Our Finest Public-Land Dove Hunts

Here's where to find some great September dove shooting on public land near you in 2009. (September 2009)

The Ohio Division of Wildlife deserves a pat on the back for its efforts in managing our dove population. The Buckeye State harbors millions of migrant and resident birds every fall, and though success is never guaranteed, good weather can mean some of the best wingshooting of the season is awaiting hunters this month.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Harvest Information Program (HIP) said that an estimated 17,500 Ohio dove hunters took home 307,700 doves during the 2007-08 season. The data showed that a hunter generally made three to five trips afield during the season and harvested as many as five birds per trip.

That's not bad shooting, and a lot of it is the direct result of the ODOW's dove management work.

"We plant a variety of natural foods, depending on what's working in the dove fields in a particular area," said Damon Greer, an ODOW wildlife biologist. "This year the fields will be pretty much in the same places and condition they were in last year, but the weather is always the deciding factor."

Winter wheat, millet, sunflower and corn are the mainstays. Sunflowers often mature after the opener, at least in the northern half of the state, and sometimes they're used specifically because they'll draw doves later in the season.

Here's a look at where the Buckeye State's best dove action will be near you in 2009:

DISTRICT ONE

Delaware Wildlife Area

The word from wildlife biologist Gary Ludwig is that the Delaware Wildlife Area is one of central Ohio's most dependable dove producers.

Some of the region's wildlife areas have been difficult to raise food plots on but Delaware has been the exception.

More good news is that Delaware consistently has good numbers of birds on the opener. The dove fields over the last couple of years have been the best that Ludwig has ever seen. The sunflowers looked good and shooters were ready to go, but the inexplicable happened. The birds passed it up. It was probably because of cold fronts and other weather patterns, but no one knows for sure.

Planted fields will be found on county roads 216 and 220, south of county Road 21, west of the intersection of county Road 250 and township Road 225, on township Road 80 and southeast of the dog training area.

The Delaware WA is at the intersection of U.S. Route 23 and state Route 229 in Delaware and Marion counties north of the city of Delaware.

Deer Creek Wildlife Area

The Deer Creek WA is a dove hunter's paradise. Some 1,000 acres of crops are cultivated every year in the midst of reverting crop fields.

Hunting pressure can be high, but so are the success rates, said Ludwig. Every year, limit hunts during the first two or three days of the season are consistent with the usual strong showing of birds.

One mistake that many hunters make is to leave the car to scout the dove fields. Doves that are already utilizing the area should be left alone. When the fields are a ways off the parking lot, walk just close enough to get a quick look to see if birds are on the field or in the surrounding roosting trees. They're easily spooked, especially by a dog, and will vacate fields if they're continually harassed. This may be the number one goof that hunters make to spoil the hunt before it even starts.

There are usually seven food plots on Deer Creek that are planted to sunflowers and wheat. Adjacent ground is mowed to make the fields more inviting.

The two plots on the western end of the area are north of state Route 207 west of county Road 34 (Yankeetown Road). Another is west of the wildlife headquarters south of state Route 207. One field is on township Road 129, another south of state Route 207 and west of county Road 25 (Egypt Pike Road), and two more are on the eastern end on township Road 124 (Dick Road).

The Deer Creek WA in Fayette, Madison and Pickaway counties covers 4,085 acres. It lies on state Route 207 four miles south of Mount Sterling.

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

DISTRICT TWO

Kildeer Plains Wildlife Area

The dove population in northwestern Ohio has been holding steady for a decade, according to Scott Butterworth, an ODOW wildlife supervisor.

Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area in Marion and Wyandot counties typically offers a decent dove hunt. The area is prime dove habitat with wide-open spaces, standing timber, lots of agricultural ground and five dove fields.

The fields are southeast of the intersection of county Highway 75 and township Highway 106, southeast of the intersection of Meeker-Upper Sandusky Road and county Highway 68, off county Highway 115 south of state Route 294 and south of the upland reservoir on county Highway 67A.

Some of the 8,627-acre wildlife area is a waterfowl refuge and is closed to hunting or trespassing. The area map is a great tool for staying off the waterfowl refuge and traveling the extensive system of back roads.

Look for doves in the open and semi-open areas near corn, sunflower, mullet, wheat, pine and other foods.

