Dove Bars At Dusk
Author: Scott Haugen
For a change of pace, come dove season, try hitting rivers rather than grain fields. You may be surprised at what you find.
As the sun dipped below the tops of the cottonwoods, tiny gray bombers emanated in the distance. Their speedy wingbeats carried them closer to me and soon, beneath fanned tails, they set their whistling wings to light at water's edge. A double kicked off the season opener, just as I'd anticipated all year.
Picking up my brace of mourning doves, I returned to the willows, straining to see the next flock of approaching birds. By dark, Dad and I had our limits and were heading down river.
For nearly 30 years I've pursued doves, and most of these hunts have come on gravel bars. Bars are a prime locations for doves to congregate at the end of a day, but there are key elements to look for in securing a good hunting location.
The Feed Factor
The first element I search for, in nailing down a good dove bar, is what's around it. Grain fields are a must, and the closer they are to the river, the better. I've had the best success with wheat, though millet and other primary grains can be just as good.
Prior to season's start, I'll locate fields in three different ways: by road, river and air. I'll often drive country roads, ones I know are within a mile or two of a river. I'll note what crops are planted and if any birds are working the area. If birds are showing, I'll knock on landowners' doors to request a closer look. Come nightfall, I'll mark the direction in which the birds depart. If heading to the river, it's only a matter of finding which gravel bar they are using.
A boat, drift or motor, allows me to scout from the rivers, pinpointing where doves are congregating. I prefer floating a river a few days before the season, noting any bars being used by doves. Often, grain fields remain hidden in my land search, and the best way to discover their general whereabouts is by being on the bars when birds arrive. I like scouting by boat as it quickly reveals gravel bars being used, and teaches me where important feeding fields are situated.
I'll often spot prime hunting locales by air, when flying in or out of local airports. Look for sweeping turns in the river, giving way to gravel bars. This is also an ideal way to spot food sources and roosting sites.
Why Gravel Bars?
Gravel bars are an important habitat for doves; they hold grit, water and a place to sleep. At the end of a day of feeding, doves need grit with which to grind their food in the gizzard. Large sand grains and tiny, weathered rocks found along gravel bars are ideal for this necessary function.
In addition, dove need water, and what better place to get it than from a river. Dove will often initially land at water's edge when coming in to a gravel bar. This is where sand and pebbles are washed ashore, and where the birds can easily drink from calm, clean water.
Another important factor in locating a model gravel bar is roost availability. I've had the best luck on bars bordered by towering cottonwoods. Birds usually come to drink, grit and fly up to sleep for the night. The closer these three sources, the better the chances for hunter success.
I've also observed doves roosting in tall willows, oaks and junipers. Whatever the species of trees in your area, look to see that they are being used by doves as this will swing the odds of success your way.
No matter how you hunt them, dove are speed demons. Even along gravel bars, where they set their wings and light, they are a challenge to hit. In fact, they may be more difficult to hit on gravel bars due to the dipping, turning and cutting they employ to rapidly decelerate. It's not like hunting them in a field, where a beeline flight path can be anticipated. Gravel bar doves will challenge even the most highly trained scattergunner.
For this reason, I prefer a wide open choke with a payload of 7 1/2s or 8s. By positioning two or three hunters along a gravel bar, you can cover most of the ideal landing sites.
Decoys can be an added bonus, often pulling doves within range of awaiting hunters. Feather Flex makes a great looking, lightweight decoy that appears lifelike when perched atop dead limbs situated at water's edge. I've had good success with these decoys and am a firm believer that they coax more birds to land within shooting range. Used singly, as a pair, or in a flock setting, decoys can give approaching birds the needed security to convince them to land.
Though I've hunted gravel bars at all times of the day, it's been my experience that the later in the day, the better the hunting. Early morning sees very few birds coming to water or seeking grit. Likewise, midday is when birds concentrate on feeding or passing time in the shade. The last hour or two of light is the time to be on a gravel bar, eagerly anticipating the birds' arrival.
Dusk can come upon you quickly, when action is hot and heavy, and you may not have your limit of downed birds located until dark. If accessing a gravel bar by boat, and you're not intimately familiar with the river, this may mean spending the night. Rather than probing the dark, rock laden shoals with the bow of your canoe, come prepared to camp. This is not a bad thing, as doves are exquisite when cooked over an open flame.
The time to start hunting gravel bars is now, before the season kicks off. Get out, scout, talk with farmers and observe where birds are moving. I like taking the fly rod, hopping in the boat and scouting the river at dusk. Not only does this lead to good fishing, it puts me near gravel bars where I can directly observe bird activity.
If you're looking for a change of pace, come dove season, try your luck on a gravel bar. You may be surprised at the fast action provided by these little sanctuaries.
Click here to view our selection of dove decoys
Scott Haugen was born and raised in the outdoor world. Before he was old enough to walk he was carried into Oregon's blacktail woods on the shoulders of his father. At age four, he caught his first limit of steelhead. Haugen's journeys have taken him to Africa, Australia, New Zealand and throughout Asia. He's traveled to over 20 countries and has chased wild game throughout North America.
Haugen's recently released book, Hunting the Alaskan High Arctic
, is available directly from the author. To order your copy contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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