Four hunters. Four limits of doves. Not uncommon Thursday, on Opening Day of Iowa’s first mourning dove season.

“Mostly passing shots to begin with; some coming at me, some going away; anywhere from 10 to 40 yards,” assessed Matt Prachar of Wheatland, after walking out of a cut sunflower field on the state Hawkeye Wildlife Area, near the Iowa River. “This is my first time dove hunting. It was a blast.”

As Prachar, Craig Davis, Ian Phillips and Cody Stiff of the Iowa City/Solon area packed away their hunting gear, we heard another shot from the 100-plus acre field they had just left.

“We went in about 4, 4:30 this morning to beat anybody else out to the field,” said Prachar. “We ended up waiting til about 6:20 (a.m.) Once they started, it was a lot of shooting…pretty quick.”

Shooting hours open a half hour before dawn each morning for the 70 day dove season. They did have a couple groups walk in after they did on the public land. A foursome of hunters set up across and downfield from them, in the long corridor like set up. A father and son came in just about shooting time. That caused a minor stir when the younger hunter started swinging too far toward them once, as doves flew.

Davis’s group hunted primarily with 12 gauge shotguns, with one ounce loads and 7 ½ size shot. Stiff did trade down to a smaller gauge for part of the morning, and used brass-coated shot.

The non-toxic shot, instead of lead, was debated, during Legislative discussion…and was approved by the Iowa Natural Resources Commission as it established final rules. A legislative committee stepped in, though, delaying that ‘no lead’ through this first season. It will be considered by the 2012 Legislature.

Overall, though, Iowa’s dove opener played to a welcome crowd. The key, though, is finding a dove-friendly food plot; disked fields where sunflowers, millet or maybe winter wheat was planted earlier in the season.

“It looked like people who used to go out of state, who stayed in Iowa and knew where to hunt did real well. Those who were out for the first time are looking at a learning curve,” noted Tim Thompson, Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist.

Thompson said hunters he talked with in the Chain of Lakes area, along the Cedar River in Linn County had eight or 10 birds each, if not their 15 dove limits by mid to late morning.

Those food plots, especially on state-owned public hunting ground went in late this season; with crews waiting until the Legislature-passed dove hunting season became law. Those public areas have smaller food plots; with plans for wider distribution in future years.

The next step for most of those hunters…is meal time.

“We breast them out, marinate them in Italian dressing, soy sauce and brown sugar; then wrap bacon on them and grill them as kabobs,” said Davis, passing along a recipe that they have used in Missouri over the years.

“We have hunted doves down there during the early teal season. We prepare them the same as the teal. Dust them with brown sugar just before they’re done. Pile them on a platter. When everybody is finished, the platter is empty. They’re great!” Davis said.

Iowa’s dove season runs through November 9.

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