Naysayers once predicted that Ohio's doves would become extinct. But this season, biologists expect 8 million birds to be available for hunting statewide. Here's where to find your limit. (September 2008)
Veteran doves hunters aren't surprised when newcomers to the sport become addicted. Successful dove shooting requires fast reflexes and a sharp eye. Most opportunities come unexpectedly, and fast-moving birds leave little time for anything resembling a well-aimed shot.
Dove hunting is similar to shooting skeet, except that the gunner never knows where these targets will come from or where they're going!
A HARD ROAD
The history of dove hunting in Ohio has been anything but smooth sailing. Several years ago, political haggling and prolonged court battles created quite a stir, and we almost lost our right to hunt doves.
In the early 1960s, attempts were made in the Ohio State Legislature to classify mourning doves as game birds. In 1975, outdoorsmen helped achieve that goal, and the first dove-hunting season in 80 years was approved.
That victory was short-lived.
Two years later, the Ohio Division of Wildlife was subject to a court order that closed the season, pending further litigation.
City folks tend to view mourning doves as being a little on the slow side. When foraging around backyard bird feeders, doves are the last to spook and have the surprisingly tendency to fly into closed glass windows. Opening-day shooters, however, know that rural mourning doves are cautious to a fault and easily spooked.
A political battle ensued that pitted the ODOW and sportsman's organizations including Ohioans for Wildlife Conservation against anti-hunting groups like Save the Doves, which maintained that dove hunting would quickly put the species on the endangered list.
Meanwhile, sportsmen feared that losing the right to hunt doves would be the first step toward eliminating hunting in the Buckeye State.
In 1994, House Bill 287 settled the matter -- at least temporarily. Four years later, over 100,000 signatures compiled by Save the Doves put on the ballet an initiative that would have outlawed dove hunting.
This time, hunters prevailed.
As a result of the battle, present-day dove hunters enjoy one of the state's finest fall pastimes.
According to Nathan Stricker, the Ohio Division of Wildlife's dove biologist, millions of doves will be available on opening day.
"The ratio of harvested juvenile doves to adults has been about 3-to-1, which indicates how healthy the dove population is in Ohio," said Stricker.
Just how many of our doves are hatched in the Buckeye State? That's anyone's guess, Stricker noted.
Without question, some doves migrate. A few years ago, in fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initiated a study to understand mourning doves' national migrations.
As is the case in most states, Ohio's dove season occurs prior to any significant migrations. Most of the banded birds that are harvested originated right here at home. Later in the year, Ohio-raised birds will turn up in several states, and vice versa.
But the numbers of doves that migrate in and out of the state, and when they do so, have not been settled.
"We do have a population of resident birds that prefer to stay close to home," said Stricker. "And we know that when the opener arrives, that resident dove population will have swelled into the millions."
Here's a look at where to find some great dove hunts this season on public
DEER CREEK WILDLIFE AREA
Central Ohio's Deer Creek Wildlife Area is one of the region's top-rated spots for dove hunting. The area hosts several fields with seed-type crops that attract mourning doves.
Sunflowers, winter wheat and millet draw doves from miles away, while nearby farms attract and hold birds that quickly make the short trip onto public land. These sites will provide plenty of good shooting opportunities during the first few days of the season.
Mourning doves are ground feeders and respond well to food plots. ODOW wildlife technicians plant the fields in the hopes that the availability of seeds will coincide with the opening day -- a tricky venture, but when it's successful, one that creates phenomenal shooting opportunities.
Deer Creek WA lies in Fayette, Madison and Pickaway counties. The area covers 4,085 acres of land, with an additional 1,277 acres of water.
Deer Creek lies four miles south of Mount Sterling. It's easily accessed from several directions by U.S. routes 22 and 62 and state routes 3, 56, 104 and 207.
For a map and more information, call the ODOW's District One office at (614) 644-3925, or the Deer Creek WA at (740) 869-2365.
DELAWARE WILDLIFE AREA
In central Ohio, public shooting lands are scarce, but those we do have are well worth trying. On nearby farms, doves can be thick and will overflow onto the wildlife area's food plots and water sources.
Look for roosting spots on the scattered farms surrounding the area. The fields that were previously harvested will still have spillage, and the bare branches of tall dead trees make ideal loafing and roosting spots.
Biologists have relied heavily on their food plots to lure the birds onto public lands, and the shooting can be good when they've planted these fields near roosting sites.
