Public land a good bet for dove hunters.

spectr17

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Public land a good bet for dove hunters.

A little knowledge, some advance preparation and common courtesy make for successful dove hunting on public land.

JEFFERSON CITY -- Thousands of dove hunters find fun and excitement on land managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Hunting doves on a conservation area (CA) isn't a sure thing, however. Getting the most out of public-land dove hunts requires a little work and some basic knowledge.

A few conservation areas host specially managed hunts for doves each year. Rules for these hunts vary. Some are very formal, assigning hunters to designated shooting stations by random drawing. Others only require hunters to sign themselves in and out. Some are only half-day hunts, while others last all day.

To learn more about managed dove hunts on conservation areas, contact: James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area in Jackson County, 816/524-4394; Eagle Bluffs CA in Boone County, 573/445-3882; Columbia Bottom CA in St. Louis County and August A. Busch Memorial CA in St. Charles County, 636/441-4554; Bois D' Arc CA in Greene County, 417/7513856; Pony Express CA in DeKalb County, 816/675-2205.

The Conservation Department also manages fields at dozens of other conservation areas to appeal to mourning doves' appetite for high-energy foods, such as wheat, sorghum and sunflower seeds. There are no sign-in requirements or special rules at these areas. A list of areas with active dove habitat management is available online at http://www.conservation.state.mo.us/hunt/g.../dove/index.htm.

Preseason scouting is critical. Visiting the area ahead of time allows you to pinpoint the location of dove food plantings and the nearest parking lot. This alone is no guarantee of success, however. Arriving early for the hunt is critical on heavily used areas. Latecomers get the least productive spots. At some areas you must arrive well before daylight to get the best locations.

Don't let crowding ruin your hunt or create unsafe conditions. The first rule of etiquette for public dove fields is not to crowd your neighbors. Leave at least 50 yards between yourself and the nearest hunter to minimize the chance of injury from stray shotgun pellets.

If a hunter takes up a position inside your comfort zone, don't just cuss under your breath. The interloper might a beginner who doesn't recognize the importance of minimum spacing for safety. Leave your shotgun to hold your position and go have a friendly chat to explain your concern. Then ask the new arrival to find a spot that affords safety for both of you.

Helpfulness and courtesy go a long way toward ensuring a pleasant public dove hunting experience. Alert other hunters in the field when doves approach in their blind spots. If you see a bird coming in too low for a safe shot, calling "Low bird, no shot!" will alert inexperienced shooters to your location and the fact that they should let the low-flier pass.

To protect your eyes, wear safety glasses with shatterproof lenses, even if you don't need glasses for vision correction.

Mark the location of birds downed by other hunters so you can help direct their search if a bird proves hard to find. If a hunter drops a bird near you, pick it up and meet him halfway to make the job of retrieving his game easier.

Retrieve each bird as soon as you shoot it. Finding one bird that you carefully mark down is hard enough, even in sparse cover. Shooting more than one at a time leads to lost birds.

Before retrieving a bird, check for approaching doves. Stepping into the open causes approaching birds to shy away, depriving your hunting companions of their chance at a shot.

When retrieving birds, leave your shotgun at your shooting position. Chasing crippled doves with a gun in hand is dangerous. Furthermore, shooting from locations other than your carefully chosen position increases the chances of accidentally injuring another hunter.

Make a mental note of areas where your field of fire overlaps those of neighboring hunters. Let others take shots for which they are better positioned. On birds that are toss-ups, take turns. You can let your neighbor know you don't plan to shoot by calling "Your bird."

A good retrieving dog can add to the enjoyment of a dove hunt, but a crowded dove field is no place for an inexperienced puppy or a poorly trained dog. Keeping your retriever under control is critical to his safety and others' enjoyment of the hunt. Bring enough water to ensure that both you and your dog are protected from heat stroke.

Hot weather can cause doves to spoil rapidly. Bring a cooler with plenty of ice to chill birds as soon as possible. If the cooler isn't camouflaged or is too large to carry into the field, make periodic trips back to your vehicle to ice down game. Slipping each dove into a sealable plastic sandwich bag will prevent them from getting soaked by melting ice and keep cold beverages and food clean.

Hunting should be safe and fun. If crowding or careless field mates make either of these two impossible, you can probably find a better place to hunt or something better to do. If you see other hunters taking more than the limit (12 doves daily) or violating other game laws, report this immediately to the nearest conservation agent, Conservation Department office or sheriff's department. Being neighborly doesn't mean you have to tolerate slob hunters.

- Jim Low -
 
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