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Streamlined doves can test the best of hunters

By Staff | Jan 24, 2014

They may appear to be pocket rockets as they fly by the eager hunter awaiting their arrival from behind his brush pile of cover.

The smallish mourning doves can move as fast as 60 miles per hour when startled or made wary by possible danger.

It’s no wonder the little projectiles are given nicknames like “gray ghosts” and “here in a second and gone in a second”.

Dove hunting can reward the well-prepared sportsman with some exceptional eating, too, if he has done his homework and comes to the bare ground of a recently disced field knowing the wiles and ways of his quarry.

Doves are faster and much more streamlined than pheasants, quail, grouse or woodcock. They present a smaller target and can dip and dive in flight like no bulkier pheasant even dreamed of doing when taking to the air.

You’ve heard them in the first light of dawn, making their mournful call, and then whistling away to join others of their kind at some newly discovered feeding ground on the back 40 of a dairy farm.

The successful dove hunter will have done more work before the actual hunt than he will if the birds come his way as he squats in his camouflage clothing behind a pile of brush alongside a cleared field.

One of the reasons hunters remain enthusiastic about doves is because it’s the first season to come to the fall calendar. There’s no ice-choked water. No winter wind churning away at a hunter’s resolve. No long waits in an early December tree stand for a buck that might be off finding acorns under another person’s stand.

The little jet-propelled fliers can be hunted in the early fall; hunted on fairly level ground that a few months before was covered with ripening corn stalks or swaying waves of grain.

Finding places where doves prefer to forage isn’t all that difficult.

Hunters know that the gray fliers want four things — a food source, water, grit and the cover of a safe roosting place.

And they want bare ground or an open area that has been disced or left with shredded stalks or discarded ears of corn.

Doves love weed seeds, practically any kind of weed seeds. They will settle for open woodlots or the edges of larger forests. The more weeds with their fall bounty of seeds the better for the voracious feeders.

When searching for a day’s rations, doves often come to a feeding area in large numbers. If water is nearby or small gravel can be found on a farmer’s lane, the more favorable an area is to the doves.

They’ll leave their roost on the bare limbs of trees in the early morning and sometimes meet the first rays of the rising sun already in full attack on millet, left-over barley, dropped wheat or sunflower seeds.

After a breakfast of seeds and a visit to a source of standing water, the doves rest in the midday. Much later in the afternoon they return to foraging as a full-time, late-day occupation. And they want to fly a short distance to a night’s roost.

A dove’s enemies are many. Meat eaters from house cats to foxes to hawks to ground-hugging weasels would make a meal from a surprised dove.

With such a list of would-be predators waiting, it’s a dove’s instinct to be wary and easily spooked.

After the prepared human hunter has made ready with a field with bare ground, discarded grain or seed, nearby standing water and a lane with gravel the dove can use for grit, he can further ready himself by dressing in camouflage clothing and hiding behind piles of brush or thickets near the tree line.

With such a large variety of grains and weed seeds on the dove’s preferred menu, it is bare ground with its shredded stalks or purposely spilled grain that becomes the most important item of a successful hunt.

Any human success on the hunt will come from good scouting and preparation.

Should the shotgun-bearing hunters bring down the fast-flying doves, they were probably prepared well enough to bring out a recipe that calls for a strip of bacon to be wrapped around a dove breast that will be basted with a sauce made of their own ingredients and then baked for 25-30 minutes at a medium oven temperature. It won’t be overcooked. The same as the hunters weren’t underprepared for their early fall day of outdoors enjoyment.