Dawn was but an idea in my mind as Maude and I climbed the hill to the tabletop dove field. My partner Maude was a young black Labrador retriever, wild as a March hare, starting her second hunting season.
The air was warm, almost hot, and typical of Missouri’s opening day of dove season. Only one other vehicle was in the parking lot, yet I knew more hunters would follow shortly.
Maude ghosted in front of me hunting both sides of the mowed trail to the dove field. I let her run to wear off some of her energy. The managed dove field held mowed strips of sunflowers and was large enough to handle a whole host of dove hunters. I called Maude in to heel. Another dog announced his presence from the end of the field. Maude responded in kind.
We snuggled down in the middle of the field in head-high uncut sunflowers, about 60 yards from an old phone line and 100 yards from the field edge. There we would await the dawn and Missouri’s opening day of dove season — and of fall hunting.
A dozen or so hunters joined us, settling into the field as the light in the east spread. I loaded my Browning 20-gauge side-by-side with two No. 7 1/2 field loads in anticipation of the season’s first dove.
I heard shooting down in the valley in one of Missouri Department of Conservation’s bottomland dove management fields, followed shortly by a shot behind me, near the field edge. Three doves flashed over and quickly out of range, too quick for me to locate and get off a shot.
More hunters joined us and doves began flying into the field in singles, groups of twos and threes, and that occasional flock of 10 or more. Shooting was almost continuous for the first hour, and I watched my first box of ammunition empty with little to show for my efforts. Only two doves and Maude was getting bored. She’d only retrieved two birds.
For me this was a typical dove opener, one of 35 I’ve attended. When I first started dove hunting in Missouri, it was on private lands. However, all that changed when Missouri began managing doves on public areas.
And my shooting hasn’t improved. First, I’m the world’s worst wingshot; the ammunition companies love me. And second, after the long layoff from the quail season 10 months before, I was rusty. Boy, was I rusty.
By the end of the season’s second hour, I was well into my second box of shells as other hunters began to leave with their bag limits. I’d added three more birds to the pile. The odds of me reaching a full bag limit of 12 birds were slim, yet I felt a great deal of satisfaction as another hunting season gathered momentum.
Maude was just plain bored.
To kick off the 2009 dove season and learn where Missouri Game & Fish readers might find the best dove hunting, I visited with John Schultz, the Missouri Department of Conservation resource scientist who is responsible for dove management and dove research for our state.
I’m glad to say he’s one of the nation’s leading dove researchers. I hoped to learn where to find the best dove fields and regions, what the future of Missouri’s dove management might bring, and how Missouri stacks up when compared with other states with dove seasons.
I visited John in his comfortable office at MDC’s resource science building in Columbia. I’ve known John for more than 20 years and have been impressed with the length and breadth of his knowledge about upland bird management and what the future might bring. Perhaps most important, he makes one think.
His bookshelves are lined with books on wildlife management and philosophy that at first blush seemed at odds with each other. Yet, as I listened, I realized wildlife management goes far beyond simply monitoring animal populations and kill rates. It also sits on the cutting edge of people management. John’s at the forefront of dove research in the United States, and Missouri’s dove hunters benefit greatly from his knowledge and interests.
Join me to learn where to hunt and what to expect for the 2009 dove season.
WHERE TO HUNT
Let’s tackle the most important question our readers want to know: Where should they hunt doves this September?
“You know that even if we had data to pinpoint all of the hotspots,” Schultz replied after a moment to gather his thoughts. “I couldn’t tell you where to go or whether or not this year will be outstanding or just average.”
We talked in early summer.
“Even if we had satellite data and could count all of the doves on our public areas, all I know is that Missouri’s dove management areas are going to have the best available dove management efforts of just about any place in the United States.”
That sounds exceedingly reassuring, to say the least!
Schultz says that a couple of weeks before the season, all available data will be available on MDC’s Web site, www.mdc.mo.gov/hunt/fall.htm. The information will show location of dove management fields, sunflower fields or wheat fields, and site maps also will be available.
“You may be able to just show up on opening day to hunt, or on some areas, you may have to apply to hunt,” he said.
“That’s on our public areas. On private areas, the sky’s the limit. If you have a farmer cutting corn, or have actually planted sunflowers to attract doves, those options will also be available this fall.
“MDC provides a wide range of hunting opportunities for dove hunters — from areas where you will stand shoulder to shoulder like at our trout parks, to areas where you may have a very nice field all to yourself. It all depends on where you want to hunt.” That being said, Schultz had one last thing to say about the subject. “You can’t beat our public hunting areas.”
“I understand that we’re talking early in the year and current information isn’t yet available,” I said. “Can we look at last year’s or previous years’ information and have a good idea where Missouri dove hunters can find good to outstanding dove hunting?
“The short answer is yes,” Schultz replied. “Columbia Bottoms over by St. Louis, and the Reed Area near Kansas City, year in and year out produce outstanding dove hunting.
“For example, in 2007 on the Bush Area near St. Louis,
832 hunters killed 1,069 doves; on Columbia Bottoms near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, 1,150 hunters killed 4,925 doves. On the James A. Reed Area, near Kansas City, 1,712 hunters (in 2006) killed 7,815 birds, and in 2007 they killed only 2,470 doves. Opening day was rainy.”
Schultz explained weather could play an important part in how many hunters visit an area, how successful hunters are, and how many doves visit the managed field. Local weather conditions can play an important part in the numbers of doves visiting an area. Rainy days and weeks produce fewer hunters and fewer birds, and fewer doves killed. Schultz explained that this was the reason for the reduced kill at the Reed Area in 2007. That is true for all managed dove areas.
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