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Dove hunting could be more challenging this year

Dove hunting could be more challenging this year when dove season opens Sept. 1. [PHOTO COURTESY OF OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF WILDLIFE CONSERVATION]
Dove hunting could be more challenging this year when dove season opens Sept. 1. [PHOTO COURTESY OF OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF WILDLIFE CONSERVATION]

It’s difficult to predict what the opening day of dove season will be like a week ahead of time, but it's not looking real promising.

"From a hunting perspective, it's going to be kind of challenging," said Josh Richardson, migratory bird biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

The birds are always challenging to hit even for the best shooters, but this year it might also be challenging to find them when the opening day of dove season rolls around on Sept. 1.

At the Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area in southwestern Oklahoma, the location of what is considered the premier opening day dove shoot in the state, biologist Kelvin Schoonover hasn’t seen the number of birds he normally does.

“I’m just not seeing very many birds. There are some birds, but not like what I should to be seeing,” Schoonover said Thursday. “I am three weeks into mowing dove fields and I am just not seeing much. It seems weird to me. There is just grain all over the ground. It’s not that there is not food available, it’s just that there are not birds here.”

Schoonover, who works for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, spoke to colleagues at the Sandy Sanders and Waurika wildlife management areas who reported similar findings.

“It’s not just me,” he said. “Heck, they are migratory birds. They can do what they want.”

Of course, it could all change in a week. But the weather forecast of rain and cooler-than-normal temperatures over the next seven days is not ideal for dove hunting.

"In August you are looking for it to be hot and dry," Richardson said. "Those type of conditions really bring the birds together and they flock up really good. A little bit cooler, some rain and cloudy days, those birds just kind of stay scattered out, spread apart in a lot smaller groups feeding throughout the day. You just don’t see them as much."

Barring a major storm, there still likely will be hundreds of bird hunters scattered over the 10 to 20 fields at Hackberry Flat on Sept. 1 despite the poor hunting forecast. Historically, a below average day of dove hunting at Hackberry is still pretty good compared to most places.

Schoonover sees many of the same faces each year. Some people will travel 200 miles to hunt doves on opening day on the wetland.

“There is a bunch of ‘em that’s been coming for the 24 years I’ve been here,” he said. “A lot of ‘em bring their kids and grandkids.”

Hackberry Flat typically will draw 200 to 300 hunters on the first day of dove season. Opening day is a huge event across the state as hunters are eager to get back in the field and pull the trigger. Opening day also is a big social gathering for family and friends.

Even though dove hunting is open through October, it is a one-day season for most people. That's why it will be such a disappointment if opening day is a bust.

The state's stormy spring disrupted early dove nesting. Richardson said the state's dove population normally starts to build in July, but this year it was early August before the numbers began to rise.

Heavy rains in May and June also resulted in flooded crop fields and late planting, particularly in central and eastern Oklahoma, ruining what normally would have been good dove hunting fields on opening day.

Even at Hackberry Flat, the unusual weather created problems. Hackberry Flat is normally loaded with sunflowers, something doves love, but not this year.

“All I have for food plots this year is wheat fields. It’s OK dove food,” Schoonover said. “Last year I had lots of sunflowers. This year the wet weather kind of kicked them back. I don’t have any. It’s too wet to get any millet planted. On a typical year, if we have sunflowers mowed we end up seeing more dove.”

The gloomy forecast for opening day still shouldn't stop anyone from going. Doves will be flying on opening day. Just don't expect to get a limit in an hour.


2019 Dove Season

What: Season opens for mourning, white-winged and Eurasian collared doves.

Dates: Sept. 1-Oct. 31 and Dec. 1-29, statewide

Bag limit: Daily limit is 15, which may consist of any combination of mourning, white-winged and fully dressed Eurasian collared doves. There is no bag limit on Eurasian collared doves provided that the head and one fully feathered wing remain naturally attached to the carcass of all such birds while being transported to their final destination.

Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›