A water source with large roosting trees with dead branches, power lines, and hedgerows is ideal. Throw in a little grit and gravel and you should see birds.

Killdeer Plains WA is eight miles south of Upper Sandusky and eight miles west of Marion. Access is off state Route 294 near Harpster.

Additional information may be obtained by contacting the wildlife area office at (740) 496-2254.

Lake La Su An Wildlife Area

Another traditional hotspot is the Lake La Su An Wildlife Area. The area usually features a dozen or more fields scattered throughout the property. Having that many options makes it a tough call for wingshooters when it's time to pick a spot, so do your scouting in the days before the season opener.

Lake La Su An staff has established food plots with sunflowers, millet, corn and buckwheat on the plate. The birds are sometimes thick on the opener but quickly figure out what's going on once the shooting starts.

The hunt is on a first-come, first-served basis. For the first three or four days, the hunting pressure i

s heavy and a lot of birds are harvested. After that, the birds are more cautious, though good numbers generally remain on the property throughout the season.

The area offers handicapped hunting opportunities where hunters can drive onto areas otherwise closed to vehicles. A physician's statement must be in the hunter's possession explaining why he is prohibited from walking.

Lake La Su An WA covers 2,280 acres of land with 134 acres of water in its ponds. The area is in the northwestern corner of Williams County. Access is from county Road R off state Route 576 and from county Road 7 off U.S. Route 20.

For more information, call the WA at (419) 485-9092.

The ODOW's District Two office may be reached at (419) 424-5000.

DISTRICT THREE

Wildlife biologist Greer is seldom interested in predicting what will and what won't work in his district when it comes to the dove fields. The birds have a mind of their own and use it.

Last year, the fields on West Branch were the most beautiful fields Greer had ever seen. Some of the ODOW guys even hunted these fields because they looked so good, but for some reason, only small numbers of birds utilized them. That happens, said Greer. Typically, West Branch and Highlandtown wildlife areas are Greer's top-producing spots. Berlin, Killbuck and Grand River wildlife areas are usually pretty good spots to try as well. The fields usually consist of corn, wheat and millet because sunflowers don't normally mature soon enough to be ready for the opener.

Highlandown Wildlife Area

Highlandtown Wildlife Area covers 2,265 acres, including with 170 acres of water. The area is primarily hardwoods and conifers that are interspersed with brush, meadows and grain fields. The area gets some gunning pressure because it isn't far from Cleveland and Akron.

Access is eight miles south of Lisbon on state routes 39 and 164.

Hunter courtesy, safety and picking up your expended shells are primary considerations here.

For more information, contact the Highlandtown Wildlife Area office at (330) 679-2201.

West Branch State Park

The West Branch State Park WA in Portage County provides shooters with three fields planted with sunflowers, corn and wheat. The shooting will be good if the deer haven't eaten everything first!

One field is at the east end of Cable Line Road on the western side of the wildlife area. Another is north of Cable Line Road from the first parking lot east of state Route 14. The last field is north of Booth Road west of Rock Spring Road.

There are over 8,000 acres of property open to hunting. Watch for the property border signs between the wildlife area and state park. Hunting is prohibited on the state park portion of the complex.

Safety and courtesy are important when it comes to public-land dove hunting. Be able to identify incoming birds, and never shoot at low-flying birds!

Hunters are also encouraged to pick up their own trash and empties. Also, don't clean birds in the parking lot.

Take a youth hunting with you to help pass the torch to the next generation. It wouldn't hurt to shoot a few rounds of trap or skeet before you go.

For more information on West Branch State Park, call the Berlin Lake Wildlife Area office at (330) 654-2392.

The ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293 will also provide more information.

DISTRICT FOUR

Wildlife biologist Jim Hill keeps his finger on the pulse of southeastern Ohio's dove hunting and he's willing to recommend Woodbury and Tri-Valley wildlife areas.

The Muskingum River Valley is a natural flyway for migrating birds and these wildlife areas tend to attract a lot of them.

According to Hill, hunting opportunities get better when you go from south to north in his district. Doves prefer the open spaces, and the ideal habitat includes water, bare soil, an ample food supply and good roosting cover.

Most of the region is heavily forested, and that tends to concentrate birds on private property with harvested wheat or corn silage or on public areas with designated food plots. Biologists take advantage of the lack of natural habitat by creating some of their own.

