October might just be one of the best months to go dove hunting
The birds are streaking in fast, small feathered spaceships with their hyperdrive engaged. Birds to the left and right, birds flying over trees, birds coming from my six, all at once! The over-under pulled ever so firmly into my shoulder. The trigger pulled twice. Two shots. Pellets hit their mark and a pair of doves that were streaking across the sky are now plummeting to the earth like gray meteors. Direct impact. Marked. A third grey rocket flushes instantly as if catapulted from a hidden flight deck. That familiar sound of wing beats draws my attention to a small flock of doves about forty yards away, now sent into the air by my string of shots.
I go straight to both birds, now lying just feet apart from each other. Feathers blowing in the wind, some caught in downed sunflowers that had been picked clean by doves over a month ago.
A month ago?
The fall months are not the time to give up on dove hunting for the year. It’s the perfect time to grab that dove vest out of the closet, put fresh batteries in that mojo decoy, and head into the dove fields. Yes, I said dove fields! Those fields of sunflowers and cut grain accompanied by sweltering September temperatures have given way to cool October mornings and evenings. Leaves once green with life are starting to morph into hues of red, yellow and orange like kernels of Indian corn.
October dove hunting is hard to beat. Many factors come into play that help decide whether late-season dove hunters are successful. The fields of sunflowers and other grains once planted for the September opener are still being used by the late-season gray birds. There are fewer and thinner crowds, the weather is cooling off, and there can be a good number of doves in the area.
In general, doves will remain in one locale for some time – supplemented by flights of northern birds migrating south from colder climates. The chance for some good hunting in the late season is possible. The flip side is that doves will move out of an area quickly if they detect a lot of hunting pressure. Flights to a safer territory doesn’t necessarily mean to another state; it may mean to a less pressured area.
Working against the hunters this time of year is the need to remember that the birds being hunted now are not your September 1 birds. During the regular season, most doves end up in game bags during the first 14 days of the season. Bird hunters are now dealing with educated birds. Birds are also a lot more skittish in the field while they are feeding. This makes it more challenging for hunters who employ the “walk and flush” method. More difficult, but certainly possible.
Late season dove hunting is one of the great ironies of the fall hunting season: just about the time the dove hunting gets really good, the number of hunters chasing the little-winged rockets thins out considerably. The time to get back out into the dove fields to chase those sporty birds is now.
There are a variety of reasons hunters find to avoid heading back out after the first two weeks of the dove season. For most of the country, bowhunting springs into action and the allure of chasing deer takes precedence over the small fast flying doves. Around this time, waterfowl and in some states, upland birds are racing to get out of the starting gate.
Whatever the reason, dove hunting during the autumn months can be great. For hunters looking to venture out and even find yourself in between seasons, dove hunting can cure that itch. For those who decide to venture out again, here are a few suggestions.
Just because it’s the late season doesn’t mean you get rid of the best tool you have working for you: camouflage! Wearing camo will allow hunters to get closer as they walk-up doves. Don’t forget, the doves that are being hunted have developed into wary birds and are keen to flushing at a moment’s notice if they detect danger. Migrating doves flying into the area most likely have been shot at and will be looking for anything out of place. Movement as seen from the air is exaggerated and doves will flair off. Concealment is the hunter’s best ally.
When to hunt late season doves
The best time to hunt doves in the late season is right around 5:00 p.m. Birds tend to start flying into fields for dinner between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. Once birds start arriving, hunters may kick up singles and a few small groups, but the magic hour is at five. This is when the real action starts, and walking and flushing doves can be done several times with groups of up to twenty or more.
Move around for doves
The best tactic to use during the late season is to walk and flush. But a secondary strategy to use with “walkin’ up” doves is to follow the birds and flocks as they relocate to another part of the field. It has been my experience that the doves are there to feed before roosting. It’s late enough in the day that they are not going to leave. Flocks have been observed moving their dinner plans to other parts of a feed field.
Hunters need to mark their location and start their approach as stealthily as possible. Use the contours of the land, cover, and concealment to position yourself for lethal shots. Once the flock is flushed, and after the doves are placed into game vests, the whole scenario is replayed again. I call it “leap-frogging birds.” This is a good time to watch the doves as they fly around along tree lines. By observing the doves in flight, hunters can see the direction from which they fly back into the field. During one such outing, the doves used the same flight path every time to reenter the field. We then positioned ourselves at the base of the entry point and our tactics switched to pass shooting doves. Fall hunting calls for hunters to be more flexible.
Use dove decoys
Decoys work in September. Dove decoys also work in October and November. The trick is to use the decoys in conjunction with “walkin’ up” doves and relocating. Set out the decoys in an area where doves are congregating. Use both still and motion decoys. Place doves somewhat close together to resemble a flock that just landed for a hearty meal. Position the motion decoy(s) in the center.
Hunters have two options at this point. Wait for doves to fly in and shoot, which would be more in tune with the early season traditional method. Or, walk up some doves. The strategy is to use the time you are walking around a field, flushing doves, for the decoys to do their job and lure doves in. The notion is when you return to your dove spread, there will be doves. Remember when approaching the decoys to use cover and concealment.
Bonus doves hunting species
On occasion, hunters may come across Eurasian collared and white-winged doves. Considered invasive species, these exotic birds are typically not subjected to regular seasons and limits. Check your state game laws for more information.
Hunters who come across old abandoned barns and farmsteads may bump into these “bonus” birds. Eurasians tend to stay around farm buildings and feed lots. These birds are slightly larger than both the white-winged and mourning doves. Their size and flying patterns are more like the common rock pigeon. Eurasian doves can be identified by their long square tail along with the distinctive black collar at the base of the neck.
My experience with Eurasian doves is that they typically act like mourning doves when flushed from their location. Eurasians will fly around and return to the structure from where they were disturbed. This allows hunters to set up and pass shoot birds.
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.