Statewide Dove Forecast

Missouri hunters have in years past enjoyed fruitful dove harvests, and this year should be no different for them -- provided that they know where to look.

Photo by Mark Romanack

Dove hunting in our state is getting better with each passing year -- and the improvement is largely attributable to the efforts of the Missouri Department of Conservation.

While they don't offer a private land program similar to some states', they've made a concerted effort to expand dove habitat. Their program consists mostly of planting sunflower fields, along with a smattering of wheat and other grains, for forage and habitat. All in all it's been a fairly successful program.

According to a report compiled by resource scientist John H. Schultz -- the go-to guy for doves in Missouri -- there was a 13 percent increase in dove hunters between 2002 and 2003 (the last years for which figures are currently available). And, even better, they accounted for a 17.7 percent increase in harvested doves. Anytime the harvest increases faster than the number of hunters, it's good news.

The Missouri mourning dove season runs 70 consecutive days beginning each year on Sept. 1. The bag limit has been shifted around over the years, but currently stands at 12 birds. That figure is expected to hold for the 2005 season.

Based on all available data, and the Missouri habitat program, Schultz believes that the current state of dove hunting in Missouri is good and likely to get better. "There's a major national effort to increase the mourning dove population," he said, "and all hunters across the country will benefit from it, including those in Missouri."

With that optimistic outlook in mind, let's see what the experts have to say about some of the best spots in the state.

NORTHEAST REGION

One of the best areas in the Northeast Region is the Frost Island Conservation Area. Four miles north of Wayland in Clark County on Route B, this area currently supports 25 acres of sunflowers. At least that much forage is planned for the 2005 season.

In 2004 the sunflowers were planted in two large fields east of County Road 189 and County Road 198 along the western edge of the CA. Darlene Hoffman, wildlife management biologist for the CA, reports that dove populations were solid in 2004 in this area and are expected to be remain so through 2005. "We had real good luck with Frost Island," she said. She added that hunters ought not to bypass Rose Pond CA, saying, "It's real good, too."

To hunt Rose Pond, travel north of the Lewis County line on Highway 61. Turn east on Route F, and go three miles to Route P. Proceed north until the pavement ends and continue left on the gravel road for two-tenths of a mile. Turn right on the next gravel road. This area contains 25 acres of sunflowers and 5 acres of wheat. Both the sunflowers and wheat were in the center and southern portion of the CA east of County Road 304 for the 2004 season. For detailed and up to the minute information about either of these areas or others in the Northeast Region call (660) 785-2420 or check the MDC web site at

www.conservation.state.mo.us.

CENTRAL REGION

Mike Schrorer, Central Region wildlife biologist, reports that there should be several good spots available to dove hunters this fall "if we get the sunflowers in on time." That, of course, is a matter for Mother Nature and her weather. One of the best spots in this region is Eagle Bluffs CA, in Boone County 6 miles southwest of Columbia. It supports around 30 acres of wheat and 35 acres of sunflowers. In 2004 the fields were somewhat scattered; check with the MDC for details about the 2005 plantings.

Eagle Bluffs is a managed hunting CA. There's a draw system to control the number of hunters; it's open only open in the afternoons for the first few days of the season. (It's also a nontoxic shot area.)

Another Schrorer pick is the Lamine River CA, consisting five tracts in Cooper and Morgan counties. The main tract is a mile east of Otterville on Route A. Lamine offers 110 acres of sunflowers and about 25 acres of wheat. As you might expect with so much forage, the fields are scattered. Most of them were in the central and southeast portions of this CA for the 2004 season, and will most likely be there for the 2005 season as well. Another good area is Franklin Island. A sandy river bottom two miles east of New Franklin on Highway 40 in Howard County, it supports over 40 acres of sunflowers and a few acres of wheat. Most of the fields were planted south of U.S. Highway 40 and east of County Road 465 in 2004.

For detailed, up-to-the-minute information about these areas or others in the Central Region call 1-573-882-8388, or check the MDC Web site at www.conservation.state.mo.us.

ST. LOUIS REGION

In north St. Louis County at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, Columbia Bottom CA is the hot area in the central region. And no wonder: It's got almost 300 acres of sunflowers, wheat and wheat stubble.

Joel Porath, wildlife regional supervisor, reports that the dove hunting is fantastic at Columbia Bottom -- this despite the hunting pressure it receives owing to its proximity to metropolitan St. Louis. Because of the hunting pressure, special regulations control dove hunts here. During the first 10 days of the season, the hunting is by drawing only. (The draw is in July, so if you haven't participated already, you're out of luck, at least for this year.) After that it's open hunting with steel shot only.

To get there: Take the I-270 Riverview Drive exit.

Another great spot in this region is Marais Temps Clair CA in St. Charles County, just a little north of St. Charles. Over 40 acres of sunflowers, wheat and millet here attract local and migrating mourning doves. In 2004, most of the plots were planted towards the center of the CA, south of state Highway 94.

If the pressure gets heavy, especially early in the season, access to this one can revert to a draw system as a means of controlling hunter numbers. You'll receive a full status report when you check in at the main office as you enter the CA.

Another spot worth a look is the August A. Busch CA. According to the MDC's Porath, the dove hunting here can be hit or miss, but when you hit it right, it's fantastic; a last-minute report will be available from the St. Louis Regional office by telephone. Busch, situated in St. Charles County, is huge, nearly 7,000 acres. It can be easily accessed from U.S. Highway 40. About 200 acres of sunflowers, wheat and millet are on this

CA, most of it southwest of U.S. Highway 40 and northwest of state Highway 94 for the 2004 season. Busch offers morning hunts only, so get there early.

