By Greg Keefer
Buckeye State dove hunters should enjoy another good season this year according to Scott Hull, a wildlife biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife. Mourning dove populations have remained stable over the last several years, and indications are that the 3 million-plus birds that migrate into and through Ohio every fall will be right on schedule in 2004.
Dove hunting went through some turbulent times in the recent past, though. Unsuccessful attempts were made in the Ohio Legislature as early as 1963 to reclassify the mourning dove as a game species. The first season in nearly 80 years was established by the ODOW in 1975, only to be stopped by a court order two years later.
Attempts to reestablish the dove season were thwarted by anti-hunting groups until the Ohio General Assembly passed House Bill 287 in 1994. A year later dove hunting was up and at it again until 1998, when the anti-hunting group Save the Doves collected over 100,000 signatures to put an initiative on the ballot which would again ban the hunting of doves.
Save the Doves claimed that doves would soon be put on the endangered species list if hunting were allowed. Sportsmen’s groups like Ohioans for Wildlife Conservation, backed by the ODOW, disagreed. Hunters believed that losing the right to hunt doves would be the foothold animal rights activists were looking for to eliminate all hunting.
Finally, after spending millions of dollars on advertising campaigns, Save the Doves and pro-hunting organizations squared off in the voting booth in 1998 – and the proposed ban on dove hunting was soundly defeated. Sixty percent of voters favored continuing a regulated hunt, while 40 percent opposed it.
Last fall, the ODOW joined 25 other states in a national study coordinated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The study will help biologists better understand the impact of hunting on mourning dove populations, according to Dave Scott, the wildlife research administrator with the ODOW.
According to Scott, an estimated 85,000 doves will be banded nationwide in the next few years. The data collected will help wildlife managers determine harvest rates, estimate annual survival rates and provide needed information on the geographical distribution of harvested birds. At present, it’s estimated, hunters average about 300,000 birds each year in Ohio.
“The hunter is a critical link in this mourning dove banding study,” said Scott. By reporting all banded doves harvested, hunters will help state wildlife agencies track the birds’ migration history. Any hunter who kills a banded mourning dove is asked to call 1-800-327-2263 to report the band number and the location at which the bird was taken. Banded birds may also be reported online at pwrc.usgs.gov by selecting the “Bird Banding Lab” link.
Weather conditions during the spring nesting season always play a major role, and hunters can expect to do fairly well again this season barring severe spring weather. About 20 percent of Ohio’s fall dove population consists of migrating birds (primarily out of Michigan), while the rest are resident birds that seldom move out of a 20-mile radius of their nesting site.
Doves typically feed in fields where there is freshly tilled, harvested or mowed fields with weed seeds or grain left on the ground. These are excellent areas for hunters to set up in. Early morning and evening hours are the times to be there.
Here’s a look at the state’s best bets for dove action this season.
“Dove hunting in District One has been consistently good throughout the area, especially in the heavily farmed western part of the district,” said Dan Huss, a District One wildlife biologist.
Deer Creek Wildlife Area is Huss’ top pick in Fayette, Madison and Pickaway counties. The area covers 4,085 acres, with an additional 1,277 acres of water. The area features several food plots planted by the ODOW in sunflowers, millet and wheat and is surrounded by open farmlands.
Deer Creek is four miles south of Mount Sterling. It can be reached from the east and west by U.S. Route 22 and state Route 56 and from the north and south by U. S. Route 62 and state routes 3, 104 and 207.
For a map and more information, call the Deer Creek WA office at (740) 869-2365.
The 6,970-acre Delaware WA is another of Huss’ picks. It is eight miles north of Delaware between Interstate Route 71 and U. S. Route 23 in Delaware, Marion and Morrow counties 32 miles north of Columbus.
For more information and a map of Delaware WA, contact the area office at (614) 644-3925.
Big Island WA is on state Route 95 five miles west of Marion. The area’s topography is open, flat cropland and contains sections of woodland, marsh, brush, open ground and areas of native and prairie grasses.
For a map and more information, contact Big Island WA at (614) 644-3925.
