Prairie State Public-Land Doves

Illinois has more than 100 public hunting locations with well-managed sunflower fields or other food sources specifically targeted to attract mourning doves. (September 2008)

More than half of Illinois' public hunting land consists of croplands.
Photo by Windigo Images.

Dove hunting is a tradition that spans generations. Prairie State dove hunters await the season with a mixture of emotions ranging from mild anticipation to overzealous anxiety. The hours leading up to and culminating with opening day create a fever pitch of excitement for many hunters.

Yes, dove hunting literally comes in with a bang and quickly subsides. Most hunters invest maximum effort at the start of the season, but interest and participation fades quickly as hunting success diminishes and other hunting seasons come into play.

However, dove season doesn't have to be enjoyed just one or two good days then abandoned. With a little extra effort, hunters can find good shooting over the span of several weeks.

Obviously, private fields that are specifically planted and managed for dove hunting offer the most success. Fields can be designed to offer the maximum amount of camouflage, shooting opportunities and spacing between hunters. Additionally, most of the invited hunters know each other through family, friendship or mutual acquaintance, creating camaraderie among the participants.

Most of us, however, don't own a private field to enjoy. If we're lucky, we may be invited to a private hunt, but more often than not, we're relegated to pursuing our quarry on public land.

However, be of good cheer. Illinois dove hunters have plenty of great places to enjoy a day or two of shooting throughout the season. Good public land is usually nearby, but to reap the most benefits, it's necessary do a little homework.

More than 100 public sites are owned, leased or managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for dove hunting, with sunflower fields or other food sources specifically planted to attract mourning doves.

Hunters typically enjoy very successful hunting on these public lands. In fact, the most recently published tally of hunter participation showed surprising results. During the 2006-2007 hunting season, hunters on Illinois public lands shot more than 98,400 doves.

Here are some public lands to consider this season.

Madison County

Dove hunters near St. Louis have more than 3,000 acres of public land available at Horseshoe Lake, but not all is open to dove hunting or governed by the same regulations.

The property consists of several units, some federally managed and others managed by the DNR. The federal property is open under the statewide season and regulations for dove hunting, but the state property is much more regulated.

Hunting is allowed only in DNR-managed dove fields and is restricted to permit holders for the first five days of the season. Permits are drawn by advance applicants with standby hunting available if vacancies exist. Hunting hours for the entire season are from noon to 5 p.m.

After the first five days of the season, hunting is open through a daily drawing when more than 35 hunters are properly registered and present to hunt. All hunters must hunt within 10 feet of their assigned stake.

Although there are many regulations and restrictions at Horseshoe Lake, the hunting is well worth the extra aggravation. Plenty of birds are attracted to the area due to extensive management and wildlife plantings. The ample availability of food, water and roosting locations attracts and holds a good number of doves, especially early in the season.

The Horseshoe Lake properties are located about a mile from Granite City and are bordered by routes 111 and 162. Horseshoe Lake State Park is located at 3321 S.R. 111.

More information on hunting at Horseshoe Lake is available by contacting the state park at (618) 931-0270 or the St. Louis district of the Army Corps of Engineers at (636) 899-2600. For information on travel, lodging and dining, contact the Granite City Chamber of Commerce at (618) 876-6400.

LaSalle County

Approximately 60 acres are planted and managed for dove hunting at Matthiessen State Park near Utica in LaSalle County. Last year's data indicated more than 3,500 doves taken at Matthiessen.

Dove hunters must obtain a free hunting permit from the Springfield DNR office before hunting. Hunters must also register and participate in a drawing for site selection on the day they hunt. Check out and harvest reporting is required.

During the first five days of the season, hunting is limited to the hours between noon and 5 p.m. On the sixth day and continuing through the remainder of the season, hunting hours are governed by statewide regulations.

The park requires hunters to attend a pre-hunt safety talk, hunt at their assigned stakes only and abide by regulations governing the size shot allowed and which fields may be hunted.

Matthiessen State Park is located about three miles south of Utica on Illinois Hwy. 178.

For more information, contact the site superintendent at (815) 667-4726. For travel information, contact the Illinois Valley Area Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development at (815) 223-0227 .

Perry County

Five separate units make up the Pyramid property. The former surface mining property is a mix of habitats, including ample open fields, grasslands, row crops, food plots and timbered areas. The diversity of the property is a huge draw to doves and other wildlife.

Hunters are drawn as well, and subsequent success keeps them returning. During the 2006-2007 season, hunters took nearly 6,000 birds.

