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Doves offer great early season hunting opportunities

August 29, 2012
by Steve Weisman - Outdoor Editor , Estherville Daily News

It's hard to believe it, but in less than two weeks, Iowa's dove season begins. Scheduled to open on Saturday, September 1, Iowa is now one of 40 states where hunters have the opportunity to kick off a new hunting season by targeting these fast flying acrobats. According to research data kept over the past 30 years, there are over 350 million doves nationwide, and dove hunters bag about 17-20 million birds a year, resulting in an annual hunting mortality rate of about 6 percent.

The fun part about the dove season is that it's early and a great way to introduce youngsters to hunting. Since it is early, though, temperatures can be warm, so make sure to have plenty of water for both hunters and dogs. Early morning and late afternoon into evening are prime times to target doves.

Where to hunt

State wildlife areas often have habitat established for dove hunting. Since most of the mourning dove diet is comprised of weed seeds and grains, look for food plots on public hunting land that include one or more of the following: corn, sorghum, millet and sunflower. Of all of these, probably the best will be sunflower. Preferred weed seeds include pigweed, foxtails, wild sunflower and ragweed. Doves travel an average of two to eight miles for food.

According to Rich Jordet, DNR Law Enforcement Supervisor for northwest Iowa, this year's dove season should be very successful. "We have a lot of doves around here right now. I hope we don't get many cold nights, because that can cause them to move out of an area." Jordet also noted that last year's initial season was initiated so late that there wasn't much time to plan, prepare and plant the food plots. This year, the DNR has established food plots in state-owned land in counties all across Iowa. To search for these food plots, go to This will take you to a link entitled "Public Wildlife Areas with Food Plots Attractive to Doves.

Most of these plots will be sunflower plots. Doves prefer patches of bare ground or closely clipped stubble with seeds as their food source. As a result, these sections of sunflower food plots will be mowed down in mid-August to allow the doves to establish feeding patterns.

Fact Box

Dove Hunting Tips

n Scouting potential areas prior to the season can be highly beneficial

n Look for recently harvested small grain or sunflower fields and stock dams/ponds with heavily grazed pasture areas

n Look for 1-2 year plantings of new prairie grasses that have recently been clipped

n Blend into the area by setting up along a fencerow or other cover or in standing sunflowers. A camouflaged five-gallon bucket works well for a seat and also to carry shells, water, doves, etc. Hunting the same area for several straight days will move the doves out

n Use an open-choked shotgun with #6 or #7 shot

Jordet noted, "By knocking down some of the food plots, the rest of the standing sunflower plot will provide hunter cover."

It's really a pretty simple type of hunting. Find a sunflower food plot, water nearby, find cover along a fence row or in this case the standing sunflowers, sit on a bucket and wait for the doves to come into range.

If dove hunters could hunt the perfect area, it would probably include clipped sunflowers, or a recently harvested small grain (oats/wheat) with a stock pond or dugout for water and plenty of bare earth for dusting off all within easy flying range. Some hunters do use dove decoys and place them along the shoreline of a pond or dugout.

Some of these "perfect" areas are often on private property. Often, it just takes a little pre-season scouting to find these types of areas and making contact with the landowner to see if he/she allows hunting.

Since the mourning dove is considered a migratory game bird by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and falls under the Migratory Game Laws.



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