To some a dove is a diabolical way to humble the wingshooter. All that is required are the 3 P’s: Patience, Persistence and Plenty of ammo. Here is everything else you need to know to plan a good dove hunt on Illinois public land.
Doves are one of the most widely distributed and abundant bird species in North America. Yearly harvests fluctuate due to liberal bag limits, habitat conditions and the vagaries of the fall migration.
Illinois is over 350 miles long from the Wisconsin border to the Ohio River. As a result the weather conditions can be significantly different from one public hunting area to another. Doves are very susceptible to weather, especially temperatures. Extended low temperatures will cause the birds to move south their wintering grounds.
The best shooting is during the first few weeks of the season. The first cold front usually sends the birds on their way followed by migrating birds from up north. Shooting often continues through the end of the second season.
Illinois has two dove seasons. The exact dates and length of each vary from year to year. However, they usually begin in early September and early November and extend for a few weeks.
Hunters in certain areas are required to get a free dove hunting permit for the first 5 days of the season.
Often holders of the permits will not appear on the days designated and a drawing is held before the hunt for unclaimed locations. Information about these drawings and license requirements is available the site superintendent at the location of the hunt. The phone numbers and addresses of all the public sites are contained in the Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations available free from IDNR offices and license vendor sites.
With backswept wings and long pointed tails, these little gray rockets have a cruising speed of 30 to 40 mph. They can reach 60 mph hour in short bursts. Their ability to bob and weave at the same time makes them a challenging target.
A little pre-season practice on the skeet, trap or sporting clays course will go a long way toward improving ones shooting skills. An inexpensive mechanical trap or hand held thrower and an open field can help. Try tossing clay birds to present targets coming toward the gun, crossing and doing things that the little gray rockets are likely to do.
Steve Schultz, a national shooting instructor, maintains that good dove hunters work on their shooting style. Things such as looking only at the head of the bird when aiming and employing the correct mounting of a shotgun are important.
One “trick of the trade” employed by Schultz is to back away from a mirror with an empty shotgun so as to make sure you will not hit the mirror with the gun. With weight evenly on both feet, slowly bring the gun up to your cheek and then into your shoulder. Check the mirror to see where your eye appears. If done correctly, you will be looking right down the barrel. Your eye should appear to be floating just above it.
Dove hunters are encouraged to use steel or other non-toxic shot in order to spare doves and other wildlife from potential lead poisoning. Number 6 or 7 steel shot works well with shotgun chokes one size more open than used for lead. Improved cylinder is a good idea. If using lead shot, number 9 shot is the most popular. Seven and one half or 8 can also be effective.
Usually individual shooting locations are determined by a drawing for stake locations. The hunter is required to remain within a short distance of his stake for safety. On days when the hunting pressure is less or when no stake requirement is in force, a hunter is wise to choose a location that places him within 40 yards of the dove flight path. Wind direction and structure on the ground influences flight paths.
It is wise to choose a location where you will not be shooting into the sun. Nothing spoils a shot like swinging into the sun just before you pull the trigger.
Once you select a location find concealment. Locations on the edge of grain fields or beneath a large tree with bare limbs are ideal. Doves like to land in such trees to survey the field. Once convinced there is no danger they drop down into the field to feed, or quench their thirst.
Make your location as comfortable as possible. Fidgeting only attracts attention. Early September in much of Illinois is hot weather time requiring plenty of water and sunscreen lotion.