All hunting incurs risk. Do not increase the risk for those around you. If you are not familiar with firearms, start with a safety course at your local gun range. Most ranges are very happy to give you a safety course or even instruction for free. Learn muzzle discipline and the basics of firearm safety (Here is a link to help get you started: Gun Safety).
If you are new to hunting and I am assuming you are, most states have a hunters safety course online. Most of that content will not apply to you for hunting doves, but it will ensure you are exposed to hunting safety (a little different from basic gun safety) and where to find the laws and regulations pertaining to the game you are hunting.
Comply with all local, state and federal game laws. Ensure you have the appropriate license to hunt your targeted game and understand your bag limits.
Here are some links for Texas Parks and Wildlife hunting:
- This link has zones, dates and pictures of the doves you should be looking for…and the ones that you shouldn’t shoot.
- Texas Migratory Game Bird Endorsement
- Type 168:
- Required to hunt any migratory game bird (waterfowl, coot, rail, gallinule, snipe, dove, sandhill crane and woodcock). A valid Federal Duck Stamp and HIP Certification are also required of waterfowl hunters 16 years of age or older. A free Federal Sandhill Crane Hunting Permit is required to hunt sandhill cranes. The permit is available:
- in person only at TPWD Law Enforcement offices,
- or by phone: (800) 792-1112.
- Yes, you want a HIP Certification too
- Harvest Information Program (HIP) Certification
- Type 137:
- This certification is required to hunt any migratory game bird.
You may need Texas Hunter Education —
Dove Hunting in Texas is a fairly social sport. My group meets up, hunts, cleans the game together, then usually goes to lunch or dinner after the hunt. Prices range from $100 to $200 plus for each outing.
The hunts are usually offered by a landowner or outfitter. Outfitters share the price with the landowner. The outfitter gets the word out, ensures the hunters know the rules and expectations, keeps track of hunter activity, evaluates migratory routes and land, coordinates with the landowners to inform them of the opportunity and sets up the hunts.
In Texas, you can search online for dove hunts or drive down any major highway in migratory areas looking for signs advertising dove hunting. Not all outfitters are equal. Most are heavily concerned with the opportunity you are presented to get your limit. If you’re happy, you’ll likely come back multiple times in a single season. If you don’t see anything (and this happens) a good outfitter will offer to move you either on the field you are hunting or from one field to another.
I have heard of people paying a lot of money and never seeing more than a couple of birds. They also never saw their outfitter after they paid him.
I was fortunate enough to have a friend introduce me to a good outfitter. We pay, get instructions where it is best to set up (because that’s where they saw the doves flying in the morning or yesterday – note there was reconnaissance done). The outfitter comes around at least once during our hunt, sometimes twice, to check on us. If we tell him we aren’t seeing anything, he goes and talks to all the other areas that are hunting and comes back to move us to where the birds are flying. I am guessing this is the best service possible.
Dove hunting is probably the easiest of the sports in dressing for the hunt. I have seen people wearing shorts and no shirt on the hottest days and head to toe camouflage on other days. It is easiest when you know in what terrain and the weather you will be hunting.
Most folks wear jeans or darker pants and a camouflage shirt with a dark or camouflage hat. If you don’t have a camouflage shirt or hat, then find a shirt and hat with colors that most closely match the surroundings where you plan to hunt.
For shoes, think in terms of a hike in the woods. Pretty much the same footwear will be adequate to start with.
If it’s your first time out, don’t get caught up in the fashion show. Try the hunt first. If you like it, then go get the stuff you think you need.
Birds can see you and will likely avoid you. Don’t make it easy for them. Various types of doves react differently to hunters when they spot them. White Wing doves will turn and change altitude while Mourning doves will become dang near acrobatic when they see you. The more you blend the better chance you will have to get a good shot.
If you have a few dollars to spend, Academy, Dicks Sporting Goods, Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops all have affordable options for shirts and hats. I specifically look for sales and those happen after each deer hunting season. Half off is always better on your wallet.
If you are in a high-risk snake area, take appropriate precautions with snake boots or snake guards. Ask whoever you are hunting with or dealing with and they will tell you the risk.
