Illinois Department of Natural Resources
September 2019
September 1, 2019
Mourning Dove

Preparing to Hunt Doves

By Eric Bumgarner
A light gray ringed turtle-dove resting.
Ringed Turtle-Dove, Photo by JJ Harrison, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia

My Dad taught me how to hunt doves when I was 10 years old. As a child of a military family living in the vast plains of Kansas, dove hunting provided me with a lifetime of memories. It also taught me there is a certain amount of preparation to do prior to hunting as well as an appreciation for the wonderful bounty that nature has to offer.

Let’s get prepared: I recommend you start with the Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations publication, available online or from any licensed vendor. Research sections that pertain to dove hunting and learn what legal requirements must be met prior to hunting. 

License: You must obtain a Hunting License, a State Habitat Stamp, and be registered with HIP (Harvest Information Program). The HIP registration is free and is a method the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) use to generate reliable estimates of hunting activity and the number of all migratory game birds harvested throughout the country. (HIP) registration may be obtained by calling 1-888-6PERMIT. License and stamps may be purchased over the counter at any licensed vendor or online.

A gray collared dove walking on the ground surrounded by vegetation.
Eurasian Collared-Dove

Hunting Location: In addition to opportunities to hunt private property with permission, many IDNR owned or managed sites offer dove hunting, but you must keep in mind that you will need a free, first come, first serve permit to hunt the first five days of the season and then must register each day thereafter with the specific site. You can call the IDNR site you’re interested in hunting to obtain more information. 

Dove Seasons: Illinois has a split season for doves. Dates information may be found in the Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations. The 2019-2020 season dates are September 1-November 14 and December 26, 2019-January 9, 2020. 

Limits: Illinois allows a daily limit of 15 doves and a possession limit of 45 doves at any one time. Eurasian collared-doves and ringed turtle-doves (African collared dove) do not count toward your limit but may not be hunted after you have reached your limit of mourning doves. Learn the difference in species (see chart below).

A chart describing doves by species.

Shotguns: .12 or .20 gauge is most common and using modified or improved-cylinder choke tubes.

Youth Hunts: Youth dove hunting opportunities are noted on page 41 of the 2019-2020 Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations

A hunter kneeling on the ground in front of some sunflowers with her harvest of doves on the ground in front of her. She holds her shotgun over her shoulder.
Photo courtesy of Nancy Donaldson

Ammunition: Commonly #7.5 to #8 shot (steel #7 and #8) is used. Be aware that several state sites require non-toxic shot.

Hunting Hours: Sunrise to sunset, with hunting on state sites starting at noon. Check with staff at the state site if you need additional information.

Safety: Be aware of those hunting around you and your shooting lanes

Practice: Take the time and go to a shooting range. Practice shooting clay pigeons from every direction. Doves are fast and acrobatic and can appear as a single or in numbers. Get a feel for your lead as most misses are behind the dove. If you are using a stool, practice shooting from a stool.

Clothing: Camouflage clothing including hat.

Decoys: Use of decoys is desirable but place them away from you to avoid attracting attention to yourself.

Even the most experienced shooters will tell you that dove hunting can offer up a large piece of humble pie. However, with preparation, patience, skill, and a lot of luck, dove hunting can be enjoyed by the entire family. I wish you all a successful and enjoyable dove hunting season, and as always, stay safe!

Retired Lieutenant Eric Bumgarner spent 24 years with the Illinois Conservation Police. Eric is an avid outdoorsman and has a passion for protecting the natural resources.