Birds

Brushing up your skills before you head out in search of a dove dinner is the smart and responsible thing to do.

How do you hone your wingshooting technique? Go out and bust some sporting clays.

87
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Clay shooting is one of the best ways to learn proper lead and follow through.

It also helps build the muscle memory necessary to hit fast-flying game birds.

These are super helpful to get you ready!

Camo is a Must

Like all birds, doves have seriously keen eyesight. Unlike deer and other ungulates, doves see the world in crisp, clear color.

Because they are wary prey animals, they are constantly on the lookout for trouble and can quickly pick out shapes and colors that don’t belong in their favorite field.

Colorado Elk Hunt Camo
Camo is good for all kinds of hunting.

Dove hunters must work hard to fool those sharp, searching eyes. Hunting from a blind or finding a way to stay mostly concealed around field edges is a must.

Hunting clothes in a quality camo pattern are also an asset.

However, the cold-weather gear you wear during deer or duck season can make you absolutely miserable in the September heat.

Colorado Elk Hunt
Probably don’t need all this for a dove hunt.

Lightweight, breathable camo is an absolute necessity.

I’m a huge fan of Sitka’s Lightweight Crew. It won’t soak up sweat, feels super soft and ultra-breathable, and comes built to last.

Elk Hunting Spotting Scope
A lightweight option is much better than heavier clothes.

Grab one in the Elevated II pattern if you’re hunting meadow edges or near a partially wooded water source.

If you hunt the perimeter of harvested cropland, Sitka’s Marshland pattern is a great option for keeping you well hidden.

Other Dove Hunting Gear

Use Decoys

Like waterfowl, doves are little socialites. Because they love a good party, these birds respond well to decoys.

If doves were people

Pop some clip-on decoys on a few nearby branches, and the doves will (literally) kill themselves to get in on the shindig.

You can amp up the party atmosphere by adding a flickering decoy, like the MOJO Voodoo Dove.

If your area allows it, decoys help draw doves in.

This decoy mimics the flapping wings of a frolicking dove. The movement will catch the eye of passing fowl and get them swooping in to join the fiesta.

Unfortunately, decoys are illegal in some areas. Check your state and local regulations before you start the party.

Grab a Bucket

Although dove hunting is relatively fast-paced, hunters often experience long, lazy stretches between passes.

Unless you’re willing to stand for long periods in the late summer heat, bring a collapsible chair or, my personal favorite, a dove bucket.

Not only does a dove bucket supply a comfy perch for extended dove hunting, but it also provides a handy way to tote ammo, decoys, drinks, and snacks to your hunting location.

24
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Use Ear and Eye Pro

Dove hunting usually presents plentiful shot opportunities. The average shotgun blast delivers about 155 decibels, so it’s a smart idea to protect your hearing.

A dove’s wings make a tell-tale whistling sound, which is a great way to cue in on approaching birds.

Even standard foam earplugs can muffle those wing beats, so you miss a bird until it’s right on top of you.

Electronic ear pro blocks out loud booms while allowing you to hear those whistling wings. They also let you shoot the breeze with your hunting buddies during the hunt. 

Electronic Shooting Protection, Open
Electronic Shooting Protection

You can check out all our ear protection recommendations in the 10 Best Shooting Ear Protection.

A quality set of shooting glasses is also a good safety measure — some double as sunglasses, which can be an asset when shooting in bright, midday sun.

STNGR Ridge Sunglasses, Green
STNGR Ridge Sunglasses

Tips for Successful Dove Hunting

Where to Hunt

If you’re a landowner itching for dove-hunting action, planting even a small patch of dove-magnet crops like sorghum, corn, millet, or sunflowers will draw in these migratory birds as they head south.

Once doves find a reliable food source, they’ll frequent the location until either the food dries up or Mother Nature says it’s time to hit the road.

All you have to do is set up along the edges of the food source and stay well hidden.

If you don’t have the real estate for a dove-attracting buffet, you can sometimes find decent dove hunting opportunities on public land.

Many state agencies plant their own food plots to provide the public with prime hunting opportunities. Check your local agency’s website for managed dove fields on public lands.

But public land comes with some drawbacks.

Desert BLM
Public land is a good way to hunt but be advised that you may have to share some space.

Competition from other hunters is the biggest downside.

If you don’t want to rub elbows and share fly space with strangers, ask local landowners for permission to hunt their property.

Head out and look for some harvested farmland (preferably near a water source), and ask the landowner if you can help with any dove problems.

Landowners are often more willing to grant permission to shoot doves than they are to hunt deer.

Remember to be polite and respectful. The worst that can happen is the property owner says, “No.”

But as the old saying goes, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” If you don’t ask, you could miss out on a great hunting opportunity. 

When to Hunt

Like most game animals, doves are most active at the beginning and end of the day.

Morning hunters will want to be in place and ready to go before sunrise. Evening hunting is often the hottest, just before dusk.

I arrived at Gunsite on the first day, just before sunrise.
You want to be up before the sun is.

If you’re hunting over a water source, birds often visit throughout the entire day. In this case, patience is a virtue.

Wait for It

Many new dove hunters get excited when they see those tell-tale gray silhouettes heading their way.

excited
Here they are!

It’s tempting to pop off a shot before they come into range.

Resist the temptation and the excitement — hold your fire. In most situations, the best shot opportunities are when the doves are well within 40-yards of the shooter. 

Pick One

It’s easy to get excited when you see a flock of doves coming in together. You may feel tempted to let birdshot fly right into the middle of them.

Shooting randomly at a mass of birds isn’t the best or most responsible approach.

Hunting Doves
Don’t shoot randomly.

Instead of shooting the middle of the flock, pick a single bird and take careful aim.

Once that bird is down, then pick another bird and repeat the process.

You’re more likely to recover birds this way, but you’re also less likely to injure others that fly off to die slow, miserable deaths.

Clean It Up

When you leave your hunting spot, make sure you carry all snack wrappers, empty bottles, and spent shells with you. Nobody likes a litterbug.

Steri-pen and bottled water
Clean up your spot

Hunters already have a tough time keeping a positive public image. Don’t make it harder for the rest of us.

Feast Time

Although dove hunting is popular for its fast-paced fun, there’s another major benefit to the sport.

Doves are small, but they are oh-so-delicious. They have a texture like chicken but a rich flavor, more like mild duck.

Well…kinda.

If you aren’t sure how to serve up these tasty treats, try them batter-fried, slathered in barbecue sauce, or wrapped in bacon and oven-roasted.

Check the Regs

Dove hunting laws vary widely by state.

Before you head out to the field, check your wildlife agency’s website for current information on season dates, shooting hours, bag limits, and other regulations.

Reading up on local laws like…

In most states, you can purchase your hunting license online. However, in some states, you may also need a migratory bird stamp to hunt doves.

The good news is all the funds you spend on licenses and permits are invested in game management programs and hunter education.

Conclusion

Dove hunting is fast-paced, high-volume, insanely fun shooting. With the right know-how and tools, you’ll be sure to have a blast in the field.

So, what are you waiting for? Grab your shotgun, camo, decoys, and plenty of shells, and get out there!

Have any dove hunting tips or tricks? Share them in the comments below. Want to improve your wingshooting with a new shotgun? Check out our recommendations for the Best Shotguns for Skeet, Trap, & Clay Shooting.

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1 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    BassCliff

    I'm moving from the big city to a region where hunting is much more common. I want to hunt game birds and this is just the primer I need. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    December 14, 2021 10:45 pm
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