The only bad thing about opening day of dove season is that it only happens once a year. I have found a way around that flaw. This year, I decided to open dove season on two conservation areas (CAs), one where legal shooting starts in the morning and one where shooting starts at noon.
I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. Sept. 1. I could afford to “sleep in,” because I didn’t want to arrive at Davisdale CA in the dark and wait for first light to discover who was hunting around me and how close they were. I had heard the CA in Howard County had lots of doves, and I figured that several people would shoot their limits by 8 a.m. and leave, making room for me to hunt for an hour or two before the predicted 102-degree heat set in.
I miscalculated. The action was good, but not as good as I hoped. Eight o’clock came and went without anyone shooting a limit or getting tired of the fun. I did get to visit with several hunters, though. Some of them had arrived as early as 3:30 a.m. to get prime spots. I felt better knowing I had gotten three hours more sleep than those guys.
Aaron Garringer of Columbia got to Davisdale just in time to claim a spot at the edge of the hottest field around. He had not gotten a lot of shooting, but he was really pumped about shooting a mourning dove wearing a leg band. He didn’t even notice the aluminum jewelry until he stopped to count his birds around 7:30 a.m. He had shot banded ducks and geese before, but never a dove.
At mid-morning, I left Davisdale and headed for James A. Reed CA in southern Jackson County. I got there just in time to get a tag and visit briefly with area manager Rick Bredeson and John Schulz, the Conservation Department’s dove expert, before heading for the field. Rick and John predicted that few doves would fly before 5 p.m., due to the heat. However, I had driven all the way from Jefferson City and was determined to get my money’s worth. I parked my camo stool in weeds at the edge of the mowed sunflower patch and settled in for a serious sweatfest. If it hadn’t been for a gusty breeze, I probably wouldn’t have lasted, but with the wind it wasn’t too bad.
Over the next four hours, I saw few doves. I would guess that fewer than 20 shots were fired between noon and 4 p.m. When birds finally began moving in significant numbers, I discovered that my spot had two disadvantages. Birds flying over the field were too low to shoot safely, because other hunters were standing on the opposite side of the field. Doves shot outside the field would have fallen into a jungle of weeds and shrubs. I had reluctantly left my golden retriever at home on account of the heat, so I would have spent less time shooting birds than finding them if I took those shots.
It occurred to me that if I was passing up shots at low-flying birds, the guys on the other side of the field must be, too. So I hiked over there and, after explaining why I was horning in on their territory, I took a position that left 40 or 50 yards between me and the shooters on either side.
By then, it was 4:30, and the evening flight began.
In the next hour I bagged half a dozen doves with only eight shotgun shells. That’s about as good as it gets for me, so naturally I was feeling pretty smug. Had I been smart, I would have quit then. Instead, I spent the next hour--and 14 shells--obtaining my seventh dove.
The daily limit is 15 doves, and I still had more than an hour of legal shooting time. But I already had provided ample proof that pride goes before a fall. Using the long drive home as an excuse, I slunk from the field with and went to check in my birds.
The Conservation Department, has been studying doves intensively at Reed CA since 1999. One of the things Schulz and his helpers do is collect wings from doves taken by hunters. In November, he collects wings from several CAs around the state hosts a “wing bee” for biologists from several states. They sort through thousands of wings to determine the age of harvested birds. This information, along with hunter reports of banded doves, provides valuable insights about dove population dynamics and how hunting affects dove numbers.
I was pleasantly surprised when one of the workers clipping wings from my birds told me I had shot a banded dove. Like Aaron Garringer, I had been too busy hunting to look closely at my doves’ legs and so had missed the band. I called the toll-free number on the band and reported its number. In return for data my report provided, I will get an e-mail with a printable certificate telling when and where my bird was banded and killed.
Here is some interesting stuff that Schulz has learned from band returns:
Next year I will try this strategy again, hoping for better luck in the morning and maybe a little cooler weather. It’s a long drive to the Reed area, but the prospect of winning the banded-bird lottery is kind of cool.