Our Finest September Dove Hunts

Our Finest September Dove Hunts

Ohio's dove season is one of the most popular events of the year, and ODOW biologists are working hard to keep it that way. Try these public-land hotspots this month. (September 2007)

Photo by Mike Marsh.

It's been over a decade since Ohio's modern mourning dove hunting season was reintroduced. Many sportsmen recall the political upheaval created in 1995 and the tempers that flared on both sides of the dove-hunting issue. But the question was settled by public vote. Thanks to the efforts of the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW), hunting doves in the Buckeye State has never been better.

"What's important for doves is a quality food source, good weather, roosting sites and timing," said Gary Ludwig, an ODOW wildlife biologist out of Wildlife District One.

"Our Sept. 1 opener allows time for crops to ripen in the dove fields. We mow, disk and burn the fields to begin attracting resident doves by mid-August. And by opening day, they start showing up in numbers."

Many times, a cold weather front up north puts birds on the move throughout Ohio, said Ludwig. If the front hits three or four days before the opener, most birds may be gone before hunters can go afield. If the front is here only a day or two before the opener, bring an extra box of shells. The shooting will be hot and heavy.

Over the past several years, over 40 dove fields have been established on Ohio's public hunting areas.

Here's a look at several topnotch public lands where dove hunting should be excellent this fall:

BIG ISLAND WILDLIFE AREA

This area is biologist Ludwig's top pick for mourning dove hunting in Ohio. A lot of ODOW effort goes into making it a top destination for both doves and hunters.

"We plant an average of five dove fields here every year, but the primary purpose of the area is establishing grass and wetland habitats so the area is wet in the spring," he said. "That can complicate matters when it comes to planting the fields, and occasionally our fields aren't the best."

But good fields or bad, Big Island is still the top spot for all of central Ohio's wildlife areas, with a consistently high harvest rate of doves from year to year.

There may be heavy hunting pressure on the first couple of days. But it's impossible to predict exactly when birds will settle into the fields. Ludwig has seen tremendous opening days, only to see hunters skunked on day two -- and vice versa.

"It's the classic dove dilemma," he said, "with the birds here and then gone in the blink of an eye, regardless of the quality of the fields."

The Big Island WA covers 5,032 acres in Marion County. Dove fields lie north and south of intersecting state Route 95 on the area's east end. Several ponds on the area help attract the birds in September.

For more information, contact the ODOW's District One office at (614) 644-3925.

DELAWARE WA

The Delaware Wildlife Area comes in as a close second to Big Island. Biologist Ludwig has found that shooters see more birds over a longer period of time but the hunting can be unpredictable.

"We plant an average of seven dove fields on Delaware WA every year," said Ludwig. "And last season, we probably had the best-looking fields we've ever had, but the birds still didn't show up in great numbers, even on opening day."

A lot of work goes into creating a good field.

"We like to girdle several large trees around the fields to create deadwood perching sites," said Ludwig. "Doves will concentrate in large numbers in these dead trees before committing to feeding in the field. They like to build up a little confidence by going in as a group instead of individually."

That's where pre-scouting a field comes into play. Hunters are advised to visit the fields a few days ahead of time to find out which areas the doves are using. Simply showing up early opening morning without having done a little scouting can mean going home empty-handed.

The Delaware Wildlife Area may be reached from U.S. Route 23 and state routes 98 and 229 four miles north of Delaware in Marion and Delaware counties.

For more information, contact the ODOW's District One office at (614) 644-3925.

KILLDEER PLAINS WA

"We'll have dove fields at both Killdeer and Resthaven this year," said Scott Butterworth, and ODOW wildlife biologist.

"The fields average 10 acres in size and are planted with multiple lure crops. The fields are open under early migratory bird hunting regulations, and usually hunters do very well for the first several days of the season."

Weather is always the determining factor on how well the fields produce, said Butterworth. So there's always the chance of a poor growing season, which means the birds will look elsewhere.

