Dove hunt

Josh Wilhelm of Lincoln and Lana, his Weimaraner, hunt during the dove season opener in 2016 at Twin Lakes Wildlife Management Area in Seward County.

NEBRASKAland Magazine, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

If you are looking to add some local wild protein to your diet while spending quality time outdoors with your friends, then you need to be hunting doves. The season began Friday and runs through Oct. 30, and there is no better place to start your hunting season or career than in a dove field.

For those just getting started, the best advice is to keep it simple.

Best shotgun for doves: The shotgun you already own and are the most familiar with is the best choice. Whether it is a 12-gauge or 20-gauge, pump or auto, over-under or side-by-side, it really does not matter. If you can swap out chokes, I suggest nothing tighter than improved cylinder. Remember the shotgun plug, if your scattergun can hold more than three shells without it.

Best loads for shotguns: Pair your shotgun with a decent target load in No. 7½ lead or No. 7 steel, and you have what you need. I prefer extra shot to extra speed, but this can be a personal preference. Just be sure to have enough shells. It can be shocking how fast you will use them up on a good hunt. The national average is six or seven shots fired per dove harvested.

What you need: Nebraska residents 16 years and older will need a (small game) hunt permit, habitat stamp and a free Harvest Information Program number (buy it at OutdoorNebraska.gov/HIP). Be sure to write the number down on your permit.

Never forget: Along with a bunch of shotgun shells, I always make sure I have plenty to drink, some snacks, a stool or bucket to sit on, and a way to carry out my doves and empty shells. Once this is all packed, I try my best to find a way to carry more shotgun shells. Then more snacks.

Best place to hunt: Doves survive on small weed seeds and grain. They prefer finding it on bare ground or in low cover, under or around the plants that are providing it. With little legs, they do not do well moving around in thicker cover. Grazed pastures, silage-cut fields and harvested wheat fields can be ideal. Water can be great spots, too. The best places have a sandy or rocky shoreline for the birds to use. Moving water does not work, but large mud puddles can be all you need.

Grills are for doves: Cooling is important for your harvested doves. Keep them away from direct sunlight and out of bags or pockets while hunting. The sooner you start cleaning them the better, too. Nearly all the meat will be in the breast. Skinning and removal of the breast is quick and easy. Then, it is into a marinade or directly onto the grill.

Dove poppers: Jalapeños, cream cheese, doves and a bit of bacon wrapped around it all is simply amazing. They are best cooked over medium-high heat on the grill until almost all the red is gone in the middle of the meat. Dove poppers do not last long, so you will need more shells to get more doves.

No. 1 dove myth: There are no doves around to hunt after opening day or weekend. Nonsense! Just keep your eyes open for the perfect location that is already attracting doves. The past several years my best dove hunts took place two or three weeks beyond the opener. There are doves around some places all season and even all winter; however, many of us are just too easily distracted by all the other hunting seasons going on, too.

Aaron Hershberger is an outdoor education specialist with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Contact him at aaron.hershberger@nebraska.gov. Read his blog, Lock, Stock and Bedlam, at OutdoorNebraska.org.

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