It’s a question that I’ve asked myself countless times in more than a quarter century of chasing mourning doves during the wilting late summer and early fall heat of September.
While the words have varied, the general idea of my mental gymnastics is this: “If X marks the proverbial spot for a good dove hunt, then where is the X at my chosen location?”
Here are a few answers that I’ve come up with down through the years.
Look First, Hunt Last — A few years ago, while interviewing a nationally known white-tailed deer hunting expert, I learned something that I think applies to every form of fall hunting including wingshooting at dove.
Here’s what this gentleman told me: “I’d rather give up a day or two of hunting so I can intensively scout from afar so that when I do finally hang a stand to hunt, I’m right where I need to be from the word ‘Go.’”
This same lesson applies to dove hunting too. When you arrive at a field or a waterhole location, spend a few moments gathering intel as you watch the flight routines of doves already rocketing their way into and out of the area.
Once you’ve located a good spot, get to that spot quickly.
Adjust Quickly — Dove adjust their flight routines promptly as hunting pressure mounts. You should do the same thing as their travel corridors change.
In my younger dove hunting days, I was somewhat reluctant to change my location thinking that it would only be a matter of time before a few birds were winging my way.
Today, realizing that I don’t live in an epic dove hunting region, I’m much quicker to pull the trigger and make a move to where the birds are flying. If a five to ten minute period goes by and the majority of the doves fly “over there,” it will not be long before I’m on the move.
Hunt the Edge — Wildlife, including doves on the wing, are generally creatures of the “edge.”
That is, where two types of cover and/or habitat converge, that’s always a good place to start looking for the X.
To illustrate this, let me use a bass fishing example. One way to locate bass relating to underwater structure is to fish along a breakline, that is a spot where shallow water quickly falls into deeper water. Ditto for fishing a region where the bottom composition changes from something like sand to hard gravel.
In dove hunting, I’m quick to look for the edges that are made by standing grain versus harvested grain; the edges made by the edge of a grain field against the start of a grassy location; or something like a crevasse or ditch running through the middle of a field.
Find Irregularities — Like a mossback largemouth holding tight to a lone stick-up on a shallow water flat, doves are attracted to irregular features.
From a lone dead snag in a field to a gap in a treeline, something out of the ordinary can often attract the attention of a dove on the wing.
Find the Food — When most dove hunters think of food for mourners passing through, they tend to think of harvested corn fields, old wheat fields, or recently cut milo fields.
I do too — the first limit of doves that I ever took many years ago came in a recently harvested milo field.
But in more recent years, I’m steadily learning that doves also like more natural food sources — things like native sunflowers, croton, and goatweed. Examining the craws of each dove I harvested over opening weekend gave proof to this idea.
As the fall wears on, learning to identify more subtle feeding spots not far from roost sites and watering holes can be a key ingredient to successful dove hunting as the leftover food of harvested crops begins to play out.
Keep Hunting — One of the ironies of dove hunting in North Texas and southern Oklahoma is that the vast majority of hunters consider dove season something that runs from the traditional Sept. 1st opener, on through Labor Day, and maybe through the following weekend.
The truth is, however, that the dove hunting often gets better and better as the season rolls along into late September and on into the month of October.
To be truthful, a good number of the locally raised native birds will be in the freezer by then. And many of the other locally raised mourning doves will begin to push south on the autumn season’s first solid cool fronts that turn the wind around to the north.
But millions of other migrating mourning doves will also be pouring down the Great Plains from as far away as North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas too. And as they wing their way through the Red River Valley over the next several weeks, some of the best dove hunting action of the autumn season will follow.
With nary a wingshooter left in the local fields to greet them as they arrive.
With that in mind, why not grab your hunting buddies on September 1st, put a few of these ideas into play, and enjoy some of the year’s best wingshooting that Texomaland has to offer when the law comes off the season next weekend?
If you do, you might experience a dove hunting trip that you’ll remember for many years to come.