Although Nevada’s big game hunting seasons are already underway in some areas, the opening day of the mourning dove hunt has long served as the traditional opener for the annual fall hunting season. For as long as I can remember, opening day of dove season has always been Sept. 1, and this year is no different. That means Monday is the day, and this year it just happens to fall on Labor Day.
Since the opener falls on the holiday you will probably encounter a few more hunters in the field than you have the past couple of years. Whether the doves follow suit remains to be seen. Though we do have a resident dove population, we also experience a significant influx of birds migrating through the area on their way from nesting grounds in the north to wintering areas along the southern United States and in Mexico. Movement of the birds from southern Canada and the northern states begins at the first hint of fall weather.
There had been a noticeable influx of birds in mid-August, but last week’s storm activity seems to have been enough to push many of the birds further south. Not to worry, however, because doves are a migratory bird and they don’t all show up at once. They will kind of trickle through the area in stages well into the season.
Dove hunting is a game of patience and stealth, one of the few western hunts that require hunters to simply stay put. Doves need three things, water, a roost and food. Each morning, and again each evening, doves will leave their roost to feed on seeds of all varieties and then make their way to water. The birds will use both natural and man-made features like tree lines, the edges of bluffs or rock formations and power lines as travel corridors. The key to success is finding the flight path along these corridors and then finding cover where you can wait for the birds to come to you. There is still time between now and Monday morning to do some scouting.
In most parts of the country, doves are associated with agricultural areas. Obviously, those are in short supply in Southern Nevada, but doves will concentrate in areas where sunflowers and mesquite trees can be found. Since doves tend to perch in open areas, look for them on power lines, in dead trees or brush and even fence lines.
When it comes to water, doves will use anything from small natural water pockets and puddles left by recent rains to stock tanks and drips from irrigation pipes. What they don’t like are waterholes with lots of vegetation around them. Look for water with bare ground and good sight windows.
Doves have very good eyesight, so be sure to wear drab clothing in earth tones. That leaves out colors like chartreuse or pink. However, if you are hunting where visibility is limited, something with blaze orange would be appropriate so other hunters can pick you out. If another hunter unwittingly moves into your safe zone of fire, don’t hesitate to let them know you are there.
Keep in mind that rattlesnakes will still be out and about well into the fall, and they like shady places as much as you do. Be sure to check your selected hiding spot well before taking up your shooting position.
At some point in their hunting career, every hunter will develop a fondness for a particular shotgun, one that is comfortable when it comes to their shoulder. One they always seem to shoot well. That is the gun you want to hunt with because it will ensure that you hit what you are shooting at and minimizes wounding loss. I shoot a 12-gauge simply because I always have, but through the years I have gained respect for the 20-gauge as well.
Since most of our dove hunting is done in open terrain, I prefer a modified choke, though I have met some hunters through the years who use an improved cylinder or even cylinder. The modified choke creates a shot pattern that holds together longer, giving me a little more distance than an improved cylinder provides, but that means the pattern also is smaller. That is the trade-off.
As for shot shells, I use over-the-counter game loads with number 7 or 7½ shot. These low-brass shells will do what you need them to do. Some guys will hunt with 8 shot, but most hunters need the extra umph that comes with the larger shot size. If you hunt on a wildlife refuge or a state management area you will need to use non-toxic shot. And since mourning doves are a migratory game bird, be sure your magazine is plugged so your shotgun will hold no more than three shells.
Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.