Dove Hunting: Getting Started
In August, take a look around stores that sell shooting supplies. Most are stocked heavily with shotgun shells, clay pigeons, and hand-trap supplies. Why? August is the month hunters use to sharpen their wing-shooting skills in preparation for Sept. 1 — the opening day of dove season.
More shells are spent on dove hunting than on any other game bird. On a good hunt, doves often fly in so fast and in such numbers that it is difficult to keep your gun loaded. Barrels heat up from the quick shooting. Doves dip and dive and turn with incredible speed. Downing one dove for every three shots ranks you as an expert shot. Interested in trying this action? Here are some tips.
A Little Biology
Three species of doves are legal game during Missouri’s dove season: mourning doves, Eur;asian collared-doves, and white-winged doves. The Eurasian collared-dove is an introduced species, escaped from captivity, and is currently expanding its range across the United States. It is larger than a mourning dove, with a distinct black collar and a squared-off tail. The white-winged dove is native to the south;ern United States, but occasionally shows up statewide. This species has a white wing stripe and a squared-off tail. Where the birds coexist, mourning doves typically far outnumber both collared-doves and white-winged doves.
Mourning doves are native and occur all across the central and eastern United States. They are one of North America’s most common birds, with fall populations averaging between 350 and 500 million birds. Why so common? Doves are prolific breeders. In Missouri, pairs produce up to five broods a year, with broods consisting of two to four young.
Settlement of North America improved habitat for mourning doves. Open terrain provided by small towns and cities, surrounded by crop fields, provide doves with everything they need. Towns offer the scattered trees and open woods mourning doves require for nesting habitat. Crop fields provide what have become three of the four staples in a dove’s diet: corn, wheat, and milo. The fourth staple, foxtail, is a common grass species that grows along the edges of grain fields and other areas. Doves relish foxtail seed.
The daily habits of doves are fairly predictable. Shortly before dawn, doves leave their roost areas and travel to where they feed. Cut grain fields are favorite spots. The birds feed for a couple hours, then often move to places