From Kingsbury to Mississinewa and beyond, here are five top public places to find fabulous dove hunting this fall in our state. Is one near you?
Photo by Mark Romanack
What thrills you most about hunting? Is it waiting for that one all-important shot on big game? Is it multiple shots at plenty of game? If it's the latter of the two, and getting to take plenty of shots at fast-moving targets, then dove hunting is for you.
When you also consider that doves are the most available game bird in North America, they are delicious, and you get a bag limit of 15, you end up with a highly desirable hunting activity -- one that had over 1,153,000 participants (during 2004) across the United States.
With these types of positive attributes, it's no wonder that Indiana's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) places a lot of effort into managing a very popular and successful dove-hunting program. The success of this program is actually two- fold, and it encompasses good land-management techniques, and a well- run dove reserve hunt.
The basis for any type of good hunting begins with the habitat and ecology to support a given species. Of course, there are aesthetic values and traditions that enhance any hunting experience; but without game, hunting interest would evaporate.
Indiana's DFW does an excellent job of managing habitat that supports large dove populations on many of its properties. Last year, for example, a total of 35,825 doves were taken on fish and wildlife areas (FWAs) in Hoosierland. This is up 7,744 birds from the previous year, a 22 percent increase! Moreover, reservoir properties saw a sharp increase as well. This means dove hunters in Indiana fared quite well last year, and the outlook for this year is very good, too.
Let's now take a look at several of these properties where the dove hunting will likely be fast-paced this fall.
Kingsbury FWA in LaPorte County contains 7,120 acres. Kingsbury is one of the FWAs that hold reserved dove hunts each season, and last year, 3,885 doves were harvested on its dove-hunting fields.
Mac Carlisle is the property manager at Kingsbury; he notes that specific land-management techniques are used at Kingsbury to ensure good dove hunting.
"Basically, we use row-crop farming (techniques), and we want the fields as clean as possible to minimize weedy growth," Carlisle said. "Sunflowers are planted to attract the birds into the fields. We want them (sunflowers) brown and not green on Sept. 1."
Planting the sunflowers early is necessary to get them to go through their natural life cycle and turn brown with lots of mature seeds for the doves to eat. "The secret," Carlisle said, "is to get them in the ground early; some FWAs have to spray to turn them brown."
Kingsbury can accommodate a lot of dove hunters. "Typically we can have 100 dove hunters," Carlisle said.
Dove hunting at Kingsbury during the first two days of the season is limited to winners of the DNR's Dove Hunt Reservation Drawing. These perspective shooters picked Kingsbury FWA for the place they wanted to hunt on their reserve dove hunt application card.
Essentially, the DNR-sponsored Dove Hunt Reservation Drawing is a type of lottery requiring hunters to fill out an application card (which can be found in the Indiana Hunting and Trapping Guide) to put their names in the hat to be picked to hunt.
Generally, there are about 11 DNR properties to choose from on the application. These properties are dispersed around the state and there should be one fairly close to you. Make sure you pick only one of the properties when you fill out the application. If you pick more than one, you will be disqualified from the drawing.
Follow the rules for filling out the application very closely because the DNR states: "Late applications or incorrectly filled out application cards will be disqualified. If more than one application card is received, all cards for the same hunter will be disqualified. Photocopied applications or fax applications will not be accepted."
If you're lucky enough to get picked, you'll be assigned a "pick" number, which means you'll be in line with other drawing winners to pick a field based on your pick number.
For example, one year I was given a pick number of seven for the second day of the season at Winamac FWA. This meant that out of the 60 or so hunters who were drawn, I got to pick seventh for which field I wanted to hunt over. Remember, for FWA properties that participate in the Reserved Dove Hunting Program, hunting is limited to reserved hunters for the first two days of the season. However, if you didn't get picked in the drawing and you're feeling very lucky, you can try to get picked for what is called the no-show draw.