Doves frequent private lands in District One and look for cornfields, harvested wheat fields, freshly tilled fields, areas around stone quarries near agricultural areas and areas near roosting sites. Patches of conifers or locust tree groves adjacent to secluded farm ponds are good roosting areas.
Area maps and more information can be found by contacting the District One office at (614) 644-3925.
Northwestern Ohio contains plenty of ideal dove habitat. Biologists make it even more attractive by planting food plots with sunflowers, millet, corn and buckwheat. Food plots have been established where tall trees allow doves a place to study their surroundings before they descend to the ground. Nearby water sources, including open mudflats adjacent to the ponds or lakes, attract doves in the afternoons.
Scott Butterworth, a District Two wildlife biologist, recommends the following public lands in his district.
Lake La Su An WA in Williams County is normally a stopover for migrating doves where they can take advantage of the surrounding farms, area ponds and open ground. Lake La Su An covers 2,280 acres of land with 134 acres of water.
Lake La Su An is in
the northwest corner of Williams County. Access is on county Road R from state Route 576, and on county Road 7 from U.S. Route 20.
Information on the area’s special regulations and a map are available by calling (419) 485-9092.
Resthaven WA in Erie County has 444 acres of water and 2,272 acres of land open to public hunting. The ODOW lists this area as one of District Two’s best bets for doves.
Resthaven is at the northeast edge of Castalia on the west side of state Route 269.
For more information, contact Resthaven WA for a map at (419) 684-5049.
Killdeer Plains WA is in the “corn belt,” and doves abound in the region. This 8,627-acre wildlife area has several smaller ponds, scattered trees and plenty of grain on the ground to attract traveling doves.
Some of the area is set aside as a waterfowl refuge and not open to hunting. Study an area map to locate no-hunting zones and for help in negotiating the many roads through the area.
Killdeer Plains is eight miles south of Upper Sandusky. County Road 115 provides access from state Route 294 while state Route 309 enters the area eight miles west of Marion. State routes 67 and 294 border the area on the west and south. Call the wildlife area office at (740) 496-2254 for more details and a current map.
For more information and maps, contact the District Two office at (419) 424-5000.
The open fields and woodlands throughout the northeastern part of the state attract millions of doves every year. The birds find plenty of protection in the heavily populated urban areas and are one of the few wildlife species that have actually benefited from human activity.
Geof Westerfield, a wildlife biologist in District Three, said that most of the wildlife areas in his district have at least two food plots planted in sunflowers, wheat, buckwheat and corn on a rotating basis. A few of the areas have as many as six or seven plots each. District Three staffers mow part of the food plots just before opening day of the season to create a fresh source of food for passing doves.
Westerfield’s top pick is Highlandtown WA, in Columbia County. The area covers 2,265 acres and has 170 acres of water on it. Cover includes hardwoods and conifers interspersed with brush, crop fields and meadows.
Highlandtown WA is 93 miles from Cleveland and 60 miles from Akron. The area can be reached via state Route 164 from Lisbon and on state Route 39 from Salineville and Wellsville.
For more information, contact the wildlife area office at (330) 679-2201.
Killbuck Marsh WA covers 5,500 acres in Holmes and Wayne counties in the southwestern part of the district. Food plots are well established and there are 11 acres of quiet water available. Hunters should focus on field edges and the tall trees near water sources for the best shooting.
Killbuck Marsh is east of Shreve between state routes 83 and 226 and extends from Holmesville to three miles south of Wooster.
For more information and a map, call (330) 567-3390.
For maps of wildlife areas within the district as well as up-to-date information on dove populations in the region, contact the District Three office at (330) 644-2293.
Southeastern Ohio’s mourning dove prospects aren’t as good as those in the rest of the state, according to Keith Morrow, a wildlife biologist in District Four. Thick forests and a lack of cultivated farmland mean that little dove-friendly habitat is present here.
Even so, there are public areas where hunters score well on doves, possibly because the lack of widespread habitat concentrates birds that are migrating through the region.
Biologists have relied heavily on food plots to attract doves to these public hunting areas.
Morrow explained that the Muskingum River Valley is a natural flyway for migrating doves and that his district does get some dove action in farm country within that corridor.
