Weekly Outdoor Column by Don Dziedzina for Augu
This fall’s dove hunting season is a couple of weeks away.
It is estimated that there are 475 million dove in North America and about 40 to 70 millions are harvested by hunters each year. Illinois harvests average about 19 million. The numbers are staggering for sure.
Here in Illinois, hunters experience some great afternoons in the fields early on but it does slow down later in the season as the birds migrate out of the area.
Dove can be a bit difficult to shoot. They can fly at speeds up to 55 miles per hour. The least little movement on your part will cause these birds to dart off in another direction. Although you may have a bead on them, by the time you squeeze off a shot, they’re a yard or two away from where the shotgun is pointing.
Because these birds are so skittish, it’s very important to wear camo clothing. Concealment will keep the birds flying in your direction. And besides doing all you can to blend into the surroundings, it’s best to have your shotgun at the ready position before the birds get too close. Putting the shotgun to your shoulder when the bird is near is almost a guarantee that it will turn off before you get the shot. But if you’re aiming at the dove as it flies toward you, the slight movement to keep the bird in your sights is often unnoticed.
Typically, in dove hunting you will set yourself up somewhere where birds will be flying over in shooting range. Sitting along a treeline, in a sunflower field, or by some big bushes is usually good as long as you can see long distances. Having a piece of property where there are sunflowers is excellent and having a small pond there too just puts your hunting spot right over the top.
Even though dove hunting is open from sunrise to sunset, most hunting is done in the afternoon until sundown. This is when dove migrate to roosting trees that are near sunflower fields, small ponds, and places where they can pick on some small pieces of gravel to help their digestive system.
One of my best dove hunts ever was last September in southern Illinois. It was one of those trips where birds came from all directions. When it was all over, every shot was relived in a conversation while the birds were cleaned and prepared for the grill. The day in the field came to an end as we watched the sun go down and enjoyed a great meal of grilled dove breasts.
Mourning doves make great table fare as the breast meat of these little birds is really good. I like to marinade the breasts in a Teriyaki sauce or Tone’s Canadian steak seasoning. Each breast is wrapped in a piece of half cooked bacon. On the grill, in the broiler, or in a frying pan, the appetizer-like bundles are cooked quickly to about medium doneness. One mistake that can turn anyone off of game food is over cooking. Don’t do it.
The dove season starts on September 1.
The bag limit on dove is 15. That doesn’t seem like very many, but when the average hunter takes about 9 shots per bird, it’s a lot of shells being burned to get these tasty little grey ghosts of summer.