The Sept. 1 opening of dove season is coming fast. For many farmers, the opening of dove season is a bit of outdoor recreation before harvest and planting take up all their time. It’s also an activity where they can host friends and family of all ages, levels of mobility and experience.
It’s also a type of hunting where a little bit of effort can produce a whole lot of success. The following techniques are very effective and 100% legal, according to state and federal regulations.
One acre goes a long way
Brian Natalini lives on 5 rural acres in Cherokee County. Of that, 1 acre is patch of planted sunflowers where he and friends have shot up to 980 doves in one season. Such success takes proper management.
No weeds are allowed in Natalini’s dove patch because the birds prefer open ground when feeding. He plants a strain of sunflowers that are resistant to some herbicides. A few times a summer he wanders the patch with a hand sprayer, zapping anything not a sunflower.
The patch is mowed about 10 days before the season. He leaves a strip of standing sunflowers down the middle where hunters can hide.
Natalini is a stickler for managing hunting pressure. Hunting is never allowed when big flocks use the fields at dawn and dusk.
The opener I attended had 10 of us hit the field at 3:30 p.m. We had our 150 doves in less than two hours, despite pouring rain. Hunters are out of his fields by 6 p.m. His field gets hunted no more than twice a week, and action often stays good well into October.
Natalini also has a small patch of wheat planted beside the sunflowers. It’s mowed when it’s ripe to keep doves around all summer. A faux powerline over the field also helps attract doves.
Dove hunting is already pretty good around Scott City. The late Ron Kershner and Brad Boulware made it even better, using maybe a half-acre Boulware’s property a mile or so from town.
An old existing windmill was tuned up and pumps clear, cool water into a tank. The water overflows into a manmade depression, where it’s easily accessed by the birds.
Everything around the windmill is mowed almost down to bare dirt. Doves can pick grit as well as get a drink.
An old tree has been leaned up against a huge pile of dirt. There’s also a faux powerline Kershner and Boulware put on the spot, too.
Two seasons hunting the spot have shown over 50% of the doves land on the wire before dipping down to get a drink.
Making a dove puddle
Doves have three basic needs — food, roosting trees and water. They’re best hunted by what’s least available in an area. In western Kansas, that’s usually water.
Joey Yeager is a farmer between Cimarron and Dodge City. There’s always plenty of grain and enough shelterbelts for roosting. Water, not so much.
Yeager keeps about 500 feet of old garden hose at his farmstead. A few days before dove season he can hook it all together and flood a low spot in a grain field to the north.
The “dove puddle” is only a few inches deep, a few yards wide and maybe 20 yards long. That’s enough to draw in native mourning doves and the invasive Eurasian collared-doves that live around most farmsteads these days. His puddle hunts usually produce quick limits of 15 mourning doves.
More keys to successful hunting
Landowners can also greatly increase the dove hunting success on their land the following ways:
Allow overflow. Let windmills overflow, making it easier for doves to access water on the open ground.
Clear pond shores. Use a mower or weed eater to open up areas of shorelines around ponds. Doves like to stand on bare ground to drink.
Mow wheat. A few rows of wheat can be left unharvested, then mowed just prior to the season. Completely harvested wheat stubble can still be mowed low to draw doves. Burning wheat stubble works even better because the golden wheat kernels are so easily seen.
Stay persistent. Don’t give up if the action slows after a few days. Check fields and water for migrating flocks as you come and go. Some of a season’s best hunts are often long after opening day.
Pearce writes from Lawrence.