Dove Hunting – The Complete Guide

It’s that time of the year and hunting season is just about to kick off.  You’ve always wanted to go dove hunting but you’re not too sure where to start.  Here we will show you everything you need to know about dove hunting to set yourself up for a successful shoot.  Dove hunting is different than what you would expect from hunting other game as it’s very relaxed and not too much goes into having success and having a lot of fun in the process.  Below is the table of contents for our dove hunting guide and if you click one of the links it will skip you down to the part you clicked on.  So, kick back, grab a beer (or favorite drink), and let’s dive into the world of dove hunting.

Dove Hunting – Table of Contents

Dove Hunting Requirements

Before you even step foot out the door to hunt doves, you need to take care of some stuff first.  Each state has their own regulations on hunting doves which include date and time for the season, license requirements, where you can and cannot hunt, and many other rules/laws that you’re required to know and follow.  If you’ve never been hunting before then it’s probably smart to take your local hunter’s safety course.  Right now I’m compiling a list of every state’s Game and Fish department websites which is where you can get all of the information you need in regards to hunting.  I will post the link here when it’s done.

Hunters Safety Course

Regardless of how old you are; if you’ve never been hunting before then it’s a good idea to take this course.  While a lot of it might seem juvenile, you might actually hear something that you had never thought about which could ultimately save your life or a friend/family member’s life.  Safety is the most important thing when hunting anything.  When you’re dove hunting there’s a good chance that there will be a ton of other people out there with you and it can get crowded at times so you definitely want to get this course done.  Some states offer incentives for completing the course such as lifetime bonus points for big game draws which is great.  Visit your game and fish department’s website for more information about the hunter’s safety course.

Hunting License

In case you didn’t know, you need a license to hunt.  If you’re dove hunting then there’s a good chance that you need an additional stamp to go with your license.  Your game and fish department should have prices posted on their website.  Getting a license is easy; a lot of the time you can go online and take care of it yourself but if not, go to an authorized dealer and they will print you off a license with the migratory bird stamp for dove.  You’re going to need the general hunting license to hunt almost every animal in your state but it’s a good idea to talk to the person selling you the license and ask them if there are any other special stamps you need for what you plan on hunting.

Dove Season

Another thing that you need to know is that dove needs to be in season before you can hunt them.  One thing that you absolutely do not want to do is kill an animal that is not in season.  This is very illegal and can not only get you in a ton of trouble but the Game Warden can take all of your hunting gear if you’re found to have taken an animal out of season.  If you accidentally kill an animal and know it’s out of season the right thing to do is call game and fish and tell them what happened.  Chances are that if you’re honest that you’ll get in a lot less trouble than if you get caught!

Dove season usually starts in September and doesn’t last very long.  It usually goes for a couple of weeks but you’ll notice that the frequency in which you see birds is much less after even the first couple of days so you really want to get out there early.  Your state will publish season dates, time of day you can hunt, and bag limits so make sure you read the rules before you go out.

Bag Limits

Bag limits for dove are usually around 10-15 birds per day and you can usually keep around 30-45 in your freezer at a time.  Be mindful of how many dove you have taken because different flavors of dove might have different bag limits.  For example, in Arizona, white winged and eurasian dove have different bag limits so if you reach your limit on the white winged dove, which is smaller than eurasian, you need to make completely sure that the next bird you shoot is a eurasian dove or else you risk going over the limit.  So you know, it’s not hard to find a game warden the first couple of days of dove season!

Dove Hunting Gear

You really don’t need anything special to have a successful dove hunt.  There are a few things that you might want to pick up because they’re nice to have but you can have a successful dove hunt without a lot of gear.

Shotgun

I personally shoot a Remington 870 pump action 12ga with a modified choke.  This suits me just fine for dove and quail and it’s an inexpensive way to get me into the sport.

Ammo

dove hunting ammoThey make ammo specifically for dove hunting but you can pick up any 7 1/2 – 8 shot shotgun shells and you will be just fine.  It’s always good to pick up a little extra so you can do some target shooting before hand, and you’ll have extra for when you miss a shot.

Game Bag

A game bag/vest like the one that I have is a huge help.  It has plenty of storage for ammo, pockets for any tools I need, and a hydration pouch.  You wear it like a backpack and it has a large opening for you to put your birds after you shoot them so you don’t have to carry them around.  Definitely worth the money.

Chair with Shade

There are going to be times during the hunt where you’re going to want to sit, especially after you’ve been out there for a few hours.  You can find an inexpensive camping chair with shade like the one in this link and it will work out perfectly for you.

Cooler and Ziplock Bags

When I go dove hunting I usually take a large cooler with me.  One side I’ll fill with water bottles and snacks and on the other side I’ll just have ice and gallon freezer bags.  That side is where I’ll keep my birds as I get them, I’ll either put them in the bag and clean them at home or clean them there and put just the breast with wing in the bag (you’re usually required to keep a wing attached while transporting the birds to your house, FYI).

