Just in case you’re in a hurry this morning, I’m going to begin with a quick flyover of the regulations governing dove hunting in Missouri, before I get to the meat of today’s topic. The 2015 Missouri dove season runs from September 1 through November 9, and shooting hours are from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset. The daily limit is 15 mourning, white wing or collared doves in the aggregate with a possession limit of 45. Hunters aged 15 years or younger do not need any licenses or permits to hunt doves. All hunters aged 16 and older will need a Missouri Migratory Bird Hunting Permit and unless otherwise exempt, a small game hunting license. Lead shot remains legal on private land and on all but 20 Conservation Areas (see specific area regulations before you load your shell vest.)
Whew! I’m glad I didn’t try to explain all of that in one sentence.
But at least dove hunting regulations are cut and dried. The reasons why finding doves in any given natural environment may be challenging this year are complex. So how many doves are enough? My grandfather steadfastly insisted it took at least 100 doves per gun to make a decent shoot. It didn’t take him long to come to that very sound conclusion, especially considering that nobody in our family had “wasted” shotgun shells on doves prior to 1963 when I turned 16 and bought my first shotgun.
Admittedly, that was easy for him to say. Finding several hundred doves feeding in the same stubble field or watering at the same pond was the norm in Kansas during the 1960’s and 70’s, as I’m sure it was here in Missouri as well.
Such is not going to be the case in Missouri in 2015. Wet weather last spring delayed corn planting so much that there are going to be very few picked fields on September 1 or on September 7 for that matter. Of course this could be a good thing, if you and a big flock of doves find one of the exceptions at the same time.
Setting up near a small mud-banked pond in an overgrazed pasture is one of my all time favorite ways to shoot doves. Most years the only problem with that strategy is that there are way too many ponds that fit that description to concentrate the doves. Overgrazed pastures are going to be hard to find this year, but not has hard as ponds low enough to expose the bare ground doves like to land on.
If you’re serious about bagging the main ingredient for several dove pies, my advice is to become a dove hunter rather than merely a dove shooter. Dove shooters give up after Labor Day, because they wrongly believe the specially managed areas they prefer are permanently shot out by then. Dove hunters are willing to spend the time and effort required to walk hedge rows, crop field margins and other types of resting cover doves use during the middle part of the day. Whether their group numbers two or 22, they split up to scout, relying on cell phones to get back together when someone locates a hotspot. And most important, dove hunters take advantage of the long open season, because they’ve learned that dove numbers often peak in October long after the dove shooters have put their shotguns away.
Finding all the doves in the state won’t do you much good if you can’t hit them. Doves can change speed, altitude or direction in less than the blink of your eye. In other words, they take full advantage of their abilities, and so should you.
Numerous studies have proven that nobody — including you and me — can hit a non-embarrassing percentage of the doves he or she shoots at beyond 30 yards. So set up where you’ll have the best chance to get shots you have a decent chance of making.
Since you’ll be shooting at targets within 30 yards, use a shotgun/choke combination that’s suitable for that purpose. To me that means a lightweight, well-fitted shotgun with an improved cylinder choke. My grandfather’s dove shotgun was a short barreled L. C. Smith double barrel with no choke constriction at all, but he could do things with a shotgun that weren’t even possible.
Camouflage clothing isn’t a necessity for dove hunting, but you’ll get a lot more close-in shots at unwary birds if you wear it.
Finally, be aware that both hits and misses tend to come in bunches, so enjoy the former and don’t let the latter psych you out. I’ve been shooting (at) doves for many years and have killed thousands of them. I’ve killed a 12-dove limit straight three times and a 15-dove limit straight once. More often than not, I can kill a limit with one box of shells. On the other hand, there have been a lot of days when I’ve exhausted my self-imposed two boxes of shells per outing limit without putting a significant strain on the seams of my game bag. Go figure.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]