The diminishing daylight hours, foggy mornings and slightly different angle of the daytime sun informs hunters the best time of year is upon us.
Dove season opens on Labor Day, Mon., Sept. 1 statewide. This season, hunters have an additional 20 days to pursue doves, with most of those days scheduled for the last two segments of the season. The opening segment of dove season closes Oct. 26. Dove season opens again Nov. 27 and closes Dec. 7. The third segment opens Dec. 20 and closes Jan. 11, 2015.
“The crops are on time and on schedule and everything is teed up and ready for dove season,” said Rocky Pritchert, migratory bird coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “The outlook for dove season is positive. The habitat is looking really good.”
Pritchert reports seeing early silage and tobacco harvest, which is a good sign for the upcoming season. “The one negative may be with the habitat so abundant, birds may be less likely to concentrate,” he said. “Whenever you have an abundance of habitat, the birds could spread out after opening day to areas undisturbed by hunting.”
The public dove hunting fields on both private lands and on department wildlife management areas are in great shape for the upcoming season, Pritchert said. Fields on private land open to public hunting on Sept. 1 and close Sept. 2 through Sept. 5 and open again on Sept. 6 (fields hosting mentor/youth dove hunts don’t open to public hunting until Sept. 6). Dove fields on wildlife management areas open to public hunting Sept. 1, but those hosting mentor/youth hunts open to public hunting Sept. 2. All of the public dove fields on private lands close to hunting Oct. 24.
Consult the 2014-2015 Kentucky Dove Hunting Guide available online at fw.ky.gov for a list of public dove fields. Printed versions of the guide will be available in a few days wherever hunting licenses are sold.
Scout the dove fields you plan to hunt, whether public or private, before the season. Study how doves enter the field. “Look for any tree lines, power lines, fence lines or brush lines doves are using for flyways,” Pritchert said. “Position yourself along those flight lines. Place your back to the sun so you are not looking into it.”
Pritchert also recommends finding a position in the dove field with some sort of backdrop. “You don’t want to be silhouetted on an open hillside,” he said. “Find cover or a rise behind you.”
Some dove hunters possess a cavalier approach to hunting on opening day and wear bright shirts and hats with unnatural colors. “Always wear subdued clothing such as greens, browns or camouflage, even on opening day,” Pritchert said. “Avoid wearing white, red, yellow or chartreuse. You are not trying to attract a bass to hit a spinnerbait with your clothing. You want concealment.”
A 12 or 20-gauge shotgun loaded with shotshells containing No. 7 ½ or No. 8 shot work well for doves. Always be mindful of other hunters in the dove field and avoid shooting at low flying birds. If you see ground, or objects close to the ground such as brush or a fence row when you shoulder your gun, don’t fire.
“Always wear hearing protection and shooting glasses,” Pritchert said.
Some landowners push the boundaries of the regulations in their desire for a good dove hunt and place attractants in the field. Pritchert said walk out into an unfamiliar field before the hunt and look for signs of baiting. Piles of wheat or grains spread on ground that hasn’t been prepared for a seedbed are warning flags.
“It is hard to walk away, but that field may under surveillance by law enforcement,” Pritchert said. “It is better to be safe than sorry.”
After opening weekend, hunting pressure often causes doves to change their behaviors and they don’t come to prepared fields with the same frequency. “Silage or harvested corn fields are good places to start later in the season,” Pritchert said. “Also, farm ponds can be really good late in the day when doves are coming for water.”
Target these areas in the additional days afforded during the second and third segments of dove season. “Those last two segments can be great hunting,” Pritchert said. “There are still a lot of doves in the state in late November, December and January.”
Pritchert recalled a recent late season hunt in which he harvested a near limit in a harvested corn field in December. “It never got above 30 degrees that day,” he said.
In addition to a valid Kentucky hunting license, dove hunters also need a Kentucky migratory game bird – waterfowl hunting permit. The bag limit is 15 doves per day.
Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.