Dove Decoys

Whether or not you use dove decoys is personal preference.  People go out all the time and reach their bag limit within an hour of hunting without the use of a decoy, and other people swear by them.  The dove decoy is usually the body that you stick into the ground and they’ll have battery operated wings that flap.  People will place a few of them in a field to hopefully attract the birds to that spot.  They’re a nice to have item but not an absolute must.

Binoculars

Binoculars like these are great for scouting because you can check out a spot from a distance and not worry about spooking the birds.  It’s not a necessity but it’s definitely nice to have.

Scouting for Dove

It is important, as with any hunt, to scout prior to opening day.  I usually start about two weeks out and since I am usually working during the week, I need to make the weekends count.  I’ll usually start by looking for the right type of land on something like Google maps.  What I’m looking for are farm fields that are far enough away from buildings that are close to either a creek/river bed or some other water source and have a thick brush line next to them.  Dove will usually bed down in the thick trees/brush and in the morning they will fly from there into the farm fields to eat.  While they’re flying to get breakfast is when you will get them.  I’ll get out to a spot that looks good just before sunrise and just sit there and watch to see how many birds fly over.  Below is an image of a spot I’ve hunted in the past.

dove hunting

This spot is ideal for dove hunting.  As you can see, you have the Gila river running through the trees and the triangular field pointing northwest is the field we hunted.  We were on the road between the trees and the field, right in the center and it worked out great.  I went out there at least three different mornings and watched from a distance to see what was going on.  Come game day we did very well here and it was all due to taking the time to scout.

What you don’t want to do is just wait for opening day and think that you’re going to find a good spot.  This might work if you know people that dove hunt in your area and tell you where to go but you still want to check it out before hand so you know that nothing has changed.

Target Practice

Along with scouting, you want to get out there and take some shots prior to game day.  Best thing to do is get a couple of buddies together, buy some clay pigeons and a cheap hand thrower and go launch some clays for an afternoon.  The clays, thrower, and ammo is all very inexpensive but it will definitely pay off having practiced, knocked out the kinks in your shooting, and better prepared yourself for the hunt.  It’s better to make mistakes with a bright orange clay than it is with a live bird flying in front of you.

Hunting The Dove

dove huntingYou’ve arrived to your spot that you’ve carefully scouted out and have set up all of your gear and decoys, now what?  Once the sun starts coming up – and you’re beyond the earliest time to hunt set by your game and fish – the birds will begin flying over you to get breakfast.  You can usually stay in the same place since you’ve done your scouting right, there should be plenty of birds for you to shoot.  Once they start flying overhead, it’s time to shoot.  Make sure you’ve identified that you’re shooting a dove prior to squeezing the trigger.  The last thing that you want to do is shoot a bird that’s out of season by mistake because you failed to properly identify that it was a dove.  They’re not hard to spot, but it can sometimes be tough to tell the difference between white winged and eurasian so make sure you know for sure before you shoot.  That’s basically it, you shoot a bird, go pick it up, put it in a bag and throw it in your cooler.  If you’re there past 10 or 11am then it’s probably a good idea to call it quits for the day or take a break and come back later that evening when the birds are feeding again.

Once you’ve reached your bag limit, or the birds have stopped flying for the morning then it’s time to go back and clean/cook your dove.

Cleaning and Cooking Dove

Cleaning Dove

I’m sure that there are a ton of different ways to clean your dove.  What I do is first poke a small hole under the breastbone of the bird, either with scissors or I usually just use my fingernail.  Get your thumb up under that breastbone and basically rip the breast up and out of the bird.  It’s a little messy but it works quick.  The wings should still be attached when you do it this way so you’ll want to clip them off.  Like I mentioned before, if you clean them before you transport them home then you need to leave the wings attached because if you get stopped by the game warden then you need to be able to prove what kind of bird you’ve shot.

Cooking Dove

I usually cook it the same way every time and it’s pretty delicious.  You need the following:

  • Dove breast
  • Jalapeno
  • Bacon
  • Cream cheese
  • Skewers

Dove Recipe

By the list of ingredients I’m sure you can imagine where this is going but let me enlighten you a little more.  Take a boneless breast, slice of jalapeno, and small scoop of cream cheese and wrap it all up in bacon.  Hold it all together with the skewer and either throw it on a grill or in a frying pan.  I personally leave the dove meat a little pink in the middle and it tastes much better than if it’s cooked all the way through.  Once it’s cooked to your liking, serve it up and enjoy!

dove recipe

This is pretty much everything that you need to know about dove hunting.  If you have questions leave them in the comments below and if you have something that you think I should add to this post please tell me and I’ll make sure it gets where it needs to go.  Thanks and happy hunting.

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