The 6,970-acre Delaware WA lies eight miles north of Delaware between Interstate Route 71 and U.S. Route 23 in Delaware, Marion and Morrow counties.
For more information and a map of the area, contact the ODOW at (614) 644-3925.
KILLDEER PLAINS WILDLIFE AREA
Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area in Marion and Wyandot counties has plenty of open ground and good numbers of birds.
This region is primarily agricultural, with scattered farms and woodlots surrounding the sprawling 8,627-acre area near Upper Sandusky.
The area contains 1,000 acres of woods, brush, scattered trees and 125 ponds ranging in size from less than a
n acre up to 50 acres.
Water areas include a 285-acre upground reservoir, a 360-acre green tree reservoir and more than 800 acres of marshland.
The 3,750-acre waterfowl refuge section is a no-hunting zone. It's not open to the public except on a special permit basis for observation purposes only.
The east edge of Killdeer Plains WA consists of rolling hills and is adjacent to the Little Sandusky River, while the rest of the area is flat and easily hiked. You're likely to find doves in the open or semi-open lands where they search for corn, sunflower, mullet, wheat and other seeds.
At Killdeer, a water source with overhead cover such as older trees with dead branches, powerlines and fencerows makes prime dove habitat.
Killdeer Plains WA lies eight miles south of Upper Sandusky. County Road 115 provides access from state Route 294 west of Harpster.
To obtain additional information, contact the wildlife area office at (740) 496-2254, or the ODOW's District Two office at (419) 424-5000.
RESTHAVEN WILDLIFE AREA
The Resthaven Wildlife Area covers 2,272 acres in Erie and Sandusky counties. For doves, the draw is the 90 acres of crop fields. About a fifth of the area is grassland that is also utilized by the birds, especially near the food plots.
On a good day, Resthaven shooters can expect to limit out in a short time. The first few days of the season are heavily attended, and after those first few days, the dove fields may seem devoid of birds.
When this happens, look for other areas off the beaten path where doves can find their needed combination of seeds, water and cover. These secondary feeding areas can be hotspots for the remainder of the season.
Food plots have been established where dead trees allow doves a sense of security and a vantage point before descending to the ground. The nearby water and bare ground will concentrate doves. Mud flats along the ponds are ideal feeding posts and can attract hundreds of birds over the course of the day.
Seed crops here include millet, corn, sunflowers, sorghum, winter wheat and buckwheat, which will attract migrating and resident doves.
The wildlife area's dove fields border Oxbow Road on either side of the dog training area, and off Road D-1 northwest of Castalia.
Resthaven Wildlife Area lies off state Route 269 just north of Castalia in Erie and Sandusky counties -- a stone's throw from Lake Erie. The area's 2,272 acres are off state routes 6 and 269.
For more information, contact the wildlife area manager at (419) 684-5049, or the ODOW's District Two office at (419) 424-5000.
LAKE LA SUN AN WILDLIFE AREA
"The area typically provides a good dove hunt," said Joe Stefanelli, an area wildlife technician.
"It's weather-dependant, but we get quite a few birds, especially during the early part of the season."
Lake La Su An WA offers 13 dove fields with varied plantings of corn, millet, sorghum, sunflowers and winter wheat. The sunflowers seem to be the real draw, but the rest of the menu is utilized, too.
The hunt is on a first-come, first-served basis. The hunting pressure is heavy for the first three or four days, and a good number of birds are harvested. After that, the birds get a lot more cautious, though good numbers generally remain on the property throughout the season.
There are several ponds on the area and great roosting trees in the vicinity of the food plots. For doves, that combination is virtually irresistible. The fields concentrate the doves, so hunting away from the food plots usually isn't as productive unless you can find a well-used flight path.
Lake La Su An covers 2,430 acres in northwest Williams County. Access is from state Route 576 on County Road R and from U.S. 20 on County Road 7.
The area also offers handicapped hunting opportunities where hunters may drive onto areas otherwise closed to vehicles.
Hunters must have in hand a physician's statement explaining why they are prohibited from walking.
For more information, contact the wildlife area office at (419) 485-9092, or the ODOW's District Two office at (419) 424-5000.
PICKEREL CREEK WILDLIFE AREA
When the subject of dove hunting comes up, Pickerel Creek isn't a spot most dove hunters think of.
Much of the area's 3,000 acres are wetlands, and waterfowl get most of the attention. But it would be a mistake to overlook the area's dove-hunting prospects.
