Article contributed by E. Castillo.
Beads of sweat were pouring down my face, like small streams winding down a mountain side. A widening stain on the back of my tee shirt was growing rapidly. I had been standing underneath a small group of trees, trying to find some shade. A slight breeze was in the air, but not enough to provide any comfort or the ability to air dry my perspiration. The action was slow for a mid-morning dove hunt. It was already into the third week of dove season and most dove hunters had vanished from the fields. I could see doves flying around the cut sunflower field, trying to figure out the best place to land to commence their gorging of sunflower seeds.
As I stood there watching the little acrobatic flyers, I said to myself, “Why am I standing here?” There were no other hunters there to help keep the doves flying and moving. I gathered some extra shells and dropped them into my vest, took a long cold drink from my water bottle, and took a step forward to walk up some doves.
It was good to get out from under the trees and walk. My leather boots took to the cut rows of corn like they were accustomed to during pheasant season. But this time, it was for doves. I had traveled less than twenty yards when the ground exploded with that familiar whistling sound that dove wings make when they’re catching wind trying to gain elevation. I had simultaneously began lifting my shotgun in one fluid motion into its position to fire. Just like a covey of quail, I picked one bird and swung just passed it and pulled the trigger. What seemed like a puff of grey smoke, were actually feathers gently catching the wind as they fell to the ground. I walked over to where I had marked the dove and picked it up and smiled. I had been standing in my previous location for at least forty-five minutes watching doves that were too far sail through the air with no opportunity for me to shoot. I had changed the game, just by walking.
What I had failed to notice or even consider were that the doves were flying in undetected. These doves covertly sneaked in from the edge of the field and were probably feeding there for a while until I flushed them.
What had I missed? I think most dove hunters are so inclined to the traditional style of dove hunting. This means standing in a field and waiting for doves to fly in. Yes, of course decoys may be set up and positioning yourself in a prime location is also paramount, but you’re still going to have to wait until the doves come to you. This is why I say that walking up doves can be just as effective as standing in a field and pass shooting.
This pro-active approach has been highly effective for me the last couple of years. So often have I seen dove hunters walk in and stop at the edge of a field, pause to ascertain where everyone is positioned and commence to walking in and find that perfect spot hoping for fast flying doves. Fast forward an hour two. That same hunter then walks out of the field with his head shaking’ with disappointment, saying to himself and to me when I ask, “How’d you do?” The discouraged hunter replies, “Didn’t see no doves. Guess they’re not flying.” The conversation continues by me telling him that I have a vest full of doves. When asked how. I simply respond, “I walked.” Hunters that forego to leave their little sanctuary spot waiting for doves to fly by when there is no action are literally missing out on a great opportunity.
The idea is pretty basic. Walk. Walk along edges, or rows of standing or cut grain, corn, beans, and sunflowers, Trek across a field until you come across feeding or roosting doves that take to the air at your presence. If you think only a covey of bobs or huns can give the thrill of excitement when they burst into the air, then you haven’t come across a dozen or so grey birds interrupted while feeding. Be ready because the action doesn’t stop there. Your shot may cause other feeding doves to burst from the ground or nearby roosting birds to take flight offering multiple opportunities for the wing shooter.
Bird dogs and doves.
Doves require grit to grind up and digest their food. Knowing this, target areas along a road or areas within a field that have gravel to scatter doves. Don’t forget your dog. Yes, dog. Some dogs are able to point foraging doves on the ground. Bird dogs helps in finding downed birds too.
Hunting doves using this type of method…walking, offers good field work and practice for dogs prior to the regular upland season. Walking up doves gives dogs the ability to get into shape. Use this time to help prepare both pointing and retrieving dogs. Hunters should take precautions as temps can get warm and down-right hot, making dogs to quickly fall victim to heat related illnesses. Carry enough water for you and your dog.
Doves frequently humble us by suddenly changing directions in midair just as we are about to pull the trigger. The same kind of goes when they are gorging themselves on the ground. Doves feeding in medium to heavy cover may hold tight and flush within shotgun range. Other times, they’ll be as skittish as those wily roosters we are so accustomed to chasing.
Don’t Just Sit There. Walk Up Doves.
Walking doesn’t have to be confined to bustin’ doves within rows of grain. It can mean walking along tree lines and flushing them from their roosting areas. Doves will navigate along rows of trees and field edges as well as across the middle of fields all the while using natural and made openings to maneuver from feeding fields and roosting areas. Hunters can improve their chances by mimicking doves, by staying mobile. Follow the birds.
While a solo hunter can walk birds up effectively. Sometimes working with a couple of hunters helps keep the birds moving, offering opportunities for all to shoot. Post hunters in key spots around the field. Those walking should push doves to those that are positioned offering the more traditional style of pass shooting doves. The best thing about this tactic is that you don’t have to know the other hunters. If dove activity starts getting slow, approach other hunters and offer up this method. Take turns.
Walking up and flushing doves is not an exact science. However, this unorthodox approach is a great way hunt those grey rockets when you find yourself alone in a field. I’m not saying don’t bring your bucket and decoys. Just know that if birds stop flying, it doesn’t necessarily mean there are no doves. Step out of your comfort zone and walk up some doves, don’t just stand there!
About the Author
Edgar Castillo is a twenty plus year veteran law enforcement officer for a large Kansas City metropolitan agency. Edgar also served in the United States Marine Corps for twelve years. Besides his faith and family, his passion lies in the uplands as he self-documents his travels across public lands throughout Kansas hunting open fields, walking treelines, & bustin’ through plum thickets.
Follow his upland adventures on Instagram @hunt_birdz and Facebook hunt birdz – Gear Reviews, Tips, & Info for the Uplands.