Sasser: Spinning-wing decoy worth the investment for dove hunters

After the best opening day mourning dove hunt we’ve seen in a while, my wife, Emilie, and I wound up on a pretty slow second-day hunt. Luckily, we had our mojo working.

There weren’t many birds at that second day hunt, but enough of them were attracted to our spinning-wing decoy to make a good dove hunt. Actually, we had two spinning-wing decoys set up in a bare spot where they’d be highly visible.

One was on the standard-height metal stake that accompanies the decoy. The other was on a shorter stake that I made by blending pieces of stakes from old decoys that no longer work so well. The effect is two doves landing, one a little lower than the other.

On the ground, I’d placed four stationary, clip-on decoys attached to stakes that make them stand upright. I’d clipped another decoy to a handy dead limb and yet another clip-on to a bent-over sunflower stalk.

If I continue this ever-more complicated dove decoy routine, I’ll be like a goose hunter and have to show up an hour before shooting time, just to set my spread. There are a lot of doves this year, but summer rains created natural food sources that spread the birds out. A spinning-wing decoy doesn’t work miracles, but it’s worth the $40 asking price.

Until 10 years ago, I’d never used a decoy of any kind. Like most dove hunters, I just tried to move to where birds were flying the best and stand next to some kind of cover within shooting range of the flight pattern.

Then I hunted with Tom and Scott Walker near Truscott, in West Texas. They had the first spinning-wing decoy that I’d seen in action. They put it in front of me. There were five or six hunters strung out down a fence line, and there weren’t many doves that day.

I wound up with the only limit, and I was shooting a .410. Everybody else was shooting a 12-gauge. On the way home, I stopped at a sporting goods store and bought my own spinning-wing decoy.

Like the dove decoy itself, the wings are realistically colored, light on one side, a dove gray on the other. They are powered by four AA batteries that make the wings spin in a blur. It must look natural to doves.

If you don’t see birds coming in time, they often land beside the decoy. A couple of years ago, Emilie and I were setting up on an afternoon field. All our gear was in the back of my SUV.

I had the hatch open, and I’d already placed one spinning-wing decoy in the field. I was putting the wings on the second decoy when I looked through the car and saw two doves land beside the decoy that I’d just put out, not more than 15 yards away.

Emilie already had her shotgun out, so she loaded it, stepped from behind the car, flushed the two doves and got them both.

It doesn’t always work that well. On opening day this year, we had our decoys out before the birds began flying. There were a lot of doves and few of them paid attention to the decoys.

The field was surrounded by hunters, and there was a lot of gunfire. About 30 minutes after shooting time, our decoys started attracting doves. I think those doves were accustomed to feeding in the center of the field and just passed over our spot on the edge of the field as they’d probably done for several consecutive days.

Unnerved by the shooting, the birds began looking for a safe haven and mistakenly thought they had found one with our decoys. As soon as we finished our limits, a hunter who had been in a slow spot moved into our vacated position.

I left a spinning-wing decoy for him. Back at the camp, I asked him if he’d been successful. “I finished my limit,” he said, with a smile. “They came to that decoy with their wings set.”