It’s early August and that means it’s time to think about fall! Some of you might not like me saying that, but those of you who are looking forward to the fall hunting season, it speaks volumes. Once August shows up, I start getting all my ducks in a row so that I will be able to have success in the field at first light. During the dull-drums of summer it is a good time to get all the cobwebs off the shotgun, stick and string, or atlatl*, because September 1st is the first open season! That being Doves, of course.
Yes, the dove opener is coming up quickly. Iowa has had a Mourning Dove season since 2011, and I believe that it was a great thing to bring to this state. Most hunting ventures require one to have somewhat decent mobility and outdoor knowledge in order for that person to obtain his or her quarry. By adding the dove season, Iowa now has something that caters to those who might not hunt otherwise. Sitting on a bucket in light cover over a sunflower field in close proximity to an access road is a friendly activity for outdoors men and women who are handicapped, elderly, or young. If you haven’t experienced it, the hunt can be just as thrilling as any other hunt when you find the right spot.
Sometimes hunting comes with long hours waiting for something to walk by, so a dove hunt is a great way to introduce children to the field. If you get into some birds, the action is non-stop, so you won’t have to worry about the little one getting bored or fidgety. Not to mention, when we are introducing someone to hunting for the first time, it is important to show them a fun experience, so that it might spark a lifetime of passion toward the outdoors.
The dove season can also be good for grandpa, or even grandma. Grandpa may not be able to hike miles through the brush anymore, but he might be able to walk a few steps into a mowed patch of sunflowers and enjoy a hunt with you. It is meant to be a social event, so bring the whole family or bring the whole town. It is not meant to be a solitary endeavor like other types of hunting can be. Bring the dog too, he likes fetching birds, you know. Each person is allowed fifteen doves per day, so the fun is usually enjoyed again while cooking dove poppers on the grill with a few brews.
The best part of dove hunting is the ease of access. Many public wildlife management areas have sunflower food plots planted specifically for dove hunting. Every spring, public land managers will plant sunflower plots ranging from one to thirty acres. The plants will grow, bloom, and produce seeds by mid-to-late August. About a week before the season opens up, the sunflower stalks are mowed down and seeds will be dispersed over newly exposed soil. It just so happens that doves like wide open space and sunflower seeds. The same thing can be done with a wheat field, because doves also love wheat. Depending on the land manager and surrounding land cover, the mower might leave a strip of sunflowers standing in the plot so that hunters will have some cover to hide in. To find these plots, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website will give you a list of wildlife management areas that have dove plots. The area maps they give you will not show exactly where the plot is located, and I suppose that is because one should get off his butt, go outside, and find it before opening day. Many are within sight of a road or parking lot. Remember, these lands are collectively ours in ownership, so go find some land you own; on its boundaries there will be green signs.
Sunflower plot at Lake Shawtee Wildlife Management Area
I hunted the season for the first time last fall and it was a completely new experience for me. Safety was a big concern of mine, because many hunters will line up next to each other in the plots. Luckily, the other hunters in the plots I hunted had good respect for each other, and I believe that is the case for most dove hunts. There is no need to fight over birds to shoot at, because everyone knows they will get their limit if they stay long enough. Believe it or not, other hunters were happy to compliment me when I made a good shot. We were all there to have a good time, not to throw punches over who gets the best spot.
In the United States, more people hunt doves each year than any other game species. It has been a social activity enjoyed for decades, especially in the southern states, and now it is here in Iowa for us to enjoy as a warm up for the fall season. Seeing waves of doves appear out of the sky and come into your decoy spread is a really cool sight, and they will test your shooting ability like no other game bird. Now that I’ve caught the bug, I look to enjoy the dove kickoff for many years to come. Happy hunting!
*In Iowa, using an atlatl may not be a legal method of take for many game species. Check your regulations. An atlatl is a primitive tool used to launch a long spear with a throwing motion. It is often made of wood, looks like a handle, and allows a person to throw a spear harder and farther than one can without the device due to added leverage.