If you are going with friends, see if you can borrow equipment. Your most basic needs are:
- a shotgun
- shotgun ammunition
- hearing protection
- water to drink
- a game belt with pockets to hold your shotgun shells and a pack to hold the doves you have harvested (you can work around this with plastic bags)
- a couple of plastic bags
- a cooler with ice
- Other fun stuff:
- a hand-towel
- toilet paper
- insect repellent
- “lickies” and “chewies”
Shotguns come in all shapes and sizes. I used a Mossberg 500 tactical pump shotgun on my first hunt. Not optimum, but it was borrowed and free. I recommend that you try the sport before buying a shotgun. If you like it, then go looking.
You can find shotguns in single-shot, over-under, pump and semi-automatic configurations. Most of the guys I hunt with use over-under shotguns (two shots), which is the traditional configuration when hunting birds. It serves two purposes. It usually has a pretty consistent aim for both shots and it slows down the consumption of ammunition. After several hunts, I chose a 12 gauge semi-automatic shotgun with a plug to limit the number of rounds I can load.
I could spend thousands of words on barrel length and gauge of the shotgun, but we will keep in simple. Shorter barrels in general (24″) are for close range or walking through heavy brush. Some people love them, but if you plan to hunt anything at longer ranges (duck, goose, turkey), good luck. Medium length (26″) is still OK for carrying through brush and enables better tracking and aim at a distance. Longer barrels (28″+) are usually heavier and in many cases enable a smaller pattern at longer ranges. As the pellets in a shotgun shell spread out over distance, the likelihood of hitting the game goes down.
The most common gauge of the shotgun is 12 and 20. Generally the higher the number the smaller the opening of the barrel. There are multiple gauges beyond those, but I haven’t tried them (16, 28, etc.). There is also a .410 shotgun (pronounced “four-ten” shotgun), where the .410 represents the bore size. Some say the smaller gauges or bore size are for markedly better shooters.
Important note: The lower the gauge number, the higher the recoil. A 12 gauge shotgun is usually a heavier gun with higher recoil. A 20 gauge is great for smaller framed people or those who are averse to big recoil. Both are fine for dove hunting. There are some ballistic differences, but if you are just starting, those don’t matter yet.
Nobody really cares what gauge of shotgun you are using. A 12 gauge is not more manly, it really comes down to personal preference.
This section did not include what choke to use, but I will add it later.
Shotgun shells come in three lengths: 2 3/4″ regular, 3″ magnum, 3 1/2″ super magnum. The longer the shell the more powder there is and the greater the kick. Shells can contain birdshot, buckshot and slugs. Common bird shot ranges from very small pellets (#9 – .08″) up to larger pellets (#2 – .15″). Buckshot ranges from medium-sized pellets (#4 – .24″) to large pellets (#000 – .36″, called triple ought buckshot), the bigger the pellets the fewer the number in the shell. Slugs are just a single big projectile. There are pellet sizes beyond the one’s mentioned. As you grow your knowledge, you will be able to discern your needs with greater research.
Shells also come in different weights from about 1/2 ounce up to 2 ounces. I have been most successful with 20 and 12 gauge shells in the 1 ounce to 1 1/8 ounce range.
For dove hunting, most hunters use a regular sized shell with bird shot ranging between #6 and #9. The smaller the shot, the higher the number of pellets. I prefer #7.5 as a balance of the number of pellets and the size of the pellets enabling a clean harvest.
Two things about shotgun ammunition before we leave the topic. First, if you are borrowing someone’s shotgun and have the means, offer to pay for the ammunition you plan to use. If you offer to buy the ammunition, you need to know exactly what type of ammunition (preferred brand, gauge, the length of the shell and shot size). This can be an adventure all by itself. Second, dove hunters (excluding excellent shots) use a lot of ammunition. As you know or will eventually find out, ammunition isn’t cheap. Take more than you need. I always take at least a case of regular #7.5 and sometimes two cases. This ensures I have what I need and can help others if they run out.
What I use: 12 gauge, semi-automatic shotgun (with plug) firing 2 3/4″, 1 1/8 ounce, #7.5 shot. If you are going with friends, ask what they use. Dove sizes vary by the time of the season (early / late) and location. That means your shot size may vary from place to place and time of year.
