It is the third week of August and already it is the third wettest summer on record for Frankfort and the fifth wettest for Louisville. Corn fields across most of Kentucky look robust as do pastures, yards and soybean fields.
This portends excellent conditions for the dove season opener on Tuesday, Sept. 1.
“The expectation is that we will have a good dove season,” said John Brunjes, migratory bird coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We’ve had a lot of rain, but not a lot of violent storms, so we had good early dove reproduction. We are seeing lots of young birds here in August.”
The summer rains brought with them superb field conditions. “Sunflowers across the state have done well from all of the well-timed rains,” Brunjes explained. “We got the fields planted on our wildlife management areas (WMAs) before the rains and they’ve done very well. There are always pockets of the state that don’t do as well, but overall fields look great for this season.”
Scouting is vitally important for productive dove hunting. Brunjes recommends getting out now to see if birds are currently using the field you plan to hunt.
“Figure out where you want to set-up,” he said. “Look for the flight lines the birds use to enter and exit the field and plan to set up accordingly.”
Don’t over-choke your shot gun, either. An improved cylinder choke with No. 7 ½ or No. 8 shot works great for early season doves in either 12- or 20-gauge. A 20-gauge shotgun also makes a great choice for younger hunters with less recoil than a 12-gauge and plenty of shot to down a dove.
Some of the best hunting of the season happens after the initial burst of activity on opening weekend. Those public fields teeming with hunters on the first weekend in September are often nearly abandoned by the third weekend of the month.
“Also, a lot of people think all of the doves leave Kentucky with the first cold snap,” Brunjes explained. “People love to say they’ve migrated, but they haven’t. They will go into woodlands or thick cover to get some protection from the cold. When the warmth returns, so do the doves.”
Data gleaned from dove banding shows that most birds banded in Kentucky don’t show up in harvest data from out of the state until late October and into the first of November. Many doves never leave Kentucky.
“They shift their daily patterns as the season progresses,” Brunjes said. “Pay attention to those shifts. They change the time of day when they fly and they change food sources.”
Patches of ragweed and pokeweed become more important to doves later in the season. “In the late season, pokeweed is dove candy. If you find a bunch of it, you’ll likely have doves everywhere.”
Pokeweed commonly grows on the edge of fields, fence rows and in neglected areas. It is a distinctive thick green plant with swatches of purple in the stalk, leaves and berries. These berries often leave a wine-colored stain on clothes.
Recently cut silage fields also make productive dove hunting areas. With healthy corn across the state, cut silage fields may produce the best hunting of the coming season.
“Remember safety in the dove field,” Brunjes said. “Always wear shooting glasses. Don’t shoot at low birds by making sure you always shoot up at the dove. Be conscientious of other hunters in the field and don’t rain shot down on them or on nearby houses.”
Dove hunters must have a valid Kentucky hunting license as well as a Kentucky Migratory Game Bird- Waterfowl Hunting Permit before going afield. New for this season, dove hunters must fill out the HIP Migratory Bird Survey before going hunting. This brief, 5-minute survey is available online at the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife website at fw.ky.gov. Click the “My Profile” tab to begin.
The first segment of dove season closes Oct. 26. The second segment opens Nov. 26 and closes Dec. 6 while the third segment opens Dec. 19, 2015 and closes Jan. 10, 2016.
For more information about dove hunting, pick up a free copy of the 2015-2016 Kentucky Hunting Guide for Dove, Wood Duck, Teal, Woodcock, Snipe and Crow available wherever hunting licenses are sold. You may also print off or view the guide on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife website at fw.ky.gov.
Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.