Tuesday brings the onset of September and the traditional start of Kentucky’s mourning dove hunting season, one of the biggest events on the sporting calendar.
Doves are the most hunted of all game birds, and thousands of Kentucky hunters turn out for the most popular wingshooting occasion, the opening day of that season. If anything rivals it, that would be the Saturday following the opening when Sept. 1 falls during the week.
This year brings another 90 days of dove hunting in three season segments. The first and longest is Sept. 1-Oct. 26, followed by later segments Nov. 26-Dec. 6 and Dec. 19-Jan. 10. By far the most hunter participation comes during the early days of the first season segment.
Hunters are most active during the first couple of weeks of the season, with predictable peaks during the first two weekends. Many flash-in-the-pan wingshooters don’t pursue doves more than one or two outings. The tradition of an opening day hunt is enough for some.
There are no regulation changes looming for 2020-21 dove hunting in Kentucky. Hunters will again operate with a daily harvest limit of 15 doves.
Shooting hours, too, are a repeat of recent seasons. For hunting on private land, there is an 11 a.m. start of shooting on opening day only. After Sept. 1, shooting hours begin 30 minutes before sunrise for all the rest of the season, all segments. Shooting hours for doves end at official sunset in all circumstances.
For hunting on public land like wildlife management areas, shooting hours are 11 a.m. to sunset during the entire first season segment. Public land hunting is allowed 30 minutes before sunrise until sunset during the two later season segments.
Early season and, especially, opening day dove hunting is particularly attractive because fields prepared for dove hunting may be drawing high numbers of birds to feed on grain crops like sunflowers or millet. Doves may be especially abundant around these fields, availing themselves to accumulated hunters without great caution — for perhaps a hunt or two.
Hunters typically see a change in doves around a prepared field after the location has been shot over and the birds educated by the presence of humans. Birds grow spooky with repeated exposure to hunters, flaring more from human presence, flying faster and taking evasion action more.
Dove hunting becomes more about hunting later in the season when birds have encountered more hunters and have grown more wary. Also, later season hunting can be more about smaller clusters of doves or using more random feeding spots or just travel lanes appropriate for solo hunters or few hunters at most.
Opening day and first weekend hunting is usually more about bigger fields, often choice fields prepared especially for dove shoots. A smaller private shoot might involve a handful of friends and family members, but a big public area shoot might see a field dotted with dozens of hunters.
Positioning might be critical in a big shoot. For an opening day hunt, the cagey participant will scout in advance of the action. An eyeballing session or two should reveal places through which doves want to travel to and from feeding.
Bear in mind that a hunter who gets the first look at incoming birds will be greeting largely undisturbed doves, often loafing into the field where they have been feeding at their leisure. Hunters well down the line from those incomers may be looking at doves that already have been shot at by four or five other gunners if, indeed, those birds get that far.
Another major consideration for scouting that early season dove field station is finding a spot where the birds will be that also provides the hunter with shade while waiting or participating in the action. First-of-September afternoons sitting in direct sunshine can be brutally hot. (Do not neglect to bring plenty of water if you are going to be there a while.)
Most hunters will find early season shooting most appropriate with shotguns of open chokes like improved cylinder. Guns throwing wide patterns of small shot like No. 8 will produce better results with shots at closer ranges that should be available in early September.
Modified and even full chokes along with larger shot pellets are more appropriate for late season hunting when birds are extra spooky and longer shots are warranted. For now, tight patterning shotguns are unnecessary and handicap most shooters.
• Where to hunt doves? Lacking an invitation to a choice private shoot and without personal property of one’s own, a hunter can make do on public land.
In far western Kentucky, some wildlife management areas offer fields prepared by the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources just for public hunting. Nearby options include four fields on Ballard Wildlife Management Area, a field on Boatwright WMA, and a total of seven fields on McCracken County’s West Kentucky WMA.
In Caldwell County, there is a KDFWR-leased cooperator dove field — one on private land that is made accessible to public hunting — south of Princeton along Otter Pond Road. Cooperator fields are open Sept. 1 and Sept. 5-Oct. 26 only.
Other state-owned wildlife management areas, the federal Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge and the Land Between the Lakes may lack prepared fields, but enterprising hunters may find natural habitat that supports productive hunting for solo hunters or small parties.
For statewide regulations and site-specific rules on state-owned and managed properties, see the website www.fw.ky.gov under the header for hunting. See site-specific regulations dictated by the managing agency for whatever public property selected.
• Hunters in Kentucky should recall that each must complete an online HIP survey — that’s a Harvest Information Program survey — before dove hunting. To take the survey, go to the KDFWR website www.fw.ky.gov and click on the header My Profile.
Along with proper hunting license and Kentucky migratory bird/waterfowl permit (for those not exempted), each hunter must carry a confirmation number proving that he has taken the HIP survey.
• While Saturday of next week, Sept. 5, will be a red-letter day on the hunting calendar by opening the first weekend of the dove season, there is another less gregarious season opening that day.
That first Saturday in September also kicks off Kentucky’s archery season for deer and wild turkeys. Sept. 5 also is the first hunting in the early crossbow hunting for deer for junior (under 16) hunters and seniors over age 65.
While the opening day for archery hunting hardly brings the mass turnout that does early dove hunting, it does represent the first deer hunting of the 2020-21 year. The marathon archery season runs Sept. 5 through Jan. 18.
Steve Vantreese is a freelance outdoors writer. Email outdoors news items to email@example.com or phone 270-575-8650.