Dove hunting is allowed on all five tracts, but certain fields planted in sunflowers or wheat are designated as management fields. A lottery drawing is required to hunt those areas during the first five days of the season. Additionally, persons that do not draw a permit may not hunt within 200 yards of the quota hunt areas.

Hunting hours are from noon to 5 p.m. during the first five days of the season and follow statewide regulations thereafter. There are also regulations governing types and sizes of shot. Other regulations and hunting ava

ilability vary from tract to tract, so hunters should familiarize themselves with the site-specific regulations before hunting. A site permit is required before hunting on any Pyramid tract.

The state park is located at 1562 Pyramid Park Road near Pinckneyville. Further directions to individual tracts may be obtained from the state park. All properties are located in Perry County.

For more information, contact Pyramid State Park at (618) 357-2574 or the Pinckneyville Chamber of Commerce at (618) 357-3243.

Cass County

This property consistently ranks high on dove hunters' lists of favorite places. Hunter success accounted for nearly 9,000 birds last year.

Two-thirds of JEPC's 16,550 acres -- a mixture of cropland, food plots, idled farm ground and open fields -- attract thousands of doves every year providing optimum hunting opportunities. Several areas are planted in sunflowers and used as dove management fields. Additionally, wheat fields are burned, which helps attract area doves.

The property is open to dove hunting during the entire season, but stricter regulations are in place for the first 10 days. For the first five days, hunters must secure a special permit from the Springfield office. A special drawing is held for unfilled hunter quotas during the first five days. During the second five days of the season, hunting is controlled through an 11 a.m. site drawing. The remainder of the dove season is open hunting.

Site permits are required before hunting and must be displayed on the windshields of hunter vehicles while on the property. For more information, contact the site superintendent at (217) 452-7741.

The Jim Edgar Panther Creek SFWA is located in Cass County between Ashland and Chandlerville, about 25 miles northwest of Springfield.

Will County

Hunters took 3,392 doves over 301 man/days in 2006-2007.

The Des Plaines FWA totals 5,400 acres, with more than half of it consisting of croplands, native prairie grasses and cool-season grasses.

Hunting is allowed during the first five days of the season by permit only issued through a state lottery drawing. Hunters must register between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. and be present on the day of the hunt. Permits are void after 11 a.m., and vacancies will be filled afterward through a sign-in sheet.

During the 2006-2007 hunting season, hunters on Illinois public lands shot more than 98,400 doves.

After the first five days, permits are not required and hunting is on a first-come, first-served basis.

All hunters must hunt within 10 feet of their designated hunting locations. Hunters may not carry loaded guns while traveling into or from the hunting areas and may not carry guns when retrieving downed birds. Hunters must use No. 6 or smaller steel or other approved nontoxic shot.

The Des Plaines FWA is in Will County, approximately 10 miles south of Joliet and 55 miles southwest of Chicago. It may be reached via Interstate Hwy. 55 and taking the Wilmington exit.

For more information, contact the FWA at (815) 423-5326, the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry at (815) 727-5371 or by e-mail at

Moultrie County

Moultrie County is home to the sprawling Shelbyville SFWA -- 6,500 acres divided into two units, both open for dove hunting.

The 3,700-acre Kaskaskia Unit lies adjacent to the Kaskaskia River and features a wide diversity of habitats, including food plots, grasslands, wetlands and timbered areas.

The 2,700-acre West Okaw Unit, located six miles southwest of Sullivan and three miles southeast of Bethany alongside the West Okaw River, offers the same diverse habitats as Kaskaskia.

Both units have two areas open to dove hunting -- dove management fields and open hunting areas.

Dove management fields require a site permit obtained through a free drawing. Hunting is allowed in the management fields from noon until 5 p.m. during the first five days and from noon until sunset the rest of the season.

Open hunting areas mandate the same shooting times but don't require drawing a permit in order to hunt. Hunters are required to obtain a free site permit.

Shot regulations vary according to the area one is hunting. For more information, contact the site superintendent at (217) 665-3112.

For information concerning lodging, dining and area information, contact the Sullivan Area Chamber of Commerce at (217) 728-4223.

These are only a few of the great locations across the state to hunt doves. The DNR is doing a fantastic job of managing dove hunting, planting sunflower fields and other food plots and providing optimum hunting opportunities for Prairie State dove hunters.

Hunters should remember that mourning doves are migratory birds. Although their southerly exodus isn't as discernible as waterfowl, doves begin moving south during the season. By keeping this movement in mind and adjusting hunting efforts to different locales as the season progresses, good hunting can be extended through the bulk of the season and not just limited to the first few days.

If you travel to new locations this year, acquaint yourself with all regulations governing a specific hunt location. Regulations aren't static, so staying abreast of current laws is imperative.

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