“Huh? What’s that you say? No good. Can’t hear you!”
Having lost 60% of my hearing from tank blasts and machine gun fire, I can tell you that you don’t want to lose your hearing, it sucks. Imagine a life of saying to your significant other, “what did they say?” for conversations, TV shows and movies. No fun!
Find good hearing protection no matter what others tell you. Anything from spongy type ear plugs up through over the ear protection. Shotguns are usually not that loud when comparing guns, but over time they will take a toll. Go to any sporting goods store and find at least basic hearing protection and learn how to use it. It’s affordable and well worth it.
No matter where I go, I always have potable water. If I am in a vehicle, I always bring extra. If I take a big cooler, I’ll bring sports drinks too. Dehydration can sneak up on you. If the heat is on and you aren’t drinking water, you are risking heat stroke or sun stroke. In the military, we force hydrated about a quart an hour in extreme heat. I am not advocating that level of hydration. However, remember the rule of thumb – if you are thirsty, you are losing the battle. Stay ahead in the hydration battle.
At a minimum, I bring two 2 liter bottles of water for any outing. I often return with one bottle full for shorter trips. If I am going for a full day, I might bring a couple of gallons just in case.
For those beyond beginner, you may want to consider bringing water to clean your doves on the spot. I recommend a trip to Walmart to find a two or five-gallon water jug (<$35) with an adjustable spigot. This will allow you to have a constant flow of water while limiting the stream. My wife has a fuzzy animals thing, which prevents me from bringing anything with faces, fur or feathers into the house. I clean all my game away from my house and have to make a few adjustments for that.
A Game Belt
Do I need a game belt? No, not on your first day. See if you can borrow a game belt or vest. If you can’t borrow one, see the plastic bag solution below. Bottom line, don’t buy it unless you need it. When you believe you do, it’s only about ten bucks to pick one up at a sporting goods store that carries hunting supplies.
Why is it important? When hunting doves, you will go through shotgun shells like crazy. You only have so many pockets and those pockets are only so big. Having a couple pouches that can fit a box or more of shotgun shells (each) will be helpful and reduce the number of trips you have to make to get another box. It’s a time saver and worth a few bucks.
The game belts will also have one big pouch, usually located on the backside of the belt, enabling you to store your game. It provides a relatively cool shaded place for your game after it’s been harvested. Once I get about five or six birds, I take the game back to the truck. There is usually some shade and you could put the birds in the shade to cool down. If it is a hot day, I hope you will consider my advice below.
I bring a variety of plastic bags with me. A couple of big, lawn trash bags, one-gallon zip lock bags and a handful of plastic bags from the grocery store.
The plastic grocery bags can be used for just about anything. No game belt, no problem. You can substitute the pouches of the game belt with grocery bags tied to your belt. Yep, I know, a little bit ghetto, but it will work. You may get laughs from other hunters, but it works. I also use these plastic bags to store my doves. I drop them in a plastic bag and put the bag in my cooler. I just add to the bag as needed. This keeps all my doves in one place and the game cools down more quickly.
You can also use the grocery sack to hold expended shells which you should pick up during or after your hunt.
Beyond new hunters – The big trash bags and zip lock bags are for cleaning on site. I tie the trash bag to the truck, dump all my expended shells in the bag, then dump all my dove parts and feathers in the bag as I clean them.
I clean the dove breasts with running water and place them in a zip lock bag immediately after the hunt. Then, place the filled zip lock bag back in the cooler. This keeps your game fresh, clean and feather free. I take every effort to avoid spoilage and you can do this through keeping the temperature low.
A Cooler with Ice
Keep it simple. Buy a Styrofoam cooler from Walmart for less than 10 dollars. Throw in a bag of ice and you are set. The cooler will keep any drinks you brought cool, possibly snacks and most importantly will cool down your game quickly after harvest. Keep in mind you should use a plastic bag of some sort to protect the game from water and your food and drinks from the game.