Both wildlife areas are good producers later in the season after the excitement of opening day is over. But the late-season birds are usually a little more wary than their early-season counterparts.

Two fields are located south of the upground reservoir northeast of the intersection of county highways 67a and 77. Two fields lie off county Highway 71 east of county Highway 115. Another is between Meeker-Upper Sandusky Road and Washburn Road, close to the southern edge of the state lands.

The area has several ponds that provide doves with a source of water. To say the terrain is flat and relatively open is an understatement.

The area covers 8,627 acres in Wyandot and Marion counties, 11 miles west of Marion.

For more information, call the ODOW's District Two at (419) 424-5000.

RESTHAVEN WA

"I think our fields attract doves because we specifically manage to attract resident and migrant birds," said Butterworth.

The first few days of the season are always hunted heavily. With the opener falling on a Saturday, Butterworth looks for even more hunters.

Doves can be spooked if harassed a few times, and you may need to identify secondary feeding areas. If hunters can find nearby fields where the birds have roosting cover and seed crops to attract them, they may just have the spot to

themselves.

Both Killdeer and Resthaven produces multiple limits of doves, said Butterworth. But that can lead to some problems. He reminds hunters to clean up their shells, boxes and snack wrappers before leaving the area; and to clean birds in out-of-the-way spots, rather than near parking lots and traveled areas.

Resthaven's dove fields border Oxbow Road on either side of the dog training area and off Road D-1, northwest of Castalia.

Resthaven lies in Erie and Sandusky counties, a stone's throw from Lake Erie. The area's 2,272 acres are off state routes 6 and 269. Call the ODOW's District Two at (419) 424-5000 for additional information.

DORSET WA

"The dove fields on Dorset change from year to year, depending on what's planted," said wildlife biologist Jeff Westerfield.

"We usually put in sunflower, corn, buckwheat and millet, though not every crop is put in every year. Dorset is surrounded by farmland and has a fair population of doves. But if the crops don't come up as we'd like, there's always the chance that other fields near the area will draw the doves away."

The Dorset WA covers 1,080 acres in Ashtabula County and can be reached from state Route 193 via Tower Road. To reach the dove field, follow Footville-Richmond Road east from state Route 193 in Dorset. The field is next to the parking lot.

Three parking lots give good access to the rest of the area. For more information, call the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293 or the area manager at Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area at (440) 685-4776.

GRAND RIVER WA

Birds on the Grand River WA enjoy five different fields that total about 25 acres. Buckwheat, sunflowers, corn, millet, wheat and sorghum are all planted in rotation.

Not all of the area is good dove habitat, but the fields should help tip the odds in favor of the hunters.

"If the fields produce well and the weather cooperates, there should be plenty of birds," said Westerfield.

If you want to get off the beaten path, there's timber, ponds and marshes to hunt. There are plenty of field edges where doves will make a brief stopover in nearby trees before moving to the ground to feed.

These secondary fields are worth locating once the birds have been spooked off the main fields during the opening days of the season.

The wildlife area covers 7,231 acres in Trumbull County and is 36 miles outside of Cleveland. Hunters can use state routes 88 and 534 for access. For more information, call the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293, or the area manager at (330) 644-2293.

TRI-VALLEY WA

"There's some phenomenal hunting on Tri-Valley the first couple of days during the opener," said wildlife biologist Mike Reynolds. "But when the hunting pressure picks up, the birds don't stay around for long.

"The doves are attracted to sunflowers and wheat that are planted in the dove fields. We work at having seed on the ground before and during the first part of the season. The action can be fast and furious."

According to Michael Zaleski, wildlife area supervisor, Tri-Valley seems to be in a natural flyway for migrating doves.

"There's plenty of water, food and bare ground to keep the birds around once they get here," he said. "On the average, hunters do well during the first two or three days of the season.

"But after that, the doves stop using the fields as much. The birds become scarce when the shooting starts and local farmers start cutting their corn. But a persistent hunter can still find a few birds later on.