Porath says that Weldon Spring CA is nothing for hunters to turn up their noses at. Adjacent to Busch, it offers fast action on its 100 acres of sunflowers and wheat, at least for the first few days of the season; after that it slows down considerably. For detailed, timely info on these areas or others that are available in the St. Louis Region at (636) 441-4554 or check the MDC Web site, www.conservation.state.mo.us.

SOUTHEAST REGION

The hot picks for this region are, according to wildlife regional supervisor Harriet Weger, Ten Mile Pond and Otter Slough CAs.

Ten Mile Pond offers around 150 acres of sunflowers, which, in 2004, were planted west of state Highway W and north of County Road 518. At this CA in Mississippi County, five miles southeast of East Prairie on Highway 102, the hunting is heavily dependent on the sunflower plantings. If the weather holds and they're planted early, great things are in the offing. If wet weather delays the plantings, however, dove numbers are apt to be down considerably.

Otter Slough CA, in Stoddard County southwest of Dexter, offers 130 acres of sunflowers. It's long been recognized as providing excellent hunting, especially early in the season. Last year, most of the forage was planted west of County Road 675 and north of County Road 670. One great field lay west of Field Road in the southern portion of the CA, however.

Both Ten Mile and Otter Slough are managed hunt areas. For current information on these areas or others in the southeast region, call (573) 290-5730 or check the MDC Web site.

OZARK REGION

The Ozark Region is a poor place to go dove hunting. No offense to the region: Its hunting for other species and its fishing are both fabulous. It's just that the land and the habitat are unsuitable for these migratory birds.

Several CAs have small patches of forage on them, but for the most part, in the words of one MDC wildlife biologist, "Pickin's are slim." If you want more information about the Ozark Region call (417) 256-7161, or check the MDC Web site.

SOUTHWEST REGION

Bois D'Arc CA is the place to be on opening day in the Southwest Region. It's in Greene County, one mile north of Bois D'Arc, very close to Springfield. This one offers over 300 acres of sunflowers, wheat, millet and milo. This CA is big -- over 3,000 acres -- so the fields are scattered around the area. Some of the best are in the northwest corner of the CA, south of County Road 76 and east of County Road 53.

The fields will most likely be rotated from their plantings in 2004, so the sunflowers may not be as close to County Road 76 this year as they were last year. That's a shame -- a necessary one, but a shame nonetheless -- because those plantings offered numerous elderly and physically challenged hunters a chance to dove-hunt with minimal physical exertion.

Bois D'Arc gets a lot of pressure from nearby Springfield. After the first few days the hunting can get tough. The ducks seemingly disappear overnight. Savvy hunters allow the birds to settle down for a couple of weeks after the first few days of the season and then go after them again.

And don't forget about Stockton Lake ML, between the Big Sac and Little Sac arms. It's owned by the U.S. Corps of Engineers but managed by the MDC. Some years it'll produce; some, it won't. You'll never know unless and until you give it a try.

For details on these areas or others in the Southwest Region call (417) 895-6880, or check the MDC Web site.

KANSAS CITY REGION

Hunters living in the Kansas City Region are a lucky lot, as several top public areas are in the region to facilitate their hunting pleasure. According to regional wildlife management biologist Kevin Slates, one of the best is the James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area. He reports that in 2004, 3,000 mourning doves were killed here -- approximately 1,200 of them on opening day alone.

Reed is in Jackson County, south of Highway 50 near Lee's Summit. Only about 100 acres of sunflowers are on this one, and maybe another 50 or so of wheat. The fields run the length of the WA from north to south. Most are in the central portion of the land.

Reed gets a lot of hunting pressure, so all hunts are managed. Typically, hunters check in at the area office and are assigned a field. If all the slots are filled, the manager will assign you a spot as soon as an earlier hunter leaves. If you want to hunt here, you'd better get up early, though. According to Slates, it's not unusual for hunters to wait nine, 10 or even 12 hours for one of the coveted afternoon hunting slots. Reed, happily, is worth the wait.

As the season progresses, the hunting pressure shifts towards Platte Falls and Settle's Ford CAs. The former is in Platte County off I-29 near Platte City, the latter in southeast Cass and northeast Bates counties. Both of have plenty of big forage fields, which helps spread the hunters out, and plenty of doves.

For current info on these or other areas in the Kansas City Region, call (816) 655-6250, or check the MDC Web site.

NORTHWEST REGION

The Northwest Region offers Missouri hunters a couple of fine dove hunting locations. The first is Pony Express Lake CA. In DeKalb County nine miles west of Cameron, it supports about 100 acres of sunflowers and another 25 of wheat. Some of the best sunflower fields are north of Wamsley in the center of the CA. There are several other good producers in the southwest corner just east of Fairview and north of Rogers. The hunts are managed, and hunter registration is required.

If Pony Express doesn't suit your fancy, give Nodaway Valley CA a try this season. It's in Holt County, about eight miles north of Highway 59 on Route B. Nodaway Valley offers hunters well over 100 acres of sunflowers and wheat. For the 2004 season they were planted along the eastern edge of the CA near State Highway Y and along the western edge near Squirrel. It's all day-hunting with first come, first served privileges on this CA.

For detailed, up-to-the-minute data on these areas or others in the Northwest Region, call (816) 271-3100 or check the MDC Web site.

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