Woodbury Wildlife Area

The Woodbury WA in Coshocton County is an old stand-by for dove shooting.

Woodbury offers a variety of habitat options for doves to choose from, including old farm fields, woodlands and open lands. The area covers 19,050 acres and includes a large amount of grassland and several ponds, which appeal to migrating doves. A lot of good cropland is off state Route 541.

Doves typically feed in fields that have been freshly tilled, harvested or mowed. Grain and weed seeds are the draw. Look for roosting spots in proximity to the ponds and crop fields. Early morning and evening hours are the times to be here.

Access to Woodbury includes state routes 16, 36, 60 and 541.

Contact the Woodbury Wildlife Area office at (740) 824-3211.

Tri-Valley Wildlife Area

Of the two, Tri-Valley probably draws more birds, but the downside is that it also draws more hunters. Visit the fields ahead of the opener to look not only for birds but signs that other hunters have been trekking back in to look things over.

The area staff tries to maintain 25 acres of wildlife food plots divided into four locations. These fields include sunflowers and wheat, weather permitting, and are located on small secondary roads. Wingshooters who wait until other hunters have moved on can usually pick up some new or returning birds.

Tri-Valley Wildlife Area is one of Ohio's largest wildlife areas at 16,200 acres. It is in Adams, Madison and Muskingum counties seven miles north of Zanesville on state Route 666 and a mile east of Dresden on state Route 208.

For a map and more information, contact Tri-Valley Wildlife Area at (740) 454-8296.

The ODOW'S District Four office may be reached at (740) 589-9930.

DISTRICT FIVE

The top picks for dove hunting in wildlife biologist Al Gerhart's district in southwestern Ohio are the Falls­ville and Rush Run wildlife areas.

"Sunflowers are the main course," said Gerhart. "They'll ripen nicely right about the time the season comes in. Wheat and millet are dessert for doves, but there's a little competition from the whitetails."

The larger wildlife areas in the district offer controlled hunts for the first two or three days of the season. Keeping the number of hunters down seems to keep the birds in the area longer.

The first 10 days in September are under special regulations and hunting is allowed only from noon to sunset, even on the days after the controlled hunts are over. This is another attempt to keep birds on the fields longer than they otherwise might stay. They'll feed in the morning and still be present when hunters arrive.

Drawings for the controlled hunts are on Aug. 22 every year or as posted on the ODOW's Web site. A hunter must be present at his pick of wildlife area headquarters with his HIP certification and hunting license.

All of the district's controlled hunt drawings are on the same day and at the same time with the goal of having hunters make up their minds as to their preferences.

Fallsville Wildlife Area

Fallsville is a good area to tackle for those who like to stick to smaller wildlife areas but still have big-area opportunities.

The Fallsville Wildlife Area covers 1,382 acres in Highland County. The Fallsville WA-South Unit provides an additional 379 acres. Doves will be found throughout the area's hardwoods, pines and open fields.

State Route 73 borders the western edge of the main unit. Access is off Powell Road from the north, Careytown Road South on the east and Roundhead Road on the south.

The Fallsville Wildlife Area's South Unit is part of the complex but is separated from the main area by about 1.5 miles. To reach the South Unit, take Careytown Road south from the main unit.

Rush Run Wildlife Area

The Rush Run WA in Preble County has five separate fields totaling 61 acres. The area has generally good habitat made even better by the grain plantings.

Food plots have been established where open trees overhead allow doves a vantage point before they descend to the ground. About half of the area is in reverting fields and rolling meadows.

Two of the dove fields are north and west of the dog-training area on the west end of the area off Northern Road. There are two more dove fields that are close to each other northwest of the intersection of Northern and Pogue Frazee roads. The fifth field is a walk-in plot south of the lake off Pogue Frazee Road. From the parking lot, walk east and follow the yellow paint on the trees.

Rush Run WA covers 1,174 acres fourteen miles northwest of Middle­town and northeast of Somerville.

For additional information, contact the area headquarters at (513) 726-6795.

The ODOW's District Five office may be reached at (937) 372-9261

Maps of dove field locations will be posted on the ODOW's Web site at www.wildohio.com.

For more information on Ohio's dove-hunting opportunities, contact the Olentangy Research Station at (740) 747-2525.

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