Dove hunting is not a good match for a pointing dog, but you can still use your GWP as a retriever.
September 1st is the opening for dove hunting in every state I have hunted in and usually that was the first hunt of the year in the desert of southern Idaho where the dove hunting was great. I think I started dove hunting when I was around ten years old and many years when I was younger I did quite a bit to get my shooting tuned up. The one thing about dove hunting is you probably get humbled with your shooting skills. They are small and with a strong wind they can get to zinging pretty fast. For many years I started my bird hunting season with a dove shoot. I never used a dog for any reason and even the 1st couple years I had a GWP I didn’t use them for dove hunting. I tried hunting doves with GWP’s a couple times, and I just didn’t have any luck. The problem is that the doves are either flying by you while you’re sitting in a good spot or they are landed on a fence, in a tree, or on a power line. When they are actually on the ground feeding somewhere the dogs just don’t seem to pick them up. It might be the hot weather or maybe they just don’t put off any scent. The flying birds or the ones landed on a power line are obviously not a good thing for a pointing dog. I have also hunted them along gravel roads, but the dogs didn’t seem to pick them up on the roads either unless they just sight point them.
When I was living in South Dakota me, my brother, and a few other guys had a couple great areas to hunt doves on September 1st. They always seemed to be migrating through right then and sometimes by September 5th they were almost all gone. We decided to try to use a dog for retrieving since pointing them is probably not going to happen. The pass shooting birds was going to be pretty easy. We would just have a dog heeled waiting for doves to fly by and when we shot one we would send the dog for the retrieve. The 1st dog I used was Dilly who Jodi had just force broke to retrieve and Dilly did a good job retrieving the pass shot birds. Dilly didn’t like standing around when there wasn’t any birds flying, but at least she got a bird in her mouth a few times. She did the same job as the fat labs on TV only she did it about five times as fast. The only problem with pass shooting doves is that unless you get lucky you don’t always get in a spot where you can get lots of shooting. At some point you might have to go after the ones landed on fences or power lines if you want to limit out.
My brother and I decided to use a spot and stalk approach for doves in tree groves, on fences or power lines. We have used the spot and stalk approach on all big game and even chukar and sharp tail grouse with great success. Our plan was to glass the fences and power lines until we found a dove with some cover to sneak up on them. Then we would heel the dog with us while we put the sneak on the doves. Once in a while we would spot some on the ground in a road and get within range before they took off. One of us would shoot while the other one heeled the dog and this actually seems to work pretty well. If we got within range when the dove flew off the dog would just do a stop to flush while the shooter shot the sky full of holes in hopes on hitting one of the speedy birds. Then we would send the dog for the retrieve. We ended up getting our limits most of the times we went out and it was another way to get our dogs in the field. The dogs don’t seem to have any problem finding the downed doves. Besides most of the time when we’re dove hunting we are walking around in waist high rattlesnake infested cover, and we would rather let the dogs do the work and find the birds. The dogs are just as happy packing a dove around as they are packing a grouse. Granted it isn’t as neat as watching your dog lock up on a covey of sharp tail grouse or chukars, and then anticipating the flush, but it beats leaving the dog at home during a hunting trip.
Young untrained GWP’s probably won’t be of much value dove hunting unless they are very well behaved. If you have an older dog that likes to retrieve I think using decoys and having the dog stay beside you is the best way to use them for doves. I have used a GWP in tree groves to do spot and stalk. My brother and I had a great spot along the Cheyenne River in South Dakota with lots of cottonwoods where we could walk through the trees and shoot doves that flushed out of the tree tops. I used our dog Zoie many times on dove hunts and she was great at it. Zoie had a very good nose and would always find a downed bird. Without a dog you can lose a lot of doves because they are small and when they fall in thick cover they just disappear.
We used Zoie in our favorite area in South Dakota a few times where a group of us would all have decoys and just wait for pass shooting birds. It was a pretty big area and we could spread out and all have some shooting. Zoie was always popular with the other guys because I would bring her over to find the ones they couldn’t find. They would just say I have one over there by that bush somewhere and Zoie would find it.