There are a variety of creature comforts you can bring on a dove hunt. I bring a hand towel, toilet paper, bug spray, sunscreen and any snacks I want. The towel is multi-use. Mostly, it is to wipe off my hands. Picking up freshly harvested birds will likely get your hands bloody. The blood gets sticky and it’s just easier to wipe them off on a towel rather than your clothes. “Wifey don’t like that.” You can bring wipes if you want, but I prefer the hand towel. If you plan to wash your hands after cleaning your doves, don’t forget soap (bar or liquid, it doesn’t matter). Your hands will be a sticky mess after you cleaned your game. Hand sanitizer isn’t enough.
Don’t forget to prepare for “the call of nature.” My system doesn’t work on a clock. Even when I don’t feel like I have to, I still bring toilet paper just in case. If this may be an issue for you, you probably need to bring a small shovel to bury the waste. If you are hunting with friends, ask. Most experienced hunters I know bring a 5-gallon bucket and place a trash bag inside. You can collect the waste and paper more easily and dispose of it properly.
For whatever reason, I am a bug magnet. I’ve heard everything from CO2 emissions to body heat or body chemistry attracts bugs. Whatever the reason, trying to aim, track and shoot a dove while gnats, no-see-ums or flies attack your eyes or fly up your nose is not my idea of fun. I bring bug spray and apply it when I arrive at the hunting site. Early on, I applied insect repellent at my house and jumped in my buddy’s truck. It took a couple iterations of this before I realized he didn’t want that smell in his truck. Live and learn.
Anytime you are in nature, temperature, wildlife and the sun are your greatest risks. If you dressed appropriately for the climate and hydrate, you are generally covered for temperature. You probably are wearing long pants or bug spray if you remembered. That covers the wildlife most likely to attack you. Remember sunscreen. I am a skin cancer survivor and I still occasionally forget sunscreen. Save yourself some suffering and long-term risk by using a sun blocker/ sunscreen of some type to minimize your sun exposure.
A folding chair or hunting chair comes in really handy when you’re out for a long time or the doves just don’t seem to be flying. If you are wearing a game belt, just be careful not to sit on your doves in the backside pouch. Not too pleasant.
Lastly, you will be in the elements for a couple of hours or all day depending on your choice. Bring “lickies” and “chewies” – whatever snacks, food or if appropriate, tobacco products you will need. No need to worry about smells. The birds won’t care.
Getting Ready – Target Acquisition
This section applies if you have a shotgun or have an opportunity to get out and shoot the shotgun you will use prior to the day of the hunt. If not, ask your friends to guide you on your first hunt. I advise against an inexperienced hunter and novice to guns going out alone on your first hunt.
First, you have a new instrument. Get to know how it functions, how to clear your weapon, how the safety works, what feels good in shouldering your weapon and what doesn’t. Get used to your shotgun. After you have cleared and recheck the shotgun to ensure it is not loaded, conduct dry fire drills at the range, aiming at the target over and over again. Move the safety switch to on and practice moving it to fire while aiming. It should feel natural. After firing, move the safety switch back to safe. Make that a habit.
Second, if you have a chance, go to the range with an experienced shooter or get lessons from a professional, do it. I have friends that have been shooting for years and are amazed how much they can still improve their skills with a lesson or two. Indeed, some of them return to sport shooting clubs every couple of years to eliminate bad habits that have come back over time.
This is a little more intermediate level. If you are working with a professional at a sport shooting club, they may help you pattern your shotgun. Basically, you properly aim your shotgun at a big target (36″) at a specific range and shoot. The pattern helps determine where your pellets are hitting and what percentage are in the kill area. Every shotgun has a specified pattern based on a number of factors to include: choke, barrel length, the intent of the manufacturer, ammunition, distance to the target…etc. You should know how your shotgun works and patterns with different chokes. This will help you pick the appropriate choke, possibly make adjustments to the shotgun and ensure your aim is where it should be.
Third, if you have access to a sport shooting club where they shoot Skeet or Trap, try it out. The targets are round orange discs made of a frangible material. Shooters call them “clays,” which is short for “clay targets” or “clay pigeons.”
Trap targets are usually launched from a central location on the range and the targets rise up and away from the shooter. Many say that this is similar to quail and pheasant hunting. I have encountered a few coveys of quail while hunting and I can attest that quail do fly up and way.
