Doves And Shotguns
Here Are Tips For Getting More Birds In The Bag
September 1, 2021
Dove season runs September 1 – 15, with a late season from November 19 of this year until January 2, 2022for mourning dove and white-winged doves. The Eurasian Collared-Dove Season is September 1, 2021 to August 31, 2022, so it's year-round. For mourning doves and white-wings, the bag limit is 15 total, with no more than 10 being white-winged doves, and the possession limit is 45, no more than 30 of which can be white-winged doves. However, for the Eurasian collared-doves, there is no limit at all.
These limits seem fairly liberal, especially for the collared-doves, but I read somewhere that the average hunter only gets one bird for every seven shells he fires. With the current ammunition situation, dove hunting can quickly become a pricey adventure. The cure for this is to shoot better. I've got some tips for you for not only finding doves, but for getting fewer misses and more birds in the bag.
There is no question about it – opening day is the best day for hunting doves. Once you've blasted away at them at a certain spot, they are usually pretty scarce around there from then on – at least in my experience. The closer you are to a large city, the harder and farther you have to look for good dove hunting. When I was a kid, we hunted doves near McCormick Ranch in Scottsdale. Margie and her dad hunted doves off Cave Creek and Jomax Roads. Now the city has covered those areas and moved miles further. Seems like every year we have to find new areas, so scouting is essential.
Decent summer rains turned much of the desert green, resulting in good seed production, and most cattle tanks have plenty of water, so conditions are good for the birds. This does mean that the doves are likely to be more scattered instead of concentrated around man-made water and food sources, but the good thing about that is that the hunters can scatter, too.
Traditionally, I've scouted for doves by trying to find a water source that is off the beaten path and preferably not on the maps. Granted, this gets more difficult all the time, but it can be done. If you've watched the birds early in the morning, you know that they follow almost the same flight path day after day. Doves use washes, tree lines, canals, and even fences like highways, flying over them in the same pattern to and from the roost and feeding/watering areas.
Watching The Wet Spots
Margie and I begin scouting by finding a streambed, or dry wash. We park near where it crosses a Jeep trail and hike the wash, looking for places where the water comes to the surface. Sometimes these places are marked on maps as springs, but sometimes they aren't marked at all. We like to watch these wet spots early in the morning or late in the afternoon to see if doves fly in. If so, I save these kinds of things for after opening day. We also have a book from the Arizona Game and Fish that tells you where the water catchments are too.
By the way, the Game and Fish plans to haul close to 3 million gallons of water to these catchments this year, and if you'd like to help with the cost, text SENDWATER to 41444.
On opening day, you can pretty much position yourself at any water hole and have at least a few birds fly in over you. The best ones have plenty of trees around them to disguise your silhouette. The only problem with water holes is that nearly every one of them is marked on maps, and the ones by decent roads can be crowded on opening day. If you get to a hole and there are already hunters around it, be aware that putting yourself on the flight path ahead of a guy who was there first is bad manners.
Your Best Bet
Your best bet is to position yourself somewhere along one of these dove flight paths before dawn, facing the roosting area. You don't have to do anything elaborate, just wear clothing that will blend with the background and stand in front of some brush so you don't stick out like a sore thumb. All you have to do now is wait for them to start flying over, (you can start shooting half an hour before sunrise) and pray that you brought enough shells.
I've had decent luck just setting up along a wash that has good trees – it doesn't even have to be near a water hole because they'll fly along the wash for a long way to get to a water hole. If you look at topo maps, you can see dotted blue lines that show washes. Try to get on one that leads to a water hole at some point.
Youth Dove Hunt
There's a youth-only dove hunt on September 4th and 5th at Robbins Butte, and you can find the details at http://www.azgfd.gov/OutdoorSkills. Also, be sure to go to http://www.azgfd.gov and download the 2021-2022 Dove and Band-Tailed Pigeon regulations booklet. It will tell you sunrise and sunset times as well as all the regulations for hunting doves – the complete where, when, and how.
First of all, you need to be able to identify doves when they fly over. Mourning doves have V-shaped tails, while white-winged doves have rounded tails. When mourning doves take off, they make a squeaky or whistling sound with their wings.
The Churchill Method
Once you know how to identify doves, you'll want to be able to hit your target. The best way to learn to shoot a shotgun that I know of is the Churchill method. This involves first of all a properly fitting gun. Once you have that, the correct mounting technique is essential. After that, it's just letting your eye and your front hand take over – you follow the bird with the gun and shoot instinctively.
If you pay attention, you'll probably realize that most of the birds you actually hit have sort of snuck up on you, not giving you time to think about things like how far to lead, etc. Your eye and hand know what to do; you just have to let it happen. I learned a lot from a DVD by Gil and Vicki Ash called "You Gotta Be Out of Your Mind!". They have a book by the same title.
How You Can't Lose
Basically, if your shotgun fits and you mount it correctly you can't lose. How do you get a gun that fits? Try before you buy. Shotguns are not one size fits all. Learn the Churchill method of mounting the gun: get the correct stance (see the photo), and push the gun out away from your body, then draw it back in and plant the stock against your cheek so that your eye is directly over the rib, then draw it back further and nestle it into the pocket of your shoulder.
It shouldn't be sticking out over the top of your shoulder, and you shouldn't have to contort yourself to get your eye in the right position. You should be looking straight down the barrel, with pretty much no rib showing, just the front sight.
There are shotguns made to fit women, and Margie swears by her Syren. Women's shotguns have a higher comb (top of the stock) to fit their longer necks, narrower grips, and usually a little shorter reach from the grip to the trigger. For kids, you can't go wrong with a Mossberg youth 500, 505, or 510 mini. Get a gun with stock spacers to allow the gun to grow with your kid. These also work very well for smaller adults.
Practice At Home
Once you get a gun that fits you correctly, you can actually practice your mount at home. Get a small flashlight that will fit in the barrel of your gun, and wrap it with tape so it won't damage the barrel. Turn the flashlight on, and practice mounting the gun and following the line where the ceiling and wall meet. Practice until you can smoothly mount the shotgun with the light right where you want it to be. You shouldn't have to look at the gun to mount it – practice until you get muscle memory. Once you get this down, your shooting will improve immensely.
Steps To Mounting A Shotgun
• Shift your weight slightly to your forward foot. Do not lean back.
• Push the gun forward toward the target, watching the target ONLY.
• Bring the butt into your shoulder pocket and the comb against your face just under your cheek bone.
• Don't roll your head – you want your eye directly over the rib and seeing just the bead and target.
Dominant eye problem? Here's how to find out. Pick out a target like a light switch on the wall and point at it. Keep pointing at it with your dominant hand index finger while you close one eye at a time. If you are right-handed, close your left eye. Is your finger still pointing directly at the target? If so, you're good to go. If your finger is off when you close your left eye, then your left eye is dominant and that makes it a bit more difficult to shoot a shotgun.
In a perfect world, your dominant eye will be the one over the shotgun. If not, people suggest things like putting petroleum jelly on your left lens (or right, if you are left-handed with a dominant right eye), or using a piece of tape or something to blur the dominant eye so the other one will take over. You can also look online for a variety of front sights that will help.
As for shells, doves are easy to drop, so I use 1oz of #8 shot for a 12gauge or ¾ ounce #8 shot for a 20 or 28 gauge. Hunting doves is a great way to introduce kids to hunting, but don't handicap them by handing them a gun that won't fit. Practice the mount and follow thing at home with them, and take them to the clays range a few times so they get confident about knocking flying things out of the sky. You'll probably be surprised – kids haven't had time to develop bad habits, and they are usually really good shots with a shotgun. Above all, have fun.