Advice for Underachieving Dove Hunters
By SCOTT IRWIN, The Emporia Gazette
Editor’s note: Scott Irwin is resuming his Flint Hills Outdoors column that went on hiatus in 2003 so he could complete his teaching career. Flint Hills Outdoors will appear on the second and fourth Friday of each month.
Some of us early autumn bird hunters could be unwilling, but eminently qualified, members of a well known but little-talked about wildlife conservation group: the Society for Tragically Underachieving Dove Shooters (STUDS).
We blushed as we described this group to you in a late ’90s Gazette article. Yet, here we are, back again, and admitting that some of us are still underachieving.
We still need coaching in doing what successful dove hunters do, year in and year out. Such as (1) Using their knowledge and respect for the biology and natural history of mourning doves in locating feeding concentrations of these prolific game birds; (2) knowing who and how to ask permission for legal property access for dove hunting; and (3) preseason practice with clay targets.
We choose to believe there is still hope. All is not lost.
But before we can proudly display the T-shirt of an ex-STUDS member, let’s analyze what we can do to become ex-underachievers as dove hunters; and let’s start with things we can do now – before the season opens.
Our first, most time-saving step, and one that will pay for itself ten times over for many of our outdoor pursuits, is to go to the courthouse serving the county in which we’re interested in hunting. We’ll ask for the office (usually the County Appraiser, Register of Deeds, or Treasurer) where we can purchase a booklet called the “Rural Directory.” This little (50-60 page) gem is packed with detailed maps, names and phone numbers of rural residents and property owners for every township in the county we’ve chosen – well worth its $25-30 cost.
Rural property owners throughout Kansas automatically receive updated copies of this Directory every year or so. At our local courthouse, Deneise Peak, in the outer office of the Lyon County Commission, stated on Tuesday that she still has a dozen or so copies of the 2009 Rural Directory and is expecting a shipment of the 2010 edition in September. Having a copy of this book is a great help in scouting the county’s backroads and locating landowners.
Scout, scout, scout the landscape
Through the years, we’ve had novice hunters ask, “How does somebody who’s never hunted doves in Kansas get started?” or “How do you know where to go to hunt them?”
Successful dove hunters are those who put in some ‘windshield time’: scouting gravel roads during the last two weeks of August – for as much time as they can spare between sunrise and 10:00 a.m. and/or afternoons between 3:30 and sunset. It’s also a great way for a seasoned hunter to spend some quality time with a novice kid — instilling some practical hunter/landowner ethics. Besides, through 50-plus dove seasons, we’ve never heard a successful bird hunter complain about having done too much preseason scouting or permission seeking.
We’ll start by driving stretches of country roads; watching for big and small gatherings of mourning doves on highline wires and fences. And we’ll continually scan the road surface ahead of our vehicle, looking for bunches of doves as they collect tiny pieces of sand, grit and rock chips that help them grind the gazillions of small seeds they eat each day.
When we spot clusters of doves, we slow our vehicle or pull over, stop, and take a few minutes to look around, noting any harvested grain fields nearby – wheat, corn, grain sorghum (milo), etc. Sometimes, a small, weedy pasture or recently tilled fallow field with standing ragweed, foxtail grasses, and wild sunflowers along terraces and fencelines can be a terrific dove magnet. One September in the 1980s, a freshly baled, ten-acre experimental patch of red clover in Chase County attracted clouds of doves and, thanks to a receptive landowner, provided a two-weekend bonanza for a dozen of us.
Such fields can be especially attractive to doves if there are scattered trees and/or hedgerows along one or more borders. And we’ll pay particular attention to dead, leafless trees around the property, too. Doves seem to favor the 360-degree visibility they enjoy from bare, unobstructed perches.
When we see flocks of doves using a field, let’s take the time to watch for repeated patterns of the birds’ flight to, from, and around such habitat. Later, if/when we secure landowner permission, our careful observations will help us station members of our hunting party in the more strategic spots along the birds’ flight paths among food, water, and roosting places.
Speaking of water: during hot, dry years, some of us ‘senior’ dove hunters may be content to scout for shallow mud puddles next to a windmill watering hole or an isolated rangeland stock pond with bare dirt or gravel around the edges — especially if it has the aforementioned feed fields and scattered trees for shade nearby. Some of our most action-packed outdoor memories stem from spending the last 45 minutes before sunset with a couple of young novices, seated on a camouflaged stool and swinging a vintage Remington or Winchester pump shotgun, with a dusty rangeland water hole nearby, as well-fed doves swarmed in for a drink on their way to nighttime roost.
In the next Flint Hills Outdoors column, we’ll review some proven steps that dove hunting’s newcomers and veterans alike can follow in securing one of sport hunting’s most prized possessions: getting legal, honorable, ethical permission to hunt on privately owned land. And we’ll offer some encouragement for preseason practice for harvesting live birds by shattering a few clay birds.