One of Ohio’s largest wildlife areas, Tri-Valley WA in Muskingum, Madison and Adams counties is one of Morrow’s top picks for doves. The 16,200-acre area can be reached by state Route 666 just seven miles north of Zanesville and one mile east of Dresden on state Route 208.
For more information, contact the Tri-Valley WA office at (740) 454-8296.
The Woodbury WA in Coshocton County is another of Morrow’s top picks. It offers a variety of habitat options for doves, including old farm fields, woodlands and open lands. The area encompasses 19,050 acres and includes a large amount of grassland and several ponds. Hunters will find croplands off state Route 541.
Access is wide open to Woodbury via state routes 16, 36, 60 and 541. For a map and more information, contact Woodbury WA at (740) 824-3211.
Wolf Creek WA in Morgan County consists mostly of woodland, but about 20 percent of it is open land. Most of the open areas are maintained in crop rotations through an agreement with local farmers.
Wolf Creek is nine miles southwest of McConnelsville and 11 miles northeast of Glouster along state Route 78. For more information and a map of Wolf Creek WA, call (740) 594-2211.
Morrow also recommended Cooper Hollow WA in Jackson County. There is plenty of old-field cover with native grasses in this wildlife area, which encompasses 5,421 acres of land and nine acres of water. The area has nearly 20 miles of hiking trails that can be used by hunters to reach its various wildlife food plots.
This area is 12 miles southeast of Jackson on U.S. Route 35. The Cooper Hollow WA office can be contacted at (740) 682-7524.
Salt Fork WA offers 20,542 acres in Guernsey County along with 2,952-acre Salt Fork Lake. The area is heavily wooded but includes expansive croplands, former crop fields and old pasture land. Interstate 77 borders salt Fork on the southwest and state routes 22 and 285 on the east.
For maps and more information, contact the Salt Fork WA office at (740) 489-5021.
The ODOW’s District Four office can be reached at (740) 594-2211 for information on the district’s dove- hunting opportunities and maps of its public hunting areas.
Biologist Dan Frevert, who puts a lot of energy into southwestern Ohio’s dove management program, said that doves move through the area to intermingle with a few resident bi
rds but don’t stay long, owing to a lack of habitat.
Wildlife food plots specifically targeting doves have been planted in several wildlife areas. These plots generally run to 10 acres in size and offer sunflowers, millet and wheat.
The Paint Creek WA in Highland and Ross counties tops the list of the area’s most productive dove-hunting destinations, Frevert said.
This wildlife area contains 11,024 acres and includes Paint Creek Lake, Rattlesnake Creek and several other meandering streams. Paint Creek WA is centrally located between Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton and Springfield. Turn off U. S. Route 50 onto state Route 753 or Rapid Forge Road in Ross County. State routes 138 and 753 bisect the area.
For more information, call the Paint Creek WA office at (937) 987-2508.
Caesar Creek WA contains 2,959 acres in Clinton, Greene and Warren counties. State Route 73 crosses the 2,800-acre reservoir and the Corwin-New Burlington Road provides access to the area from the south. Lumberton-New Burlington and Mound roads provide access from the southeast. State Route 380 is the best way in from the north and west.
For a map and dove hunting information, contact Caesar Creek WA at (937) 488-3115.
Darke WA’s 316 acres provide a fair opportunity for doves with open areas, fencerows and woodlots. Most of the area is made up of meadow and grain crops plus seven ponds ranging from about an acre to almost 5 acres in size.
The wildlife area is in Darke County six miles east of Greenville on U.S. Route 36. It is 45 miles from Dayton and 70 miles from Cincinnati. The wildlife area office can be reached by calling (513) 726-6795.
Additional information and wildlife area maps can be obtained by contacting the ODOW’s District Five office at (937) 372-9261.
There is some great dove hunting around Ohio this month. For more information, contact the Ohio Division of Wildlife at 1-800-945-3543. Maps and additional information are available on the ODOW’s Web site at www.ohiodnr.com/wildlife.
For assistance in planning a trip to any of these top-rated dove-hunting areas, contact the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism at 1-800-282-5393.
Discover even more in our monthly magazine,
and have it delivered to your door!
Subscribe to Ohio Game & Fish