A few clever ways to increase your ammo bill with dove decoys
With September 1 looming, dove hunters across the country are anxiously awaiting yet another start to the season. When opening day arrives, our anticipation for large droves of birds flying across and into grain fields seems simple enough. However, filling one’s daily limit of 15 birds can be tricky on these gray speedsters.
Doves, without a doubt, are probably the easiest of the game birds to hunt. Very little needs to be done to have a good time in the sunflower fields or wherever hunters find themselves. Yes, scouting fields should be done – but other than that, hunters can pretty much walk into a field and hunt doves with a shotgun and lots and lots of shells. Bring along a chair or bucket and a handful of decoys. These are not the fancy decoys used for waterfowl nor are elaborate spreads necessary. Using decoys to dupe doves is relatively simple. Here’s how.
When it comes to selecting dove decoys, there aren’t a lot of options since only a limited selection is available. There are full-bodied, molded plastic decoys with some form of clip on the bottom or peg(s) that can be jammed into the ground. Some have an eyelet to place string through for hanging. Just like other decoys, they vary in realism. Compared to other dekes, dove decoys are relatively inexpensive. Decoys can be purchased individually or in small packs or groups.
Doves like to scope out the ground for predators before they commit to landing. They’ll first sit on a power line or in a nearby tree to evaluate the area. Decoys provide confidence for flying doves to land and feed or, at the very least, fly close enough for some No. 7½s to bring them down. Decoys also function as a long-range magnet, pulling in doves which would otherwise never fly by. These plastic mimics act as a signal for others to investigate. Tricking overhead doves into thinking that they’re missing something grand on the ground is the key. Decoy spreads can vary in size and layout; hunters should work with what they have. Decoys significantly increase the chances for hunters successfully duping doves in.
Make it inviting. A small group of foraging doves on the ground in an open spot where they can be seen can bring in curious birds. The key is not how many dove decoys are set out, but how and where. Try spacing out four or five decoys or double up a pair or two. It has been my experience that it is often more effective to position decoys in separate pairs, rather than in groups. Doves on the ground often travel in pairs. This setup also conveys a more natural appearance. That is not to say, however, that a group of decoys spread out on the ground is necessarily as inviting as a lone pair of doves feeding.
Decoys don’t need to be positioned only on the ground. Place clip-on decoys in bare tree limbs and get them as high as possible. Line up a half a dozen dekes along a fence line or build a do-it-yourself dove tree.
Understand that this doesn’t mean that the birds will land among the decoys. That is, essentially, the benefit of dove decoys in a field situation – they often draw birds into the effective range of your position that might otherwise pass by out of range.
An effective way to determine a hunter’s maximum shooting range is simply the farthest distance at which a hunter feels comfortable taking a shot. Once hunters locate that sweet spot in a field, they need to pace off from their shooting positions and start placing decoys on the ground there.
Add movement into the dove decoy equation
Add a motion decoy to display movement in your spread. Flickers of white wings fluttering may catch the eye and curiosity of flying doves. Spinning-wing dove decoys work very similarly to decoying waterfowl. The spinning wings create a strobe effect that resembles wings flapping. Doves can see that flash from long distances. For safety reasons, doves congregate in groups. Just as in duck hunting, doves spot that glint of white from the wings of motion decoys and believe they have located a place where other doves feel secure.
Face dove decoys into the wind
Hunters need to set up their decoys so they face into the wind. Doves flying overhead will likely approach the spread from the same direction. The benefit for the hunter is that the incoming birds will slow down slightly and may stall in midair briefly, allowing for shots.
If wanting to bring the deke spread to life, then the use of motion decoys will also benefit from setting them up into the wind. If using wind-driven spinning wing decoys, this setup makes even more sense.
By setting up a variety of decoys you will improve your chances of having more inbound birds. Use a combination of both flying and stationary decoys to create a realistic flock on the ground. Motion decoys should be placed in the middle of a spread. If using more than one, place them at various heights.
Check your work
A mistake to avoid when employing elevated decoys is positioning them too close to one’s ideal dove spot. This can draw unwanted attention to hunters. Incoming doves may flare at the sight of hunters. Doves may focus on the silhouette or movement of shotguns being raised instead of decoys on poles a good distance away. Instead, walk 20 to 40 yards away and then set them up.
Make certain that the elevated decoys are visible from various angles. Check those decoys that are erected are not screened by vegetation. Use the contour and features of the land to help set up your spreads.
The ideal spread would consist of a dozen or so ground decoys dispersed in a line or circular pattern and placed about 35 yards in front.
Another small group of decoys would be set to either side at an angle about 25 yards, with the elevated decoys positioned just on the outside of the spread, facing into the wind.
Dove hunting is simple. There is no need to complicate things when using decoys. Remember, when dove hunting shoot often – and bring lots of red or yellow shells.
Edgar Castillo is a recently retired law enforcement officer for a large Kansas City metropolitan agency. He also served in the United States Marine Corps for twelve years. Edgar longs for the colors of autumn and frosty, winter days so he can explore the landscapes in search of wild birds in wild places. His passion lies in the uplands as he self-documents his travels across public lands throughout Kansas hunting open fields, walking treelines, & bustin’ through plum thickets.