Joshua Cordray

Dove Hunting in Illinois: Top Spots and Tips for Success

Dove hunting in Illinois is a brilliant sport. People flock out into the countryside to bag their birds every year. What makes it so much fun? Doves are fast. They can zoom about at speeds of up to 55 mph. They're also super nimble, with aerial acrobatics and tight turns that make for genuinely challenging shots. Doves are easily spooked and take off suddenly, catching the unprepared hunter by surprise. You've really got to be on top of your game to be successful. Are you ready for this year's season? Here's what we've got for you:
    • Season dates and regulations
    • Best spots for dove hunting on public land and private leases
    • Tips for a successful hunt
Ready to get going? Let's begin by covering the most important information - the dates and rules you'll need to know to keep everything legal.

Regulations and Licensing for Dove Hunting in Illinois

Licenses and rules for dove hunting are pretty simple. You’ll need a valid hunting license and habitat stamp. The bag limits and possession limits are generous and the rules are pretty easy to understand. Let’s take a quick look at these in more detail.

Licensing Requirements

Ready to dive into dove hunting in Illinois? First, you need the right licenses. Every hunter must have a valid Illinois hunting license. For residents, it’s $15.50, while non-residents pay $63.50. If you’re 16 or older, you’ll also need the Illinois Habitat Stamp, which costs $15.00. You can buy these online, at licensed vendors, or through approved apps. These permits ensure you’re legal and help with conservation efforts.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) sets the dove hunting seasons. Typically, there’s an early season starting September 1st and running for several weeks. Then there’s a late season from late November to early December. For 2024, expect the early season from September 1st to 15th and the late season from November 25th to December 10th. These dates match dove migration patterns for the best hunting opportunities.

Key Regulations and Rules

There are important rules to follow for dove hunting in Illinois. The daily bag limit is 15 doves per hunter, with a possession limit of 45 doves after the first day. You can only hunt from sunrise to sunset. Ethical hunting practices are crucial. Only shotguns are allowed, and they must not hold more than three shells. Use shot size #7 or smaller. On many public lands, non-toxic shot is required. Also, remember the plugging requirement: a one-piece plug must be inserted through the legs of harvested doves to prevent over-hunting.

Dove Hunting on Leased and Public Lands in Illinois

flying mourning dove

Dove hunting in Illinois offers a range of experiences, whether you prefer the public lands managed by the state or the private leased lands. Both options have their unique perks and challenges, making Illinois a great place for hunters to dive into the sport.

Accessing Public Lands

Illinois has plenty of public lands open for dove hunting. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) manages these areas, including state parks, wildlife areas, and natural reserves. Before you head out, make sure to check the specific site regulations. Some places need special permits or have rules about the number of hunters and designated zones.

To hunt on public lands, you’ll need the right permits. Often, these are handed out through a lottery system at the beginning of the season. For the first five days, many spots operate on a first-come, first-served basis. After that, you might need to register daily. Check the IDNR website or the management offices for all the details.

RegionCountyNotable Hunting Locations
Northern IllinoisMcLean CountyFunk Prairie State Natural Area, Evergreen Lake State Recreation Area
Lee CountyGreen River State Wildlife Area, Amboy Marsh Wildlife Area
Lake CountyFort Sheridan Forest Preserve, Des Plaines River State Fish and Wildlife Area
McHenry CountyMcHenry Wildlife Management Area, Clinton Lake State Recreation Area
Winnebago CountyNachusa Grasslands, Shabbona Lake State Park
Central IllinoisMason CountyBanner Marsh State Wildlife Area, Havana Lake State Park
Fulton CountyFunk Prairie State Wildlife Area, Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge
Tazewell CountyPekin Park, Hollis Park
Southern IllinoisWilliamson CountyWilliamson County State Wildlife Area, Crab Orchard Lake Wildlife Management Area
Macon CountyMacon County Conservation Area, Spitler Woods Wildlife Management Area
Piatt CountySangamon County Conservation Area, Monticello Wildlife Management Area
Jackson CountyRandolph County State Wildlife Area, Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge
Union CountyHorseshoe Lake State Park, Alexander County State Wildlife Area
Moultrie CountyShelbyville State Fish and Wildlife Area, Coles County Wildlife Management Area

Benefits of Hunting on Public versus Private Lands

Public lands have their benefits. They are state-maintained, meaning they’re well-regulated and come with amenities like parking, marked boundaries, and sometimes even check-in stations. These lands are managed to support wildlife sustainability, which can boost your hunting success. But, they can get crowded, especially during peak season, which might affect your experience. For more details, read our guide on how to hunt public land and check out available public hunting land in Illinois.

On the flip side, hunting on leased or private lands offers a more controlled environment with less competition. These lands often have managed food plots and water sources that attract doves, ensuring more consistent populations. You can get access to private lands through agreements with landowners or by joining hunting clubs that lease large tracts for their members. Learn more about hunting leases in Illinois and what to consider in a hunting lease agreement.

