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Dove Hunting 101

For many hunters, the hunting season hasn't begun until a few doves have been bagged.

Indeed, dove hunting is the perfect way to kick off a hunting season, whether you are a beginner who wants to learn the ropes of shooting or a seasoned veteran who just needs to do a few quick rounds of airborne target practice to get ready for bigger game. Regardless of your situation, there are a number of tips that every dove hunter should follow, and it all starts with making sure that you select the correct gun for the job.

Most dove hunters consider fast, auto-loading shotguns as the prime dove-hunting weapon. While more traditional shoot-and-reload weapons are often preferred for other hunting activities, doves can be as fast as lightning, and if you miss with your first shot, you need to be ready to follow it up with another bullet or two. Gauges aren't of paramount importance - 12, 16, or 20-gauge shotguns will all get the job done with equal grace - but for all but the most seasoned sharpshooters, an auto-load reload function will be absolutely essential.

In the same gun-related vein, choosing the right shot size will be key to your success as a dove hunter. Doves are small targets, and you don't want to completely obliterate them on impact because you fired the biggest bullet your shotgun allowed for. A smaller pellet shot will allow you to take your target out of the air without spoiling all of the meat on its bones.

Another key to successful dove hunting is making sure the bird doesn't see you before you get your shot off. Doves are smart, with great eyes that can spot a threat from a field away. Don't think you will be able to bag half a dozen doves in your street clothes. Deck yourself out in camouflage clothing and paint, or build a blind that blends into the scenery. Proper concealment - and good aim - are arguably the most important qualities in a successful dove hunter, so don't blow your shot by standing out in the open.

Speaking of good aim, most dove hunters like to wait for their target to come within 25 to 35 feet before taking a shot. Considering the skittish nature of most doves, this tip is easier said than done. Good camouflage or not, you will want to remain as still as possible until the dove is in range. Once the dove enters the 25-to-35-foot sweet spot, you will need to aim and fire your gun quickly. Dove hunting is not a sport for the hesitant: as soon as you move your rifle, you will have a limited time to fire a shot before your prey flies off, so make sure to practice quick aiming.

If you need some help getting doves into your shooting radius, try using decoys. Most sporting goods stores carry mock dove assemblies that you can position on fences, in trees, or on open ground. You can also attract doves by establishing a feeding area in an open area - a dove's preferred feeding spot - near where you are hunting. Most doves will spend the majority of the afternoon hours at their feeding areas and are especially fond of seeds, so lay down a layer of sunflower seeds or a similar grain and watch as the doves approach, unaware that you are preparing for a perfect bull's eye shot.

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Dove Hunting 101