Skeet is launched from two locations (left / right). The clays fly in an arc from left to right or the opposite direction. This practice is similar to hunting migratory birds. In both cases, trap and skeet, these are good for practicing aim and tracking. I have shot doves flying toward me, away from me and in a crossing pattern.
Any guided practice is better than none. From this practice, you should learn the best point of aim and how to lead your target appropriately. It will likely help your hunting experience be a successful one and provide added confidence that will allow you to enjoy the experience.
In my opinion and probably the most basic video I have ever watched with the most value was Gil Ash of the OSP Shooting School as he explains how to slow your target down. Without discussing lead, he basically tells you how to track and lead your target. You can see that video here:
The Day of the Hunt
I dove hunt with a group of 3 to 6 guys depending on the time of the season. People forget things; it happens. Your objective for the day is to be as little of a burden as possible. If you succeed, you just may be asked back. A big part of that is remembering to bring everything you need. You can use the list above (add to it if you need to) as a checklist. Double check to ensure you have everything you need before you leave for your hunt. If you don’t have what you need, you will either be uncomfortable all day or have to borrow something from another hunter. Most guys I have met hunting are great guys and will help any way they can, especially if they know you are a new hunter. Keep forgetting and you may find that kindness diminish.
When you go to the location of the hunt, there is usually a guide, the outfitter or just a guy taking money at the site. Ask them where they last saw the birds flying, what direction and at what time of day. Doves have a morning cycle and a late afternoon cycle. That cycle varies by season and weather. Doves fly to a food source (corn, millet, cotton seed, sunflowers… etc.) then fly to water. I listen and position myself where the best opportunity seems to be. I even pull up Google Maps to look for any water sources nearby. That can tip me off to where the birds might fly next. Opportunity increases when you can position yourself in the flight path.
If the outfitter or whoever you are working with says the birds start flying at 3 pm, I try to arrive earlier to get set up. This gives me a good chance of getting a prime spot and enables some socializing with other hunters as they arrive.
When you set up, look at the terrain. Doves in my area are worried about hawks and will fly low over a tree line. I try to find a bush to stand beside or a shade tree to stand under. Although I have stood in an open field many times, I try to avoid it. If you are closer to a natural object, it’s harder for the doves to pick you out.
Key tip: ask the guys who know on location. They will help you get to the right spot.
Intermediate Hunters: If you know the spot, you probably know where the doves are flying. If you don’t know and are so inclined, ask the outfitter or landowner if you can go out and scout for doves to see if they are flying at the place you plan to hunt. You have to coordinate this with the land owner or the outfitter. Don’t trespass on anyone’s land. This would be a non-hunting trip and you can check morning and afternoon. The guy you are dealing with probably is working with many properties and would appreciate the feedback. Best case, you helped the guy you’re dealing with and get to set up in the spot you saw the last flight of doves. Worst case, you waste a day, find nothing and don’t go back to that field to hunt.
Lastly, when you are out there, enjoy the day. Enjoy the camaraderie, the outdoors, the wildlife you will see. Enjoy the experience. Our experiences are largely controlled by our preparation, willingness to follow instructions and attitude. If you do a little preparation are open to the suggestions of those around you and approach dove hunting with an open heart, you will most likely have a great time.
Courtesy and Good Stewardship
If this is your first hunt or anytime you are out hunting with others, I recommend you do your best to be friendly, open and a good steward of the environment. A couple of basic thoughts on this:
- Remember the golden rule, “Treat others like you want to be treated”
- Pay your own way unless someone offers otherwise
- Don’t make assumptions; if you have a question, ask it.
- Do your best to learn
- Lastly, clean up after yourself
I always ask, “Hey, I don’t want to offend anyone. Is there anything I should avoid saying or doing? Or, are there specific safety measures you follow?”
Turns out there were specific safety measures on my first hunt. My buddy wanted me to ensure my shotgun was on safe and clear every time I came back to the truck to get more shotgun shells or download my game. I hadn’t thought of that. Asking helped avoid any issues.
I noted plastic bags and trash bags in a previous section above. Use them. Ensure you don’t leave any trash lying around (pack in, pack out – everything you take in with you, you should take out with you).