Leased Land Hunting Opportunities

Leased lands offer a premium hunting experience. You can arrange leases through hunting clubs, private deals with landowners, or brokers specializing in hunting properties. These leases usually give you longer-term access, allowing for better planning and preparation.

When looking to lease land for dove hunting, consider the location’s proximity to dove migration routes, food sources like sunflower or millet fields, and water sources. Discuss the landowner’s expectations and any specific rules to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience.

Dove hunting on leased and public lands in Illinois provides different environments and experiences. Whether you opt for the convenience of public lands or the exclusivity of private leases, Illinois offers plenty of opportunities for a fun and rewarding hunt.

Preparation and Best Practices for Dove Hunting in Illinois

mourning dove in tree

Getting ready for a dove hunt in Illinois? Here’s how to make sure you’re fully prepared and ready for a great time in the field.

Gear and Equipment Checklist

Having the right gear is key. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Shotgun: A 12 or 20 gauge with a modified or improved-cylinder choke works best.
  • Ammunition: Bring plenty of #7.5 or #8 shot. If you’re hunting on public land, you might need steel shot.
  • Hunting License and Habitat Stamp: Make sure both are current and easy to access.
  • Camouflage Clothing: Blend into your surroundings with a camo hat, shirt, pants, and a vest to carry ammo and doves.
  • Decoys and Stools: Portable stools for comfort and dove decoys to attract birds can improve your hunt.
  • Eye and Ear Protection: Safety glasses and ear protection are a must.
  • First Aid Kit: Always have a basic first aid kit on hand.

Scouting and Spot Selection

Picking the right spot is just as important as having the right gear. Spend some time scouting before the season starts. Look for areas where doves feed and roost. They like open fields with scattered trees or fence lines to perch on. Water sources nearby? Even better. Public lands often have maps showing good hunting spots. If you’re on private land, ask the landowner or other hunters for tips.

Tips for Successful Dove Hunting

Want to up your game? Try these tips:

  • Arrive Early: Get to your spot early to claim a good position and watch dove movements.
  • Stay Concealed: Doves have sharp eyesight. Keep movements minimal and use natural cover or camo nets.
  • Practice Shooting: Doves are quick and agile. Practice with clay pigeons to sharpen your aim.
  • Use Decoys: Set up decoys within shooting range but visible from above. Near water or bare trees works great.
  • Be Patient: Doves come in waves, usually in the early morning or late afternoon. Patience pays off.
  • Clean Up: Always pick up spent shells and any trash. Keep the hunting area clean and respect the environment.

Ethical Hunting Practices

Hunting ethically ensures the sustainability of dove populations. Follow these guidelines:

  • Respect Limits: Stick to bag and possession limits to prevent overharvesting.
  • Make Clean Shots: Aim for quick, humane kills to avoid unnecessary suffering.
  • Get Permission: Always get permission to hunt on private land and follow any landowner rules.
  • Leave No Trace: Clean up after yourself to keep the environment pristine for wildlife and other hunters.

By preparing well and following these best practices, your dove hunting experience in Illinois will be successful, enjoyable, and respectful to both the wildlife and fellow hunters. Enjoy the tradition and the thrill of the hunt while keeping these guidelines in mind.


Dove hunting in Illinois is a rewarding experience that blends tradition, skill, and a deep connection to nature. By preparing thoroughly, following best practices, and adhering to ethical hunting guidelines, you can make the most of your time in the field. Whether you’re drawn to the convenience of public lands or the exclusivity of private leases, Illinois offers diverse opportunities for every hunter.

At Hunting Locator, we are dedicated to supporting hunters like you. Our platform provides invaluable resources, from finding the perfect hunting leases to offering expert tips and advice. With our help, you can discover prime locations, plan your hunts more effectively, and ensure you have everything you need for a successful season.

What are the legal shooting hours for dove hunting in Illinois?

Dove hunting is permitted from sunrise to sunset during the open season dates. This ensures ethical hunting practices are followed.

How can I tell the difference between mourning doves and other dove species?

Mourning doves have a distinct soft gray and brown color and a pointed tail with white borders. Familiarize yourself with images and descriptions before hunting to ensure proper identification.

Is a special permit required for hunting on public lands?

Yes, some public lands require a special permit which can be obtained through a lottery or on a first-come, first-served basis at the beginning of the season. Check with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for specific site requirements.

Can I use lead shot for dove hunting in Illinois?

On public lands, the use of non-toxic shot is required. It’s best to use steel shot sizes #7.5 or #8. Private lands may not have this restriction, but it’s advisable to use non-toxic shot universally.

What should I do if I harvest a banded dove?

If you harvest a banded dove, report it to the Bird Banding Laboratory via the toll-free number or website provided on the band. This information is crucial for wildlife management and research.

Joshua Cordray
I'm Josh. I love getting outdoors, hiking, camping, and enjoying the beauty of this beautiful earth. I'm also passionate about writing, and love creating stories, guides, and helpful articles about everything to do with being an outdoorsman.

Leave a Comment