Yes, believe it or not, there are some hunters who get picked to hunt in the Reserved Hunting Program who don't show up. To fill their spots a no-show draw is held to "fill up" these spots right after all of the "drawn" hunters are assigned a field.
But all is not lost even if you don't get picked in one or more of the draws. Carlisle noted that even on the third and fourth days of the season the hunting could remain good, but after that it diminishes rapidly. "The birds wise up really quick, and after about three or four days, the bird numbers really drop," he said.
From personal experience I've hunted on the third day of the season and the hunting was still good, but after the third day it's pretty much over with. However, please note that if the number of hunters that show up is greater than the number of available hunting spots on the third day of the season, a draw will be necessary.
For more information on Kingsbury FWA, call (219) 393-3612.
Tri-County FWA is in Kosciusko and Noble counties and is only a few miles away from Whitley County, hence its name: Tri-County. At 8,300 acres, Tri-County is big. Last year, 1,667 doves were taken at Tri-County.
This FWA is characterized by topography that ranges from mild to steep slopes, and level to rolling upland fields. Tri-County does not participate in the Reserved Hunting Program for doves, but it still is a great place to go dove hunting on public land in Indiana.
The management at Tri-County has recently made some land acquisitions that have improved the dove hunting there. Steve Roth is the property ma
nager at Tri-County and he was excited about these recent developments.
"There are a couple of things that have happened in the last couple of years to improve dove hunting. We've acquired property for two more fields that are five to six miles south of the property, and on those properties the soil is somewhat lighter, which allows us to get on the soil anytime and plant the sunflower seeds," Roth said.
Roth noted that this soil provides for better germination of the seeds and improves the growth process to assure the plants will be "dead ripe" by Sept. 1.
With the addition of the two properties mentioned above there are now seven dove-hunting fields at Tri-County. On these fields about 3 to 5 acres of sunflowers are planted each year.
Since Tri-County is not a participant in the dove reserve hunt, its mode of operation is a little different.
"We're a little more restrictive," Roth said. The reason for this is to keep the birds around longer. After the first day of the season, Roth said Tri-County typically allows hunting for doves on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Roth noted that by stretching out the days between hunts the entire supply of doves will not be consumed in three to four days, as is typical on other properties.
There's room for about 35 to 40 dove hunters at Tri-County and there is a draw held at 11 a.m. (local time). For more information on Tri-County, call (574) 834-4461.
Mississinewa Lake is part of a reservoir-management program that was designed by the Army Corps of Engineers to reduce flood stages in the upper Wabash Basin. It is also a feature-rich DNR property that encompasses over 15,000 acres of land and provides a broad spectrum of activities that includes dove hunting. Not insignificantly, Mississinewa Lake -- the actual body of water -- is over 3,000 acres. Of course, it is one of the focal points of this property.
Mississinewa Lake is part of the reserved dove hunts, and last year, 2,569 doves were taken at this large property. Larry Brown is the property manager at Mississinewa; he said that the size of the dove fields at his facility can vary in size, but the main goal is to keep the number of hunting prospects the same.
"It varies from year to year with the number of large and small fields, but we have the same number of hunting opportunities each year. We try to have 100 spots available," Brown said.
Brown also mentioned something that is very important to persons who get selected in the Dove Hunt Reservation Drawing. "Selected hunters can bring one buddy with them," he emphasized.
|PUBLIC-LAND DOVE HARVESTS|
|Fish & Wildlife Areas||2003||2004||+/-|
|J. Edward Roush||1,818||2,967||+1,104|
This means that at Mississinewa (potentially) 200 persons could hunt, but Brown said, "Some hunters like to hunt alone."
This type of buddy system is used on all of the fish and wildlife areas and reservoirs that participate in the dove reserve hunt. Please see the Indiana Hunting and Trapping Guide for details. Brown also notes that more persons are trying for the no-show draw (also known as standby hunts), which goes to show you how popular dove hunting is.
In terms of the type of doves that are available at Mississinewa, Brown said, "We shot some of both resident and migrant."
