Whether you are looking to change things up after years of focusing on big game hunting or are just hoping to get some solid target practice in before heading out to pursue deer on opening day, dove hunting is a wonderful sport in and of itself.
It is its own entity though, so a serious dove hunter will need a to take a variety of equipment and strategy recommendations into account.
Established hunters will quickly realize that they already have some of the necessary equipment and that a few of these strategies are mirrored by other hunting forms. However, it is worth preparing for dove hunting as if you've never shot an animal in your life. After all, a hunter who tries to hunt doves with the same ritual as deer may not be terribly successful.
First of all, a dove hunter needs the right type of weapon and ammunition. Your choice deer hunting rifle will likely be too powerful for dove hunting, so search around for a shotgun that fires in small shot sizes. Keep in mind that doves are small targets, which of course means that you will need a firm grasp on accuracy to be successful, but which also means that an overly powerful shotgun blast will more or less obliterate the bird on impact, leaving little meat left to speak of. Go for a 12, 16, or 20 gauge with smaller pellet shot ammunition.
If you do have to expend a little money to get the ideal dove hunting weapon, however, you will probably save a few bucks in purchasing the rest of your gear. Camouflage and concealment are as important with doves as with any other type of game, but hunters who already have gear for staying hidden will be able to get by without buying a specialized dove hunting outfit.
Still, don't take concealment for granted with doves. Just because they are small and unthreatening doesn't mean that they won't bolt if they see a hunter or a rifle staring in their direction.
These birds have incredibly sharp eyes and - like deer - can be quite skittish, so build yourself a blind or a tree stand just off your chosen dove field if you are hoping to bag more than a few of the winged creatures.
Another similarity between deer and doves is that both can be hoodwinked with decoys. If you are setting up camp with a blind or in a tree stand, decoys may end up being the best way to assure that doves are flying within shooting range of your location.
By placing decoys - which can be either homemade or store bought, as long as they look realistic - on the ground, in trees, or on fences, you will be able to entice live doves to come investigate. When they do, take your shot. Just make sure that your dove decoys are facing into the wind: all doves take off with a helping wind at their back, and mimicking lifelike dove behaviors with your decoys will be instrumental in their success.
Do you have any further suggestions on preparing for a dove hunt? Be sure to share them in the comments, and good luck with your hunt!