D ove hunting is a big deal in Texas. Based on annual statistics compiled by Texas Parks and Wildlife, the various dove seasons draw approximately 400,000 hunters.
The actual number of “dove hunters” probably is greater, since some casual participation surely goes undocumented.
Regardless, diminutive doves are second only to white-tailed deer.
Several reasons explain this popularity:
Doves are plentiful, available in every county, and the limit is generous, 15 birds per day (mourning doves and white-winged doves, no limit on non-native Eurasian doves). Oh, yes, and no more than two white-tipped doves, whatever they are.
The hunting is inexpensive and minimal support gear is necessary. It’s a casual shirtsleeve affair during the prime months of September and October, and the alarm clock is a non-event. Most civilized dove hunts occur during the mid- or late-afternoon hours.
Morning or afternoon, heavy lifting is not required and the upland terrain almost always offers hard ground for pleasant walking (opposed to the goo-pie marsh or flooded field facing the muddy waterfowler).
And there’s no such thing as a typical setup. You have feeding fields, water holes, gravel bars, roost trees, and open flight lines. The first bird might be an incomer floating along at 25 yards; the next might be hurtling overhead at 45 yards. Your have deliberate crossing shots over plowed fields, and quick jump-shooting chances at birds corkscrewing up and away from brushy ground cover.
And, in most situations, light field loads are standard issue. The lack of magnum kick favors all shooters, but kids and light-framed adults especially benefit from the lack of felt recoil.
Truly, dove hunting can challenge all wingshooting disciplines. Many veteran gunslingers would agree that the dove hunter who “takes ‘em as they come” and consistently averages better than 50 or 60 percent is a top hand with a shotgun. Of course, there’s no shame in missing—except maybe muffing that creampuff incomer alluded to earlier.
We’ve all done it. I think maybe it looks so easy, you lift your cheek from the stock to better admire the ice cream setup. But, in a twisted way, the flaming misses are part of the fun—at least for nearby friends who are watching.
Finally, doves are easy to pluck, quick to clean, and great to eat. A pair of game shears can snip and zip with “ease and elegance” through a full pouch. Or you can breast them. Either way, numerous fine recipes are available but the simple grill drill of bacon and onion and jalapeno is hard to top.
These advantages are touted each season as we champion dove hunting.
There’s one more point worth noting: The closest shotgun almost certainly is suitable. In other words, anything this side of a heavy 3 1/2-inch, 12-gauge goose or turkey boomer is at home in a dove field.
Preferences as to gauges, actions, and chokes have been debated for decades, with no absolute pecking order. To repeat, there’s no such thing as a typical dove shot. Regardless of the gun you use, statistics favor fairly open chokes but tight borings in reasonably skilled hands work well—excellent, in fact, for long-range pass shooting or jump shooting.
This flexibility is a big plus for the one-gun hunter. Just reach in the closet, grab the trusty old 870 Wingmaster, and go dove hunting.
It also plays to the opposite extreme for the avid collector of fine shotguns. No other type of hunting allows so many opportunities under such tolerable conditions. You are not dragging a high-dollar double gun through a coastal salt marsh or jamming heavy loads into the chambers.
You’re sitting or standing—or maybe walking slowly amid dry terrain—and popping away with forgiving shotshells. And, with the liberal daily limit, you have the option of using two or even three prized guns during a single hunt. Of course, this can be easier said than done. Uncommon resolve might be required to stop shooting under a hot flight and walk back to the vehicle to change guns.
About 12 or 15 years ago, several old friends and I got stoked on shooting hammer guns—you know, the old side-by-sides with exposed cocking spurs. Most of them were built in England. The quality “London guns” remain beautiful pieces of work, with fine wood, skilled engraving and slim receivers.
Most of the fine, old hammer guns available today are 12 bores with 28- to 30-inch tubes, a bit unwieldy for quail over dogs, and totally unsuited for hard-core waterfowl hunting. However, the typical hammer gun is an excellent choice in the dove field.
Remember, a stationary dove hunter takes deliberate shots. A frantic fast draw is not required (the abrupt flush when jump shooting being the exception). Time almost always is ample for you to anticipate the dove and safely cock the two hammers. Also, the long, twin barrels encourage a smooth swing and follow-through.
The old hammer game guns are just one example of the flexibility of the dove hunt. If you want to shoot a light gauge, great—especially over incomers putting on the brakes at a water hole. Knowing the realistic limits of the gauge and choke certainly come into play, but opportunities abound for the disciplined dove shooter.
But, again, almost any shotgun is a legitimate choice for doves, and all can point the way to great days afield.
My first forays as a young teen growing up in Houston were enthusiastically saluted by a single-shot Stevens 12-gauge. It had a full choke, probably not the best choice for a rookie wingshooter, but the single “Bang!” worked with encouraging consistency.
Those long-ago goatweed fields and brush lines are under subdivisions and strip centers now, and the simple gun has been replaced by a rank and file of superior smoothbores. But, pedigrees of fine engraving and figured walnut aside, I count some of those early fall afternoons among my most memorable.
Email Joe Doggett at
Email Joe Doggett at [email protected]