"Hunters can often locate birds in food plots and other areas away from the dove fields around Tri-Valley, so it pays to take time to look around."

Twenty-five acres in four separate fields are planted to attract doves to the area. An area map will help hunters find the fields that are located on small, secondary roads.

The Tri-Valley WA covers 16,200 acres near Dresden in Muskingum County. For more information, contact the ODOW's District Four office at (740) 589-9930, or the wildlife area manager at (740) 454-8296.

WOODBURY WA

This is another topnotch dove-shooting destination for public-land shooters. According to biologist Reynolds, Woodbury can have hundreds or thousands of birds working the fields when the season opens.

Birds may leave the area during the first day or so and seek out other fields. Many shooters never make it back around to these dove fields and miss out on some excellent shooting later in the season. Limit shoots are a possibility throughout the season.

The huge Woodbury WA covers 19,050 acres. In the northwestern unit, three fields covering a total of 18 acres bring in the doves. In the central section, four fields totaling about 25 acres are close together.

The Big Island Wildlife Area is biologist Gary Ludwig's top pick for mourning dove hunting in Ohio.

Woodbury Wildlife Area lies in Coshocton County. To reach the fields from state Route 79, take county Road 82 east to township Road 59, and then continue south on township Road 59. For more information, call the ODOW's District Four office at (740) 589-9930, or the area manager at (740) 824-3211.

CAESAR CREEK WA

ODOW staff work hard to make Caesar Creek Wildlife Area one of the Buckeye State's finest dove-shooting destinations.

"We have five hunt fields at Caesar Creek that average about 10 acres each," said area manager Scott Phillips. "The crops consist of sunflowers, corn, millet and wheat, but the condition of the fields depends on the weather and changes from year to year. Overall, we do our best to ensure excellent hunting opportunities when the dove season opens."

Caesar Creek and the Spring Valley Wildlife Area provide outstanding hunting opportunities. In 2006, during the region's controlled three-day hunts, 212 hunters shot 8,842 shells to score 1,583 doves. The average harvest per hunter was 7.5 birds.

"The overall satisfaction rating given by these hunters was excellent," said Phillips. It's certainly not hard to understand why.

Caesar Creek WA lies in Clinton, Greene and Warren counties southeast of Dayton and south of Xenia on state Route 308. The area covers 10,186 acres. For more information, call the ODOW's District Five office at (937) 372-9261, or the area manager at (937) 488-3115.

DARKE WA

Darke WA, definitely one of the state's smaller public dove-hunting spots, offers a good chance of taking home a few birds. "A

bout two weeks before the season opener, we manipulate the fields to draw both resident and migrant doves," said Mike White, Darke's area manager.

"The area is surrounded by farmland and a few ponds that make the area more enticing to doves. We haven't taken a survey among the hunters, but some quality shooting goes on throughout the season. However, most of the birds harvested are taken within the first week."

A six-acre dove field lies on the north end of the property between Horatio-New Harrison and Lehman roads, north of U.S. Route 36. The field is planted with three acres of sunflowers in the center and three acres of millet on either side.

Darke Wildlife Area covers 316 acres in Darke County on U.S. Route 36 about six miles east of Greenville.

More information is available from the ODOW's District Five office at (937) 372-9261. Or call the wildlife area manager at (513) 726-6795.

DISEASE PRECAUTIONS

According to biologist Reynolds, Ohio lost some songbirds, doves, grouse and most likely a number of pheasants to West Nile virus in 2003.

Studies have shown that birds can develop immunity to the virus and that dove populations appear to be safe. Hunters who clean their doves wearing plastic gloves and cook them properly have nothing to worry about.

Downloadable maps of Ohio's wildlife areas are available at the Ohio Division of Wildlife's Web site at www.ohiodnr.com.

For tourism information, contact the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism at 1-800-282-5393, or visit online at www.discoverohio.com.

Find more about Ohio fishing and hunting at: OhioGameandFish.com

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