My friend and I were standing in the parking lot on the west side of the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area in St. Charles County at 11 a.m., and the temperature was already approaching 100 degrees. It was opening day of dove season, and I was fortunate enough to have a hunting reservation.
We checked our supplies before leaving our vehicle. My backpack contained some snacks, a gallon and a half of water and two boxes of steel shot shells for my side-by-side shotgun. I knew I would need the water because the temperature was forecast to be near 105 degrees by mid afternoon.
Because of the excessive heat, I had left my Labrador retriever at home. I couldn’t possibly carry enough water for myself and an 80-pound dog that insists on wearing a heavy black coat, no matter what the weather. Besides, he is such a sloppy drinker that I knew he would waste most of the water.
I don’t like hunting without my dog. It seems unnatural and lonely. We are a team and he is a good companion, although I seem to do most of the talking when we sit down for breaks together. I’d just have to retrieve my own doves today.
Dove hunting on Columbia Bottom is traditionally excellent. Hunters must apply for a reservation in advance, and hunting begins at 1 p.m. Access to the area is by foot or bicycle only.
We began our walk and saw other hunters heading out to partially mown sunflower fields, where a combination of seed and bare ground attracts doves. It was a 3-mile walk from the west side of the area to the Mississippi River on the east side, where most of the managed dove fields were located. But there were plenty of doves flying by the first sunflower field that we came to, so we stopped there and hid ourselves in the tall, unmown sunflowers.
I loaded my gun with two steel shot shells. Nontoxic shot has always been required for dove hunting on Columbia Bottom Conservation Area.
The Nontoxic Advantage
During a typical dove hunting season on Columbia Bottom Conservation Area, hunters will shoot about 32,000 shells, each containing an average of one ounce of shot. That works out to 2,000 pounds (or a ton) of shot deposited on the ground each year.
Studies have shown that up to 6 percent of the doves feeding at Columbia Bottom could die from lead poisoning each year