As tens of thousands of Iowa hunters gear up for pheasants and other upland game species, a handful are just wrapping up their dove season.

This year marked Iowa’s second mourning dove season; with wildlife biologists encouraging hunters to get out in the first couple weeks of the season—the first half of September—for their best prospects. In those first days many dove hunters reported seeing a couple hundred in a morning, especially tied to sunflower plots; a favorite dove feeding source.

Doves are an early migratory bird and most have moved on south by the time heavy frost comes and the crops are out of the fields.

But not all of them.

“I’ve hunted (around Washington and Johnson counties) fairly hard. I’m seeing, not as many…but 40 or 50 in a hunt, if part of a field has no cover. There could be more we didn’t see,” notes Rick Frees, of Riverside. Outside of the season’s first days, Frees hasn’t seen anyone else chasing doves—unless they were with him.

“Doves are going to stick around into winter; not as many, but with all the waste grain in the fields, it is worth locating where they are,” suggests DNR wildlife management biologist Tim Thompson. “They may roost in a woodlot; then fly out to a picked field to feed.”

One key? Look for clues. Doves perched along fencerows or overhead lines are good indications that more are nearby.

“Most hunters are used to hunting pheasant or quail; with food and habitat really close together,” observes Frees. “Doves may fly a half mile or a mile for feeding or water. I was set up in a picked field, but doves were flying 80 yards overhead. I picked up (my decoys) and followed them over the top of a hill and 30 or 40 came boiling out.”

Logo courtesy Iowa Department of Natural Resources

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