Fewer dove fields and a weekend opener will mean more hunters per field.
Dove hunters will need to be extra conscientious about safety this year, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). The reasons include weather and the timing of opening day.
MDC Hunter Education Coordinator Tony Legg is urging hunters to review hunting safety measures that are especially important when hunting on specially managed dove fields.
“Having lots of hunters in one place increases the possibility of mishaps,” said Legg. “Under normal circumstances, opening day of dove season is probably the busiest hunting day of the year, other than deer and turkey seasons, and this year is not normal.”
For one thing, said Legg, opening day of dove season this year falls on a Saturday – Sept. 1. Most hunters will not have to take a day of vacation to enjoy the excitement of the dove opener.
“We always see greater participation when the dove opener falls on a weekend,” said Legg. “This year the effect could be even greater, due to the effect of drought conditions on food sources and water.”
The largest dove concentrations occur around food sources. Doves feed mainly on seeds, including those of natural vegetation, such as ragweed and various grasses, and grain crops, especially sorghum, millet, corn, wheat and sunflowers.
Each year MDC plants hundreds of patches of land on conservation areas (CAs) with grain to create wildlife food plots. Some of these are mowed before the dove season opener each year to make the grain available to doves and other wildlife and to create superb dove hunting.
“Most years there are enough managed dove fields to provide hunting opportunities without overcrowding,” said Legg. “This year could be different.”
This year’s unusually dry weather has hampered the growth of crops planted for doves on CAs. That means fewer high-quality dove fields in a year of peak participation. In addition, the drought has resulted in an early corn harvest, which will likely spread out the birds instead of concentrating them on a few fields.
Legg said a large number of hunters can use the same field safely if all are courteous and safety conscious.
“By courteous, I mean not crowding hunters already in the field,” said Legg.
More important than inconveniencing other hunters is the issue of safety. Legg said taking up a shooting position less than 50 yards from the nearest hunter dramatically increases the possibility of a serious injury. If a field already has as many hunters as it can accommodate with this minimum spacing, he urges late arrivals to wait at the field edge until someone shoots his or her limit and leaves, making room for another hunter.
Or, you could go somewhere else.
“I would suggest that hunters do more scouting this year than they might ordinarily do,” said Legg. “You can pretty well count on managed dove fields being crowded on opening day this year. For myself, I would rather find a hunting spot that has fewer hunters.”
Legg suggests scouting to identify flight paths that doves use going into and leaving managed dove fields on CAs. Another alternative is getting permission to hunt harvested crop fields on private land adjacent to CAs and hunting doves on their way across public land to those dove magnets.
Legg said hunters often are so focused on managed dove fields that they neglect other good hunting spots on CAs.
“Doves need water and grit, and they prefer to roost in dead trees. If you can find all those things within sight of each other, you are in business. If there happens to be a crop field close by, that’s even better.”
For those who choose to hunt managed dove fields at CAs, Legg recommends the following precautions to help ensure safe hunts.
Wear hunter orange. “A cap at the least will help other hunters know you are there.”
Protect your eyes. “That is a very soft area and more vulnerable to injury than the rest of your body. Even if you don’t wear glasses, get a pair of shooting glasses.”
Keep shots to blue sky. “Don’t shoot if you can’t see sky above and well below your target. It’s best not to shoot at an angle lower than 45 degrees from the horizon.”
Keep shots in your zone of fire. “Your zone of fire is a 45 degree zone directly in front of you. Don’t swing on game and shoot into areas in your peripheral vision where you cannot clearly see another hunter or obstacles which can happen with target fixation when excited for a shot.”
Keep track of other hunters’ whereabouts. “Even shooting at a safe angle you can rain shot down on others if you aren’t careful.”
Don’t shoot cripples. “A wounded bird can be chased down on foot. Recovering a downed bird isn’t worth the chance of a ricochet off the ground.”
Bring a retriever. “They make catching cripples much easier, and they allow you to stay at your shooting station, where other hunters are expecting you to be. Take plenty of water for your canine companion, and be alert for signs of distress. Dogs can die of heat stroke.”
Everybody needs to use common sense. “That sounds obvious, but it is easy to forget when doves are flying and the shooting is fast. Under those kinds of conditions, you have to make a conscious effort not to let down your guard. Unload your gun every now and then and take a short breather to take a drink of water, water your dog and watch other hunters. You might miss a shot or two, but you are less likely to go home with a heart full of regret because you lost your cool.”
MDC lists the locations of managed dove fields at mdc.mo.gov/node/8905, or you can call the nearest MDC office and ask for information about dove fields in your area. The agency urges hunters to visit dove fields before the season to see if crops have matured.
Missouri’s dove hunting season runs from Sept. 1 through Nov. 9. Mourning, collared and white-winged doves all are legal. The limit is 15 doves of all three species in the aggregate daily and 30 in possession.
Dove hunters ages 16 through 64 must buy a Small Game Hunting Permit to pursue doves. All dove hunters 16 and older must have a Missouri Migratory Bird Hunting Permit for dove hunting.
Full details of dove hunting regulations are found in the 2012 Migratory Bird Hunting Digest, available wherever hunting permits are sold, at MDC offices or online at www.mdc.mo.gov/node/3641.
Spent shotgun shells are litter. Hunters who leave behind empty shells risk getting citations for littering.
Hunters must keep birds they kill separate and identifiable from those of other hunters. Having two or more hunters put their doves into one cooler or other container could violate this requirement unless they use individually identified bags or other means to keep the birds separate.
Logo courtesy MDC