An Official Website of the Commonwealth of Kentucky
Welcome to the world of dove hunting! You are about to join the ranks of thousands of like-minded hunters - some of the best conservationists on earth. Each of them started right where you are today... as a beginner.
Most hunters concentrate on areas where the doves feed. Their diet is almost exclusively seeds. Weed and grass seeds are supplemented by waste grain from farming operations. Having feet that are designed for perching, not scratching, they look for their food on standing plants or on the surface of the soil. While some seeds may seem to be preferred at a given time, the dove is primarily a bird that takes advantage of the opportunity of the present day and they will change their feeding location frequently.
Doves typically need to have two visits to water daily. During wet periods, rain puddles and heavy dew may suffice, but they will go to streams or ponds for water. The best watering locations will include stretches of mud flats or sandbars where the birds can sit in the open to get water with no ambush cover for ground-based predators.
Preferred shelter for doves is the canopy of the forest. The majority of the nests will be found here. However, in some locations, they may be found as ground nesters where they are vulnerable to more predators. In the natural world, doves are the prey of many animals from hawks that catch them in flight, to snakes (primarily raiders of nests) and wild or feral cats.
While the mourning dove is primarily a migratory species, some individuals may be less inclined to migrate from the south during the spring or to the south in fall. Normally, they begin to gather in flocks during late summer and most of the flock departs to the south with the first cold weather. The failure to migrate south in fall creates problems during severe winters, as the birds do not have enough fat reserves to survive repeated cold days and they cannot scratch through snow to find food.
In Kentucky, the "Mourning" "and Eurasion Collared-Dove" are two primary species of dove. They both have unique traits that make it easy to distinguish between the two.
Food plots, with small areas of seed producing grains and grasses, will attract doves. Many landowners cooperate with the Department to establish dove fields and open them to the public. View our
Migratory Bird Hunting Page for more information on private land that is available for these hunts.
One method that works is to mow the field in strips. Leave some plants, such as sunflowers, stand while mowing grasses, grains, etc. Doves will feed in the entire area and downed birds are much easier to find in the mowed areas.
KY Afield - Dove Hunt on Public Field
(tips for shotguns 4:20)
Dove shoots typically have several hunters shooting over a small area. Create space between hunting groups by staying at least 50 yards apart. Never shoot at low flying birds. Make sure you can see sky behind your targeted bird. By shooting only the high birds, incidents will be avoided. These high flyers sometimes present the most challenging shots for the shooter.
Aiming vs. Leading Your Target
How to Lead a Moving Target
The Importance of Movement
Dove Field Safety
Why People Miss
Ethical hunters strive to retrieve every bird. When the birds are flying in large flocks the hunter may be able to down more than one bird at a time. A well-trained retrieval dog can assist the hunter in finding crippled and dead birds. It is recommended that the birds be retrieved as soon as there is an opportunity. They can then be laid in the shade to cool, plus an accurate count toward the limit can be maintained.
Most hunters report that they use only the breast of the dove. They simply split the skin on the breast, peal it back and cut the breast out of the bird. Some hunters prefer to pick (or pluck) the feathers off the complete bird and eat wings, legs and breasts. To remove the entrails from a picked bird, it is recommended to split their back for easy access to the small body cavity. Birds that have been picked may either be cooked whole or in halves.
Doves do not need to be cleaned in the field, as their body heat is lost due to the small size of the body. However, if you prefer to pick them, it can be done during a time when doves are not flying. Cutting out the breast or removing entrails is usually done after the shooting is complete and the gun will no longer be handled. If birds are cleaned in the field it is simple courtesy to the landowner to either bury or carry out the feathers and entrails. As with all game, carefully remove all shot before freezing or preparing your doves. One way to freeze dove is to breast them out and carefully clean the meat. Then, using a muffin tin, cover the breasts with water and freeze. Once frozen, pop them out and vacuum seal. They can be stored this way for up to two years.
Dove Cleaning 101