Dove Hunting Ushers in Fall Hunting Seasons

Dove Hunting Ushers in Fall Hunting Seasons
Frank Jezioro, Director, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

West Virginia DNR
West Virginia DNR

West Virginia – -( Each September 1st signals the beginning of another fall hunting season in West Virginia.

For many years the first day of September has been the traditional opening of dove season across a wide swath of the United States. For such a small bird, dove hunting, or better phrased, dove shooting, is a major event.

The farther south you go the bigger event it becomes with cookouts featuring the day’s bag of mourning doves. Many southern plantations in the Carolinas, Old Virginia and Mississippi host extravagant barbecues after the day’s shooting.

Planning your hunt

The 2009 mourning dove hunting seasons in West Virginia run from Sept. 1 to Oct. 10, Oct. 26 to Nov. 11, and Dec. 21 to Jan. 2, 2010.

In West Virginia we have a couple of shooting preserves in the Eastern Panhandle and in Monroe County that conduct dove shoots with blinds and shooting butts set up for visiting hunters. In reality, we talk about dove shooting instead of dove hunting because there is normally very little hunting for the birds but more shooting once the field is located. For years it has been published by the arms and ammunition companies that on the opening day of dove season there will be more shotgun shells fired than there will be the rest of the entire season. The reason is that the birds are small and fast flying with a very erratic flight pattern. This creates a situation where it is estimated that for each bird in the game bag, five to eight shells were expended.

When planning your dove hunting outing, look first for places where grain has been recently harvested, especially wheat, milo, buckwheat sunflowers and corn. There is always some spillage in this type operation and the doves will find it and set up a feeding pattern. They will normally feed early in the morning and in late afternoon, but remember that on the first day of the season there is no shooting allowed until noon.

Doves also will search out water sources like small ponds, streams and lakes. If you can’t locate a harvested grain field you can often do just as well if you can locate a recently reseeded surface mine where a lot of wheat straw has been used in the reclamation and replanting. The birds will pick out the small pieces of grain from the straw.

In providing shooting areas for doves, the WVDNR also does some planting on selected Wildlife Management Areas.

  • · Green Bottom and McClintic WMAs on the Ohio River near Point Pleasant are traditional areas for dove shoots.
  • · Bluestone Lake, Hillcrest and Pruntytown WMAs also have fields planted specifically to provide quality dove shooting. When scouting out areas, look along the major streams and rivers of the state and look where there is some form of agriculture; specifically, small grain.
  • · The South Branch Valley around Romney, Moorefield and Petersburg are good locations to find birds, but sometimes getting permission to hunt is difficult, especially if the farmers are still harvesting. It is always best to secure permission to hunt on private property before opening day.

Choosing the right equipment

Doves are not hard to bring down – they are just hard to hit. Any shotgun is adequate for bagging the little winged rockets. While any gauge can be used, it is probably safe to say that the favorite gun for dove shooting will be a 20 gauge side-by-side or over\under. Improved cylinder and modified chokes work well as far as chokes go. If you choose to shoot your favorite pump or semi-auto shotgun, make sure the gun is “plugged” so that it can only hold three shells. Plugged guns are mandatory as dove shooting comes under the federal regulations governing migratory birds, although a migratory bird stamp is not required.

Now that you have your gun, you need to choose shells. 7½’s and 8’s in low brass target type loads are the odds-on favorites.

Dove hunting safety tips

Since there are normally other shooters surrounding a dove field, safety is a key consideration.

  • · Something in a lightweight camo shirt and vest works well. I suggest wearing some sort of safety shooting glasses as you are looking up and others are firing into the sky.
  • · Don’t shoot low flying birds and be aware of other shooters in the field.
  • · Take plenty of shells.

Finally, remember to take a small folding stool or chair and some cold water or soft drinks as the September sun can be hot. Dove hunting season promises some fast action and great eating – and the chance to make the most of the last days of summer.