The area includes native grasses and open country, along with upland and marshy habitat. Several good locations feature abundant grass and weed seeds on open ground, and the birds make good use of them.
The best way to find active spots is to arrive before the opener and start looking. The birds may be concentrated be just about anywhere.
This overlooked Sandusky County hotspot lies south of Sandusky Bay between Fremont and Sandusky on U.S. Route 6.
For more information, contact the Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area office at (419) 547-6007, or the ODOW's District Two office at (419) 424-5000.
HIGHLANDTOWN WILDLIFE AREA
This area's dove fields should be productive again in 2008, according to Geoff Westerfield, a wildlife technician in Akron.
Individual success depends on local weather conditions and whether the staff could get the fields planted in time to coincide with the opener.
The area's open fields and cultivated food plots are proven hotspots should attract plenty of birds this season as well.
Highlandtown Wildlife Area covers 2,265 acres and includes 170 acres of water, which will help attract doves.
Hardwoods and conifers are interspersed with brush, fallow fields, meadows and grain crops.
The area may be reached via state Route 164 from Lisbon and via state Route 39 from Salineville and Wellsville. The area lies eight miles south of Lisbon in Columbiana County, about 60 miles from Akron and 93 miles from Cleveland.
For more information, contact the Highland Wildlife Area office at (330) 679-2201, or the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293.
WOODBURY WILDLIFE AREA
"The dove-hunting opportunities in District Four will be similar to last year," said Dan Smith, the district's assistant wildlife
management supervisor. "We'll be planting dove management fields on the Woodbury, Dillon, Tri-Valley, Crown City, Salt Fork, and Wolf Creek wildlife areas."
Coshocton County's Woodbury WA provides a variety of habitat options for doves. Old farm fields, timbered sections and open grasslands are spread across the area's 19,050 acres, along with several ponds that doves will utilize. Crop fields are off state Route 541.
Doves typically feed in fields with a good deal of exposed ground that has been freshly tilled, harvested or mowed. Grain and weed seeds are the draw. Look for roosting spots in proximity to ponds and crop fields, and you'll be in business.
Early morning and evening hours are the times to be there.
Access to Woodbury is wide open and includes state routes 16, 36, 60 and 541. For more information, phone the Woodbury Wildlife Area office at (740) 824-3211, or the ODOW's District Four office at (740) 589-9930.
TRI-VALLEY WILDLIFE AREA
"I'd recommend Tri-Valley," said biologist Smith, "because there are good numbers of doves that utilize the area, and generally the fields are of good quality.
"The downside is that because Tri-Valley has good numbers of birds, it also gets a lot of hunting pressure."
During the opener, the shooting is good. But when the hunting pressure picks up, the birds move off for a while. If the sunflowers and wheat fare well on the dove fields, good shooting is virtually guaranteed until the birds become spooked.
It's worth a trip back to the same fields later in the week when fewer hunters are around. There are 25 acres of wildlife food plots in four locations. These fields are on secondary roads, and a map of the area will be a big help in finding them.
One of the state's largest wildlife areas, the Tri-Valley WA covers 16,200 acres in Adams, Madison and Muskingum counties. Access is from state Route 666 seven miles north of Zanesville and on state Route 208 a mile east of Dresden.
For additional information and a map, contact the ODOW's District Four office at (740) 589-9930, or the area manager at (740) 454-8296.
COOPER HOLLOW WILDLIFE AREA
"We'll put the fields in the same locations as last year," said John Jenkins, a Cooper Hollow Wildlife Area technician. "The Pond Six area is the biggest field and covers about 20 acres off township Road 119.
"There will be variable numbers of birds using the field."
A small resident dove population utilizes Cooper Hollow's open fields, but during the fall migration the population of birds will swell.
Cooper Hollow provides mourning doves with a gamut of seed crops. Corn, millet, sorghum, sunflowers and winter wheat are all on the menu.
To reach the food plots, hunters may use the area's nearly 20 miles of hiking trails. The area covers 5,421 acres in Jackson County. Access is from U.S. Route 35 about 12 miles southeast of Jackson.
Look for maps of dove fields posted on the board at the area headquarters. As these maps become available, they will also be posted on www.wildohio.com, the ODOW's Web site.
For more information, contact the wildlife area office at (740) 682-7524, or the ODOW's District Four office at (740) 589-9930.
For additional information on dove- hunting opportunities in Ohio, contact the Olentangy Research Station at (740) 747-2525.