This is the time of year where I engage in a bit of distracted driving, at least when I'm cruising down gravel roads in areas where there's some public land nearby or I've got permission to hunt private ground. While I fully admit my eyes should be on the road at all times, there is the tendency to gaze skyward. What I'm looking for, of course, are doves.
Nothing looks quite like a dove, or a pair of doves, on a powerline or perched in a dead tree. Okay, a few songbirds do a passable impression, but for the most part, there is no mistaking the sleek design of a mourning dove.
And the cool part is, where you see a few birds now is where you'll see more later. This is why it's wise to start scouting out a few spots in August, so that when the opening bell sounds in September, you and your dog will be ready.
Here are the best places to look.
In some southern states, quality dove food might mean several huge fields on the same property. In other locations, we might be talking about a patch of sunflowers or maybe a field of milo. Where I live in Minnesota, good dove groceries might simply mean a two-track in a cornfield that is lined with foxtail.
No matter where you live, there will be food sources that draw birds all day long, although they usually provide stellar morning hunts. Take a look (or a walk) through your hunting grounds and make note of potential food sources. If you've got a pair of doves hanging around a patch of foxtail now, you might have found yourself a great spot to set up the spinning-decoy in September.
If you're dealing with bigger food sources, spend an evening or two watching. Doves will fly the same routes over and over, and they'll perch in the same trees. Find the spot-on-a-spot and focus on it, because when it's time to hunt that's where you want to be.
To grind hard seeds into digestible bits of nourishment, doves need the help of gravel and sand in their crop. They'll walk along a gravel road or swing through a gravel pit in the right spot, often. If you can hone in on when and exactly where they visit, you win.
The best bet is to identify the food source first, and then do a little sleuthing to figure out where doves are finding the right rocks and sand to aid in their digestive process. Usually, this won't be terribly far away from the food source, and can be a great spot to set up in once the birds get wise to your buffet blinds.
Some of the most memorable wingshooting I've ever experienced in my life has involved mourning doves, a pond, and more often than not, one lone dead tree. I found this magical combination on public land in North Dakota several years ago and it was unreal.
One of the main reasons I like to hunt waterholes with my Lab is because water is often a major draw in the back half of the day. This means that if I've got to work in the morning, I can still get in a quality sit if I get into the brush along a watering hole. Occasionally, the right water source will be a serious draw in the evening, as doves stop off to slake their thirst on the way to roost.
If you spend enough time scouting, you'll see which spots are conducive to serious dove activity and which ones aren't. Those that are, should be saved for the right mid-day or afternoon hunt when the fields aren't as hot and the gravel isn't drawing as many birds as it should.
The Best Way To Scout
Aside from driving around and looking at powerlines, the best way to figure out any spot is to get in and sit for an hour or two. I always carry binoculars to investigate distant dove comings and goings. Not only does a little time with the binos help you pin down exact dove movement, being out there in the preseason allows you to set up spots for hunts.
This might mean building a little brush blind to hide you and your dog, or it might mean just wrapping some flagging tape around a sapling in a spot you need to return to. Extra work in the preseason may seem unnecessary, but it really is the best way to experience awesome dove action right out of the starting gate.