As far as how many doves will be at Mississinewa, Brown said that it's dependent on the weather and any crop failure that might have incurred due to flooding. Since Mississinewa is a reservoir-type property, flooding is always a real concern. If there isn't any flooding and the weather holds out, this year should be another good one for doves at Mississinewa. For more information on Mississinewa, call (765) 473-6528.
WILLOW SLOUGH FWA
The Willow Slough FWA is a large FWA that spans out over almost 10,000 acres. Located near the small town of Morocco in Newton County, Willow Slough was edged out by Kankakee FWA for most doves harvested in 2004. Kankakee hunters shot 7,915 birds last season, while Willow Slough was right behind with 7,864, a difference of only 51 birds.
Willow Slough's strength in dove hunting lies in the sheer size of its dove-hunting program. Mike Schoonveld, the assistant property manager at Willow Slough, said that the size of the dove-hunting program is a key factor in the ability of this FWA to consistently be in the top five public-land dove-hunting facilities in the state year after year.
Willow Slough participates in the DFW's dove reserve hunt, which takes place on the first two days of dove season. The FWA's outstanding harvest statistics for doves would indicate it as a good one for which to apply.
Typically, Willow Slough has 18 to 22 dove fields each year, and a whopping 140 acres of sunflowers are planted each year for the program.
The dove-hunting fields at Willow Slough are spread out over the property's seven-mile length and the Slough also has satellite fields on Nature Conservancy property and Game Bird Habitat areas. This dispersion of fields helps to reduce concentrated hunting pressure on the doves, which helps to lengthen the number of days good numbers of doves can be taken.
Steel shot is now required on many of the FWAs or on portions of their property, and this is true at Willow Slough. "On our satellite properties steel shot is required," Schoonveld noted. Keeping toxic substances like lead out of the habitat and soil that other upland species rely on is the reason steel shot is required in certain areas.
Remember to use a choke with less constriction for steel shot, because steel resists being constricted more so than lead. For example, if you use an improved cylinder choke with lead shot you should open up to skeet or cylinder choke when using steel shot. For more information on Willow Slough, call (219) 285-2704.
Patoka Lake is an exceptional place to pursue fishing and hunting activities. Located in southern Indiana where Orange, Crawford and Dubois counties come together, Patoka Lake offers a plethora of outdoor recreational pursuits that includes dove hunting.
Like other DFW properties, there are several dove-hunting fields at Patoka. Tony Havelwood is the property manager at Patoka Lake and he said the number of acres varies from year to year, but it's normally 40 to 45 acres and about four to five fields.
Last year, 1,021 doves were taken at Patoka. This represents a 41 percent increase over the 2003 season. If there is good sunflower-crop production at Patoka this year, then doves should be available in good numbers again.
Because of Patoka's geographical location, the heat of early September is something hunters using this facility should prepare for. In fact, even in northern Indiana, hunters should be ready for the stifling heat that can --and usually does -- occur in early September.
"We've had some hunters who suffered from heat stress; we've had to call EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) for one of these," Havelwood said.
Havelwood also mentioned that unfortunately hunters have lost dogs to heat stress. From personal experience, this writer can attest to the heat on the first and second days of dove season. Temperatures of 90 degrees are not uncommon. If there are no clouds, the high-intensity sunlight can be brutal.
Be sure to bring plenty of fluids, and stay hydrated. Lawn chairs with umbrellas are good for keeping the desert-like sun off your body. Sunscreen, sunglasses, hats and cool clothing are also advised.
If you're going to bring your dog along, be sure to have plenty of fluids for him or her as well. Keep them in the shade also, especially dogs with dark or black hair.
However, even with plenty of fluids, a dog that has been sedentary since the end of duck or pheasant season is very prone to heat stress, or worse. The best protection you can give your dog is to keep it in shape (year 'round) through a good exercise program and veterinarian care.
For more information on Patoka Lake, call (812) 685-2464. Good hunting this season!