This week kicks off the dove and early goose seasons in Pennsylvania. As such, dove hunters will get their first shots at these fast flyers. And fast they are. Of all the gamebirds, doves are probably the hardest to hit as hunters can expect incoming, outgoing, crossing and overhead passing shots at times. And when the shot pellets start flying, doves turn on the afterburners and fly even faster. Even grouse aren’t that diverse in their flying patterns, but they too are exceptionally quick to depart when they’re flushed.
The trouble with doves is where to hunt them. Thanks to ever sprawling warehouses and housing developments on once fertile farmlands, those once hunt-able lands have disappeared. This leaves a few suburban farmlands or local state game lands like that off Route 100 in upper Lehigh County (where you’ll have lots of company, including hunters from the Philadelphia area).
There’s also SGL’s in Berks County where there is considerably more acreage and more farmlands (thanks to Mennonite farmers who rarely, if ever, sell their lands) than what’s remaining in Lehigh and Northampton counties.
So where should aspiring dove hunters look for these whistling fast birds? Dove’s have three favorite hangouts of food, water and flyways. If you can find a rare sunflower field, whether standing or harvested, you’ve hit pay dirt as dove love sunflower seeds.
After doves feed, they usually pick grit then head to water. As such, farm ponds or small creeks are good bets. And the best time to hit these places is midmorning or late afternoon, hunting hours permitting.
And lastly, flyways are good spots for pass shooting. The best ones are located between roosting and feeding areas and can often be found by spotting doves sitting on utility wires within the flyway. To find them drive rural farm roads and look for them perched on the lines.
To entice doves to stop enroute to these spots, try setting out some decoys to draw them in closer or in the least, slow them down for a quick look as they fly overhead. Decoys can be placed on a branch of a dead tree, on a fence be it barbed wire or wooden, or on a makeshift decoy pole consisting of an aluminum pipe with sticks or wire coat hangers hung from it in tree fashion. Or, a commercially made one that gets stuck in the ground or stands on splayed legs. There are also commercially made motion decoys that have spinning wings that are either wind or battery powered driven – where legal.
If you’re an impatient hunter who can’t sit and wait for birds to come to you, walking the edges of standing cornfields is another technique of jump shooting them as they pick grit and flush from among the cornrows. But if downing one, mark it quickly as you don’t want to lose a tasty bird because you can’t find it. Worse yet is losing it in a dense soybean field. Here a good hunting dog is vital in retrieving it.
Some hunters also call doves. Yes they, like waterfowl, can be called I’ve been told. Commercial calls like Primos’ Model 362 that is similar to a whistle, or Haydel’s D-90 that is a flute-style call, can be found at Cabela’s or Bass Pro as they’re specialty calls. The calls imitate a doves’ cooing. Maybe they’re work and maybe they won’t. But they’re worth a try and could surprise you to their effectiveness.
And when going afield, don’t forget to take lots of ammo and insect or tick repellent. Because of the forecasted hot, humid temperatures, you’ll be sweating and that draws bugs. As for ticks, their count will be high at this time of year. So spray your clothes, wear a rubber band around your pant legs to prevent them from crawling up your legs.
Best of all, dove breasts wrapped in bacon and grilled are a dinner delight. Just be careful you don’t bite on a #6 pellet.
As for the early goose season, we’ll cover that in a separate column.