SPEED Wears Feathers

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Published on: Aug. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

Mourning doves are one of Missouri's most popular game birds. They are sleek and fast flying and require little more than a shotgun and shot shells to hunt. No dogs, boats or decoys are required. Hunting is often close to home, and some of the best spots are on public lands managed by the Conservation Department.

Another reason for their popularity is that they are devilishly difficult to hit. An average shooter may require six or seven shots to bag one bird. Some of this is due to the fantastic speed at which doves can fly--up to 40 miles per hour. Tons of bird shot fired at doves each September sails far behind the target. I once shot at the lead bird in a group of four doves; the third bird in line fell in a puff of feathers.

I watch these beautiful gray birds with their salmon-colored tints all summer in town. They sit on the wires in front of my house, chase through the trees in the neighborhood on mating flights and delicately pick gravel off the street. But somehow, flying in from who-knows-where across a river bottom field shimmering in the heat on September 1, they are transformed into stunt pilots with wicked speed and the ability to turn on a dime.

Hunting doves is a traveling game. Hunting, except under circumstances where a field is actually planted to attract doves, is rarely good in the same field from season to season. A hard-bitten dove hunter will drive many miles on rural roads in search of harvested grain fields that hold large numbers of feeding doves. One or two doves sitting on a power line at the edge of a field do not a hunt make. You need lots of birds concentrated in a not-too-large area. After all, if you have to shoot at seven of them to bag one, you want plenty of opportunity.

Mourning doves are plentiful in Missouri. Most hunting takes place in the northern, western and southeastern portions of the state. Shooting in Missouri's Bootheel is legendary. River bottoms with grain fields are often good, as are uplands in row-crop country. Doves like crop fields bordered with trees and fields with solitary trees. They use the trees for roosting and nesting, and they want to be able to fly out into an open landscape.

Most hunting takes place early and late in the day, when the birds are on

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