Hunting & Shooting

Beginner’s Guide to Dove Hunting

Beginner’s Guide to Dove Hunting

Dove hunting may focus on the birds, but even first-timers quickly recognize the real draw is spending time in the field with family and friends. It’s the kind of annual gathering that makes lasting memories, encourages laughter and the welcome mat is out for everyone. Hunts where the flights are thick and you drop a few birds are simply icing on the cake. By following the tips in our beginner’s guide to dove hunting, the odds improve that your first season will be a sweet one.

Dove landing in a field

Doves provide fast-moving targets for hunters.

Functional, Not Fancy
Bringing down birds capable of reaching 55 miles per hour and instantly banking through treeline gaps invisible to the human eye requires a shotgun. It doesn’t have to be the latest and greatest or an exotic over-under, either. The shotgun you take, however, needs to be in safe operating condition.

Whether it’s a home-defense shotgun, hand-me-down or expensive and prized possession, the duty is identical—deliver a column of shot downrange that crosses the dove’s flight path the moment the bird arrives. You’ll usually need to aim slightly ahead, a technique that deserves some pre-season study. 

It doesn’t require many pellets to drop a dove, but one every square foot probably won’t take it down. That payload spreads as distance increases. For that reason, consider limiting your shots to about 30 yards if your shotgun has an improved cylinder or modified choke. With some experience you might stretch that distance to 40, but shy away from that in the beginning. An open choke—like those found on most home-defense shotguns—has a very wide pattern that reduces density downrange. The effective range drops further, as a result.

Spending time in the field with family and friends
Dove hunting is a great way to spend time in the field with family and friends.


Shell Game
Larger gauge shotshells put more pellets in the air. However, any chambering will work on doves, even the diminutive .410-bore. In fact, hunters with many seasons under their belt often go to a smaller gauge for an added challenge. Smaller gauges also help recoil-sensitive participants, too. When selecting shotshells, those loaded with #7 ½ or #8 pellets are ideal, regardless of chambering.   

Regulations limit self-loading shotguns—pump-actions, semi-automatics and lever-actions—to a three-shotshell capacity when pursuing doves. Make sure you’re in compliance with the rule. Double-check and, if needed, purchase or make a dowel that limits magazine capacity to three shells when installed.

When there’s a lull in the action, you should always top off the shotgun. The HQ Outfitters Dove & Small Game Hunting Vest keeps reloads at hand, and its Mossy Oak Break Up Country camo pattern won’t print your position to keen-eyed flights. The Buttstock Cartridge Carrier maximizes your firepower and provides lightning fast access to shells.

Dove hunter aiming shotgun with shell carrier

Semi-automatic shotguns paired with a buttstock shell carrier are ideal for dove hunting.

Scout It Out
The number of mourning doves you see every day is deceptive. They get wary minutes into opening day and you won’t be pursuing those suburbanites that frequent the power lines behind your home.

A quick look at their habits helps understand why doves concentrate in some areas. Like all birds they roost at night, but at dawn they head out in search of water. Then it’s time for a healthy seed breakfast, add some grit for their gizzard to grind up the meal and, with those serious chores behind them, they snack, drink or loaf around. When sunset approaches, the process repeats.

It’s an oversimplified explanation, but water is key. Whether it’s a small pond, river, lake or cattle tank, at least twice a day doves flock to it. Find a source, one with sandy access at points along its bank, and they may be congregating there. Add a grain field nearby—better yet, one recently harvested—and the odds are good the area is ideal dove country.

Like all wildlife, though, their patterns adapt in response to a variety of factors, both manmade and natural. Just because something looks promising on a satellite map doesn’t mean it’s holding doves.  

Scout the area in person. Arrive just after sunrise or before sunset, when they are most active and vocal. Watch from a distance with binoculars. Do as much listening as looking. Listen for those distinctive, mournful calls and responses. Note flyways they use in and out of the area. Then, determine where you can set up to take advantage of that preference.  

Set Up
With luck you can identify a spot that doesn’t require lengthy hikes. Look for an area with some natural cover that doesn’t compromise the flyway views.

Check regulations before opening day, but it’s always best to arrive and set up before sunrise, or before sundown. Doves have keen eyesight and a lofty view, so getting there early and behind cover is key.

They usually see anyone walking around, so take a seat during lulls in the action. There are a number of easily toted portable seats available, but the HQ Outfitters Folding Stool and the Three-Legged Stool make reliable choices.

Dove hunter sitting on an HQ Outfitters Folding Stool

Folding dove hunting stools include storage for shells and accessories.

Doves sailing along at 55 miles per hour aren’t going to hear conversations at 100 yards, but they will detect anything that looks unnatural. So, camo up, stay behind cover—or at least in the shade—until it’s time to take a shot.  

Final Keys
A dove’s aerial view and eyesight increases the odds decoys on branches, fences or along sandy water edges will be seen. Doves often soar in to investigate the secret their plastic cousins have discovered.

Most importantly, don’t expect to bag a limit on your first outing. Savor the experience and enjoy the companionship. Follow the tips in this beginner’s guide to dove hunting and the odds are good you’ll bring home some birds. Whatever the outcome, the memories you make will last a lifetime.

Dove decoys attached to tree branch for dove hunting

Dove decoys help bring high-flying doves within shooting range.


More Resources:

Basic Rules of Gun Safety

Dove Hunting Essentials

Performance Sunglasses: Your Best Defense Against the Sun

How to Choose the Best Sunglasses

How Performance Shirts Protect You from the Sun






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