Pick up your expended casings when you are done for the day and throw them in the trash. I move around a lot while hunting. That means I have to constantly pick up shells before I do. Yep, I have missed my share of doves while leaning over, picking up expended casings. No worries, there were plenty more after those I missed.
Why pick up the casings? The places I have hunted are always farms or ranches. Cows graze those pastures and they will eat damn near anything, including the expended casings. Not good for the cows, nor the farmer paying the vet bills… nor the hunters who lose a place to hunt. I don’t know if it just takes one casing or several. Just pick up what you see. I always see and inevitably pick up expended casings of other previous hunters.
When cleaning the game, be aware that different places have different preferences. Some places don’t care about the offal and feathers. Others ask you not to clean the game on site. While others are O.K. with cleaning the game on size as long as the majority of the remains are thrown in the trash and taken out of the area.
Cleaning, Game Storage and Prep
The best way to show you have to clean doves properly is by video. There are two ways that I have seen. One is called “breasting the dove” and the other is cleaning it much like a chicken, though it is much easier. Since I am not set up to record myself yet, I have grabbed to links from Youtube that show how to properly clean the game.
Breasting, no tools (by Wolverine Outdoors):
- Instead of struggling against the shoulder joints, try poultry shears or scissors.
Full Dove (How to fully pluck a dove by Holly Heyser):
After you have cleaned the dove, I throw the good parts in a zip lock bag and store it in the cooler until I get home. Once I am home, I use the sink to rinse the good parts off and ensure they are free of any remaining blood or feathers.
I have heard any number of things on what to do with the birds until you cook them. I have heard soaking them in milk takes out the gaminess. Never tried that, but I have been making a salt water solution and soaking them for about 24 to 48 hours. I use a container big enough to nearly lay 15 breasts flat. I mix cold water with about a tablespoon of sea salt. Then agitate the water until the salt crystals are gone. I place the breasts in the water and ensure they are covered with the salt water. I store the entire container in the refrigerator until I am ready to use them. Don’t go more than 48 hours as the meat will tend to turn on you.
I have also taken fresh breasted doves, vacuum sealed them and stored them in the freezer as well.
Novice to cooking doves. The simplest dish with a decent taste is filleting the breast muscles, dropping them in a frying pan with butter and adding a little salt to taste. DO NOT overcook the doves. It will get tough quickly and taste like liver. You get the best out of it when it is brown on the outside, but still pink in the middle. It takes some practice not to overcook the doves, but when you get it, you will know the difference.
The next step up is poppers. You will need dove breasts filleted, a fresh jalapeño pepper or two, thin cut bacon, toothpicks and cream cheese. I’m not a cook, but here is what I have tried.
Fillet the breast (simply cutting the breast muscle away from the breast-plate). I slice up a fresh jalapeño pepper in very thin slices. Take a pack of thin cut bacon and slice the pack in half. If each long slice was 10″, now you will have two 5″ slices. I place one thin slice of jalapeño on a fillet and wrap it in a half slice of bacon. I run a toothpick through the pepper slice, the fillet and ensure it grabs both sides of the bacon on the outside of the fillet. I have tried grilling these several time and was successful only once. Using a frying pan enabled me to control the temperature more effectively. I crisped the bacon and try to avoid overcooking the dove fillet. You will have to gauge the doneness of the fillet by how firm it has become. Remember, it should be pink inside when you bite into it. Once you have finished cooking all the bacon wrapped fillets, take a small sliver (approximately 1/4″ wide and about an inch long and place it on the popper. If it is still warm, the cream cheese will soften and spread on the popper. They are ready to eat, enjoy.
I came across a video from Texas Parks and Wildlife that showed breasting with scissors and butterflying the breast so that the two sides stay together. You can then put the cheese and jalapeno inside and my guess is that this would be better.
Want more out of your game beyond poppers and the frying pan? Hank Shaw is a freakin’ genius when it comes to preparing and cooking game. He’d probably cry seeing my recommendations above. If you thought cooked game of any kind wasn’t for you, you haven’t seen his website (Hank Shaw’s Website) nor read his books, nor tried any of his recipes. I am currently reading “Buck Buck Moose,” and I cannot put the book down. If you are looking for special dove recipes, here is the link: Dove and Pigeon Recipes
A little more work, but well worth it.