Hunting for doves a challenging, daunting task

Photo Provided by Brian Finch
This large sunflower field at Patoka is one of the primary fields where dove hunting takes place.

Column by Larry LaGrange

I have good memories of hunting doves. As summer winds down and the season opener of September 1 approaches, I’m tempted to find an active field and try this fun and challenging shooting sport again. I’ve been absent too long.

Back when my two younger sons were learning to hunt, we made regular trips to either Patoka or Glendale, or we found a private field that held birds. I do recall fondly when Aaron, who was about 15, and I hunted at Patoka. He was stationed on one side of this large sunflower field and I on the other. The birds were flying high and fast because they had been spooked by the shooting. Aaron, new to dove hunting, used up two boxes of shells. I remember him bringing in one, maybe two birds, but he had a good time blasting away.  I had maybe four or five for my efforts. But that’s a regular aspect of dove hunting if you’re in a good area — you get to shoot a lot, and you usually don’t harvest a lot of birds.  It’s really a fine way to introduce youngsters to shotgunning because of the multiple opportunities unlike most turkey or deer pursuits. It can also be a nice group activity.

It’s best to be right alongside a new hunter anytime, especially with doves. You don’t want them shooting at low birds or those extremely far away or getting careless with their weapon. Teach them to visually mark a downed bird, put their gun on the ground on safety and walk straight to the bird immediately. Do not carry the gun with you to find the bird or shoot more than one at a time without retrieving. Clean them at home using a pair of game shears to free up the breast and use one of the many recipes you can find in game books. Dove fixed creatively is good table fare but the dark meat needs assistance to taste less gamey. Soaking overnight in marinade is a good move. Try grilling them with a bacon wrap.

The best bets for hunting this year might still be Patoka or Glendale. Patoka Wildlife Specialist Brian Finch has been working hard to get some fields in shape, but it’s no easy task.

“Creating a dove field is a large chore,” Finch said. “There’s locating a suitable field, purchasing the right type of sunflowers, planting, fertilizing, and spraying. We rotate our fields (Lick Fork, Newton Stewart, Jackson, and Tillery Hill SRAs) to provide different hunting opportunities and give fields a break.”

Once the plants are three to four feet tall, Finch and crew can’t spray the flowers as they are only equipped with a small herbicide sprayer and not a highboy.

Finch doesn’t see the lack of proper spraying as a loss though. “The various grasses and ragweed that come in with the flowers make good forage for doves, quail, and turkeys throughout the summer,” Finch said.

When August comes and the flower heads have had drying time, mowing starts.

“The goal is to try to get the loose dry seeds out of the heads. We usually make a pass or two each week, up until the day of the hunt. We leave several rows standing in the middle of the plot for hunters to put themselves in.”

The local Quail and Upland Game Alliance has helped.

“They donated much of the seed and also made a cash donation for the purchase of a new Great Plains no-till drill. We are very lucky to have them as a partner and it’s because of their help that we have a decent 33-acre field of sunflowers. I also give credit to the National Wild Turkey Federation. This was definitely a group effort.”

However, last year was not productive.

“Harvest was low. We saw 187 doves taken over the entire season and 73 hunters that had signed in. Opening weekend had a low turnout due to weather, 25 hunters on Day 1 and 42 on Day 2 with 67 doves taken. It was poor weather and a poor year for sunflowers. We had over nine inches of rain shortly after both plantings.”

Maybe this year will be better. If you go, here’s how it works.

Just before the hunt Finch and crew begin mowing the flowers and placing stakes around 75 yards apart.

“Each stake is labeled with a number. Two hunters are allowed per stake. The first and second mornings of this year’s hunt (a Saturday and Sunday), we’ll gather at Check Station No. 5 in Jackson SRA. We give groups a ticket stub. Hunters that bring kids get a different stub. At 6:30 a.m. the drawing starts. I go over the special regulations for the hunt, such as licenses, HIP numbers, game bird stamps, guns must be plugged, and so on. Preference is given to groups with kids. After the kids’ draw I then go to the regular tickets. Hunters pick the stakes they want and we go through until we run out of stakes or out of hunters. Starting Monday, it’s first come, first served.”

The Jackson field is located on the north end of the lake, roughly 1.5 miles west on County Road 725 S from the intersection of S County Road 1075W. The field is on the south side of 725 S. A small parking lot and gate are there. You can look at this area on Google Earth.

The HIP program is designed to improve harvest estimates for migratory game birds. The information gathered helps states with decisions regarding seasons and bag limits. If you plan to hunt doves you must register by either going online at wildlife.IN.gov/3567.htm or by calling 866-671-4499 and providing the information requested.  You are given a validation number to record on your license. You need to register only once per season.

In a later column I’ll check into what Glendale has to offer.

Email Larry with comments or story suggestions at lagrange237@gmail.com




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