7 Keys to Effectively Hunting Waterholes for Pigeons

7 Keys to Effectively Hunting Waterholes for Pigeons

Mourning dove at the water’s edge in South Texas. (Photo by Dennis Donohue/Shutterstock)

To say that I like waterholes as a warm weather hunter is an understatement.

The water attracts the game. I’ve tagged a couple of really good antelope with my bow while protecting a watering hole from a nearby double blind on a scorching hot afternoon. One of the first outdoor stories I wrote was about a Pope & Young state record whitetail taken at a North Texas watering hole in a first triple-digit archery.

Waterholes play in my outdoorsman’s wheelhouse as each fall approaches, as it usually offers some of the best pigeon hunting imaginable when a warm Texas breeze rolls in and mourning doves come in September.

Red-hot summers like the one currently playing out between the Red River and the Rio Grande mean that doves, including mourning doves, white-winged doves and the invasive Eurasian collared doves, can’t resist the temptation to fall in a pond where a bullfrog might have trouble hiding.

As pigeons drop onto a muddy, cattle-tracked shoreline, they can be easy prey, even for an outdoor writer whose shotgun skills might be considered questionable.

With extreme heat and drought conditions roasting a good portion of the country as the opening day of the pigeon season approaches, now is a good time to re-examine the principles of a good pit pigeon session. Water.

Here are seven keys to effectively hunt pigeons in the water.

1. Choose the right climate

There is no doubt that waterholes can attract flying mourning doves on any hunt during any fall. But there is even less doubt that the best seasons for waterhole hunting (tank shooting, as many Texas wing shooters call the practice) take place when the landscape is shriveling in the daily heat with little or no rain.

Pigeons do not need a lot of water to survive and can get by with water from almost anywhere. But when daily highs top 100 or more, it hasn’t rained for weeks, and a hot wind is blowing, smaller storage tanks will dry out, leaving fewer options for pigeons to seek out a nighttime soothing. In this case, the less, the better.

Truth be told, if a quick glance at the US Drought Monitor map shows a lot of yellows, oranges, reds, and crimson, you’re in business for a good water hole hunt, provided you get a few other clues right. .

2. Find the right water

When I first started pigeon hunting as a high school student in the 1980s, Texas was going through a wet years cycle and the storage tanks were full most Septembers, leaving me swatting at mosquitoes and wondering where they all were. the pigeons.

It turns out that pigeons don’t like a lot of water, not because of the cooling liquid it can provide, but because of the dense vegetation that during those wet years can grow all the way to the water’s edge. A thick collection of grass, weeds and undergrowth that can hide all kinds of dangerous surprises.

My late guide friend JJ Kent helped me understand this, pointing out that smaller is better and less is more.

“Over the years, I’ve found that ponds that are somewhat barren with a bank of land between the water’s edge and the end of the vegetation are usually the best for hunting,” said my friend, member Mossy Oak professional.

“That’s because birds like to circle around, look at things, make sure there aren’t any nasty surprises like a predator in the vegetation, and then land on bare ground and walk to the water’s edge.”

“They feel safer in those places, and if they feel safer, you have a much better chance of seeing them fly to the firing range.”

3. Locate the correct hiding place

Selecting the correct watering hole is only part of the equation, as you must also locate the correct hiding spot.

My friend JJ, who built a successful outfitting business over the years an hour north of Dallas, was a master at doing this, learning through trial and error.

“Usually I try to pick a tree by the pond so I can sit under it in the shade because it can get hot during a hunt in September,” the late Kent said. “That tree can also help you stay a bit camouflaged while the birds fly in for a peek.

“And I also look for a tree like that on the west bank of the pond to face east and away from the setting sun. That’s the most ideal situation.”

I would also add that having a dead hitch near the water’s edge, or a fence post or barbed wire fence along the edge of the tank never hurts as pigeons like to find those places to fly , land and scan the terrain for danger. and then go for a drink.

4. Arrive at the right time

Right off the bat, I’m going to point out that during really hot weather, the kind of miserable summers Texas has endured in years like 1980, 1998, 2011, and now, 2022, pigeons are likely to fall into a watering hole. at almost any time of the day in an attempt to quench their thirst.

But, in general, the best times are early and late, just after the early morning feeding flight and just before sunset when the birds return to the roost after feeding in the late afternoon in a mowed agricultural field. local or sunflower field.

However, if you can only hunt once during the day, do so in the evening hours, when the heat of the day begins to fade as the sun slides toward the horizon. Get there with a couple of hours to spare and you’ll enjoy the temperature becoming more bearable, the winds starting to die down, and you’ll likely have a few warm-up opportunities on some early risers before the main show starts in the last hour of daylight. shooting.

5. Use the correct choke and shot cartridge combination

In my opinion, this is the easiest topic in this story because hunting in waterholes is usually a close-quarters affair, where birds suddenly appear, and shooting is fast and difficult, and you will need some margin of error.

Unless the tank you are looking for is a larger one where shots may be longer in nature and a modified or full choke and #7 ½ are more advantageous, select a shotgun on the other side of the equation, one with a choke improved barrel and shot sizes in the #8 or #9 range. For this type of shooting, give me a 20 cal over-and-over, or even a classic American side-by-side with open chokes, and not the heavyweight barrels I can choose for late-season goose hunting or turkey hunting. of spring.

6. Wear the right clothes

When I first started chasing September pigeons, the proper clothing was the 100 percent cotton rags sold at the local sporting goods stores. They were heavy, hot, and miserable to wear on a 100 degree day, but they were all we had.

Today’s high-tech hunting clothing protects the hunter and their skin, while keeping them as cool as possible.

An example is the new Sitka Gear Equinox Guard collection (which includes a hoodie and pants), although the original target market was spring turkey hunting. It’s also perfect for western big game, early-season whitetail hunting (especially in the southern Great Plains, where fall is always hot to begin with), and even in the trout-rich White River, in northern Arkansas, when the caddisflies are hatching. Weighing mere ounces, it’s seriously lightweight, plus it’s moisture-wicking and breathable, and comes in the pigeon-hunting-friendly Subalpine camo pattern. Best of all, the garment’s built-in bug guard protects human skin from a variety of buzzing, crawling and biting insects. Add in sun protection capabilities, and this is a lightweight camo hoodie and bombproof pants option that pulls double duty in a variety of outdoor settings, some in the woods, some on the water, and some in the sun. around a pigeon hunting honey hole.

Simms, Orvis, Duck Camp, KUIU, Mossy Oak, Realtree and others make other great lightweight camouflages.

7. Shoot straight!

Preparing before letting the ammo fly allows you to make an accurate shot when mourning doves swoop down on a damp spot for a late night drink. If you’re like me and don’t shoot regularly in the off-season, spend a weekend or two working on your shooting skills before pigeon season starts. Practice makes perfect.