Dove season is just one week away, and scouting will be more important than ever this year.
Much of Oklahoma will be lush and green on the Sept. 1 opener, a far cry from the drought-like conditions in recent years.
There will be more food and more water available for the birds, so they likely will be harder to pattern.
Doves typically hit their food sources (agricultural and native sunflower fields) hard in the morning then loaf around in the middle of the day before heading back to feed fields by midafternoon.
Like many of us, they hit their local watering hole for a drink at the end of the day before heading to roost.
In the last couple of years, a farm pond with water in it has been a great spot for a dove shoot because there were so few wet ponds to be found.
Ponds will still be decent places to hunt this year but shouldn't be as big of a draw, since the birds will have more watering holes where they can get a drink.
Agricultural fields, like wheat stubble, should be the best hunting spots if they haven't been plowed under. Mourning dove prefer to feed on bare ground and usually avoid thick vegetation or places with lots of thatch on the ground.
Josh Richardson, migratory bird biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, advises hunters to watch for the corn harvest in the first couple of weeks of the season.
Corn is not a big food item for dove, but immediately after the harvest those fields can be good sources for dove, he said.
For the most part, doves should be plentiful in Oklahoma this year, Richardson said.
“It seems like production has been up pretty good this year,” he said. “There are just a bunch of birds around.”
Several of the wildlife management areas in the state prepare fields for a dove shoot. Hackberry Flat in southwest Oklahoma is the best. A bad shoot at Hackberry is better than a good day at most places, but it will be packed with hunters. The last time I went, I had a few pellets raining down upon me.
Lexington, Beaver, Cross Timbers and Mountain Park also are worth checking out. I recommend calling the local biologist at any WMA to get a scouting report before planning a road trip.
Most of us have cut our teeth on dove hunting. All you really need for a dove shoot is a shotgun (12 or 20 gauge) and several boxes of shells (Nos. 7 1/2 or 8). Take a folding chair or a cooler of soft drinks to sit on. A 10-gallon bucket also works as a seat and a way to carry your birds home if you don't want to wear a vest.
Find a tree line or ditch and some shade for concealment and comfort. I also recommend taking some spinning wing dove decoys. They can be deadly.
Make sure to know the game regulations. A HIP (Harvest Information Program) permit and a state hunting license are required, unless you are hunting on Sept. 7 and 8, which are the free hunting days in the state.
If hunting on private land, be sure to get permission from the landowner. Written permission is preferable. Don't hunt over baited areas.
The daily bag limit is 15 doves (mourning dove and white-winged doves combined). Eurasian collared doves do not count against the daily limit as long as the game warden can tell it is a Eurasian. A fully dressed Eurasian collared dove will count against the limit.
Most Eurasian collared doves hang around suburban areas and farm houses. White-winged doves are most prevalent in southwest Oklahoma, but Richardson said the Wildlife Department is getting more reports of them in other areas of the state.
If you are looking for a recipe, Dan Wood of Edmond shared the following one with me: Peel out the dove breasts and filet into bite-sized pieces. Put on a toothpick with sliced jalapeno and water chestnuts, then wrap in bacon. Grill while basting with a mixture of soy sauce and teriyaki sauce.
“Doesn't get much better,” Wood said. “We sometimes even take a small charcoal grill on our hunts and take turns cleaning and cooking doves while the others shoot.”
Now I'm hungry.
Oklahoma's Dove Season
When: Sept. 1 through Oct. 31 and then Dec. 21-29
Daily Limit: 15 doves, which include a combination of mourning, white-winged and fully dressed Eurasian collared doves. However, there is no bag limit on Eurasian collared doves provided the head and one fully feathered wing remain attached to the carcass.