Dove hunting is a relatively new Minnesota tradition. Mourning dove hunting was reinstated in Minnesota in 2004 after being closed for more than 50 years.
The most abundant game bird in the United States, doves provide fast-paced hunting action and tasty petite-sized breast meat for the table.
Dove hunting is a good way to introduce youth and adults to hunting as the season begins when temperatures are warm and very little gear is required.
- When to hunt
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- Where to hunt
Though you can hunt doves on many types of public land, including state Wildlife Management Areas, most dove hunting occurs on private agricultural land where certain types of grain fields exist.
You must have permission from landowners to hunt private land. So make sure you ask for permission and understand Minnesota's trespass law.
To find the locations of private land open to public hunting visit the Walk-In Access finder. This program allows you to hunt certain private lands for a small fee.
- How to hunt
Like many other types of hunting, successful dove hunting involves scouting, finding the right habitat and putting your decoys and wits to work. The best hunting tends to be early in the morning when birds are leaving the roost and toward evening, when birds feed one last time before returning to the roost.
What follows is general advice for hunting doves.
Practice shooting: One of the keys to successful dove hunting is the ability to shoot quickly and accurately, even from a sitting position. Mourning doves are very acrobatic. They make sharp and unpredictable turns and are forever swooping this way and that in the wink of an eye. So, prior to the hunting season you’ll want to practice shouldering your shotgun and hitting flying clay targets at a trap range, sporting clays range or on private property with your own clay target thrower. When hunting is hot no one shoots more shells than the dove hunter because misses are so common.
Scout: Experienced dove hunters scout before they hunt. This means traveling the country-side to find the habitat doves prefer. Habitats to look for include recently harvested small grain fields, watering holes, roost trees and graveling spots. Graveling spots - a quarry or area of gravel roads, for example - are where doves go to consume small pebbles that aid in food digestion. Doves typically feed on weed seeds and the seeds of grain-producing crops. So, consider hunting in or around sunflower, millet and wheat fields.
Select a good spot: After you’ve scouted, you’ll want to set up in a good location. Typically, this is a tree line that separates one field from another or some other site that provides concealment and cover. If possible, set up in a travel lane. Travel lanes are where birds typically enter or exit a field. Sometimes these lanes are apparent because before flying in or out of a field the birds will perch on adjacent power lines, roost tree branches or other high places. Many hunters bring a camouflaged five-gallon pail or chair to sit on while waiting for the action to begin.
Set decoys: Like waterfowl, doves can be drawn to decoys. Good places to set decoys include the top strand of a nearby barbed-wire fence or as high as you can reach on the branch of a nearby dead tree. Place them about a foot apart. Another option is to create a decoy site where you want one. This can be done by sticking a large branch into the ground – say, for example, near a watering hole – and placing decoys on the smaller bare branches. As birds typically take off and land into the wind, try to place your decoys facing the wind.
Be patient yet ready: Like many types of hunting dove hunting can entail long stretches of nothing followed by quick bursts of action. So be patient yet ready. This means making sure the ground beneath your feet is level so that when you quickly rise to shoot you’ll have good footing. It means making sure you are camouflaged sufficiently so doves don’t detect you or your gun. It means imagining how you will swing your gun and pull the trigger. Dove hunting often involves “going away” shots, meaning the dove appears from behind you. In these instances you have to aim a few inches below the bird to be on target.
Mark your fallen birds: Doves are small. Finding a fallen bird can be a challenge. So, once you’ve dropped a dove pay particular attention to where it has fallen.
Dove hunting doesn't require a lot of specialized or expensive equipment. Basic equipment needs include:
- Shotgun and shells: Any shotgun style or gauge will work for doves though most hunters prefer semi-automatics because three shots can be fired so quickly. Shells that contain 7½ or 8 shot are good for doves. Some hunters use shells with 6 shot for more knock-down power at longer ranges. Typically, hunters want a wide pattern so they use an improved-cylinder or skeet choke tube.
- Camouflage clothing: You will want to wear camouflage clothing that matches the cover you are hunting in. Some hunters use camouflage face paint or a camouflage face mask to further conceal themselves.
- Comforts and equipment: Other handy things to have include a chair or stool, bug spray, tick spray, knife, compass, eye protection, ear protection, water for cleaning your birds and a cooler.
Some refreshments are always a nice touch, too.
- What's important to know
- State or federal migratory waterfowl stamps are not required to hunt mourning doves.
- Residents and non-residents who hunt mourning doves must become HIP-certified when purchase a small game or sports license. It is free and takes a very short time.
- Shotguns used to hunt mourning doves must not be capable of holding more than three shells. A plug may be used.
- Doves may be transported fully dressed.
- Non-toxic shot is not required.
- Be able to accurately identify a mourning dove so you don’t unintentionally shoot somewhat similar looking birds such as the American kestrel, killdeer or meadowlark.
- Basic biology
- The mourning dove probably gets its name from its haunting "hoo, hoo, hoo" call. Found through all but far northeastern Minnesota on farms, roadsides, woodlands, and small towns, it is often seen on overhead wires.
- Mourning doves are blue-gray birds about the size of a robin. They have small heads, large breasts, and a pointed tail.
- Adult mourning doves are about 12 inches long.
- Mourning doves are bluish gray with a lighter, brownish breast, and a black spot near the eye. Males have iridescent feathers on their neck. When they fly you might notice that the tail has a white tip.
- Mourning doves pair in the spring. After the male chooses a nesting site, the pair spends three to four days building a nest from twigs and sometimes grass. It might be on the ground or up to 20 feet up in a tree. The female lays two white eggs, which both parents incubate. After the eggs hatch about two weeks later, both parents care for the young until they leave the nest at 11 to 15 days of age. A pair may raise two families in a single summer. Mourning doves mate for life but if a mate is killed they will find a new mate.
- Mourning doves eat seeds, fruit, and insects. They also eat grain from farmers' fields.
- Mourning doves are prey for raccoons, cats, falcons and other birds of prey. Snakes sometimes eat eggs and nestlings.
- Mourning doves are common along country roads, and are also found in towns and open forests. In winter mourning doves migrate south; however, some can be seen year round in southern Minnesota.
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