Excellent Habitat Should Bring Productive Ky. Dove Opener

dove opener Michala Frederick and her dog Hatchie hunt a dove field in Franklin County a few seasons ago. The lush conditions across Kentucky stemming from bountiful rainfall portend and excellent dove season. Dove season opens statewide Sept. 1. (Photo courtesy of Lee McClellan)

The Sept. 1 dove opener this year falls on a Saturday, which will bring more hunters into the field.

By Lee McClellan, Associate Editor, Kentucky Afield Magazine

For the middle of August, much of Kentucky looks as green as late May. Corn is high and robust, pastures are green and streams run bank full. The lush conditions should translate into productive hunting when the dove season opens Sept. 1.

"Sunflowers look great overall," said Wes Little, migratory bird biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. "We have a lot of doves in the population and good habitat conditions. People are sending me photos of awesome looking dove fields. I think it will be a good to great season."

Little also noted the Sept. 1 dove opener this year falls on a Saturday, which will bring more hunters into the field. "With many hunters in the field, the doves will be flying and available to hunters," he said. "It makes a difference."

Scouting a dove field before opening day increases the chances of success. "Scouting fields is important because some fields can be better than others," Little said. "Use the Public Dove Field Interactive Map to find dove fields in your area."

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Users can find the interactive map on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife homepage at www.fw.ky.gov. Click on the "Maps" tab, followed by the "Game Maps" tab, then "Public Dove Fields."

Those scouting leased private land dove fields may not enter them until 11 a.m. Sept. 1, but may scout from an adjacent roadway. Hunters scouting fields on wildlife management areas may enter the area to get a closer look at the field.

Hunters may also see written directions to public dove fields on the department's website by clicking on the "Hunt" tab, followed by "Game Species," then "Migratory Birds." This page contains the 2018 – 2019 Kentucky Hunting Guide for Dove and Early Waterfowl. This guide also covers hunting regulations for woodcock, snipe, rails, gallinules and crows.  A printable PDF of this guide is available via a link on this page as there will no longer be a printed dove guide.

Scouting a dove field also gives hunters an idea about where to set up to hunt. "Shade is always quality real estate on a dove field," Little said. "I also look for cuts in lines of trees and bare, dead trees. Doves are attracted to dead trees. They like to roost in them."

Little said higher spots on the dove field lend hunters an advantage. "I like to be high to see the incoming birds," he said. "If you are in a low spot, the birds are on top of you before you can react to them."

Finding the best spot in the dove field can be for naught if you are ill prepared. "Practice situational shooting before the season starts as flying doves are very hard to hit," Little said. "The national average is over six shots per dove harvested."

Many dove hunters think the season is over after opening weekend, but those willing to adapt find good hunting throughout all three segments of the season.

"Public fields often come back a few weeks after opening day, you might find several hundred birds using them in late September and into October," Little said. "I would scout them after the initial rush to see if birds are still using them."

Little also likes to hunt farm ponds after opening weekend. "It is just like duck hunting," he said. "The farm ponds with some mud showing on the banks draw doves. They come to drink before and after roosting and they need super shallow water in order to drink. Set up some dove decoys when hunting these ponds, they make a tremendous difference."

Cut silage fields also make productive hunting places in the later season. "Harvested tobacco fields sown with a cover crop offer good later season opportunities as well," Little said.

Shotshells filled with No. 7 ½ shot perform from opening day to the late season. "I shoot 7 ½ loads all of the time," Little said. "I have full confidence with my 20-gauge and 7 ½ loads for any distance for doves."

Little reminds hunters to wear protective shooting eyewear when dove hunting or during shooting practice. "I don't go in the dove field without wearing them," he said.

Remember sunscreen and bring plenty of water, especially if you hunt with a dog. "It is often hot in the dove field," Little said. "Dogs and people can easily overheat in early September."

The first segment of the dove season runs through Oct. 26. The second segment opens Nov. 22 (Thanksgiving Day) and closes Dec. 2. The third segment opens Dec. 22, 2018 and closes Jan. 13, 2019.

Also as a reminder, hunters must complete a short survey and get their Harvest Information Program (H.I.P.) confirmation number before they are legal migratory bird hunters. Visit the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife homepage at www.fw.ky.gov and click on the "My Profile" tab to begin. The process takes less than 5 minutes.

In addition to the H.I.P. confirmation number, hunters need a valid Kentucky hunting license as well as a Kentucky Migratory Bird – Waterfowl Hunting Permit to hunt doves legally.

The hottest hunting of the fall is nearly here. Get prepared and bag a few limits of doves this season.

Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.

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