Hunter interest remains high, heading into Iowa’s third mourning dove season. The 70-day season opens Sept. 1, with birds now pouring into Iowa on their southward migration.
Migrating birds are noticed in the early days of August, building through the late summer. The number of hunters should edge upward, too.
“I expect a little bump up in hunter numbers again, as more of them learn about dove hunting. A few more friends will come along,” predicts DNR upland research biologist Todd Bogenschutz.
Last year, 9,328 dove hunters harvested 94,864 birds; according to the post-season small game survey.
That was up from 8,780 hunters, taking 57,285 mourning doves in 2011; the first year of dove hunting in Iowa. Iowa’s summer ‘call count’ showed a stable local dove population early this summer.
“Hunters are learning more; about hunting and where to find doves,” says Bogenschutz. “That first week is good. It’ll drop off after the first killing frost, but there are great hunting opportunities throughout the two month season.”
The continent’s most populous game bird, mourning doves offer a new type of hunting for Iowans. It more often resembles ‘pass shooting’ familiar to waterfowl hunters.
Doves will concentrate in fields that have been harvested or which have food plots…especially if bare ground is available. Rather than walking and flushing birds, camouflaged hunters should ‘sit and wait’, near food sources, water or roosting locations.
As with most upland species, weather is always a factor.
A soggy April and May meant numerous fields did not get planted, or were flooded. Bogenschutz says he has noticed plenty of fields in the past weeks, which came up in weeds or which might have had a cover crop like winter wheat planted. Both offer great dove hunting, especially if disked to provide bare ground for feeding.
Iowa’s best dove hunting is probably on public wildlife areas, with sunflower plantings. Hunters increase their chances of success by scouting ahead of time; checking with wildlife biologists in their area, for locations of sunflower plots or — in the case of flooded fields — areas replanted late with cover crops.
The Iowa DNR’s website www.iowadnr.gov has a variety of mourning dove hunting information; from a ‘how to’ video, to Iowa’s online hunting atlas.
Mourning doves are classed as a federal migratory bird. A migratory bird fee (known formerly as the duck stamp) is not required to hunt doves. However, hunters must apply for a HIP number, when buying their hunting license…if they intend to hunt for doves.
Safety is always a primary concern during hunting season. Mourning dove season offers a few specific cautions. One requires knowing who else is ‘out there.’
Hunters should recognize that other hunters will be sharing the same dove fields … and that they should limit their field of fire, as the darting, fast flying doves sail through. Shorter, 20-25 yard shots using a shotgun with an open choke is recommended, especially for beginners.
And though not a safety tip, hunters are reminded to scoop up spent shot shells before they leave; especially on public areas that may be hunted heavily in the first couple weeks of the season.
Hunters looking to places to hunt doves when the season opens Sept. 1, can find these areas and more online at www.iowadnr.gov/hunting.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has food plots on several wildlife management areas specifically to attract doves during their migration.
The list of areas with food plots is under the Migratory Game Birds link, then click on Mourning Doves. The information is listed under Mourning Dove Hunting Information in the middle of the page.
Food plots are generally cover 1 to 5 acres and most are planted with sunflowers, with wheat, millet or buckwheat as other options. The exact locations are not identified on the areas.
Another option is to use the DNR’s Hunting Atlas.
The hunting atlas is another online resource at www.iowadnr.gov/hunting that identifies more than 600,000 acres of state, federal and county land where hunting is allowed. The Hunting Atlas link is near the top of the page.
Using an aerial view, hunters can search the state for areas catering to certain species; or find a new area to hunt close to home or across the state.
Once an area is selected, information will be displayed on the name of the area, its size, habitat type, species potentially found on the area and if nontoxic shot is required. There is also links to the area map and more.