FRANKFORT - On the first of September each year, thousands of hunters flock to Kentucky’s fields with shotguns slung over their shoulders. Despite the particularly heavy summer heat we’ve trudged through, this year will be no different.
The dove is our most abundant game bird - and a good dove hunt celebrates the revival of fall hunting. August is the perfect time to get dove hunting plans in place.
Kentucky’s initial dove season starts at 11 a.m. Sept. 1 and runs through Oct. 26. Two additional dove seasons are held Nov. 23 through Dec. 3, and Dec. 23, 2023 through Jan. 14, 2024. To prepare for the hunting season, access to public fields closes Aug. 15 and does not reopen until sunrise on Sept. 1. The daily harvest limit for mourning doves is 15 birds.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ online annual Dove Hunting Guide and Migratory Bird Hunting webpage list rules and regulations hunters must follow, as well as locations of all public dove hunting fields.
“Hunters can expect a good opening day,” said Kentucky Fish and Wildlife migratory bird biologist Wes Little. “Weather is usually the major factor in how many doves are harvested in Kentucky on opening weekend. If the weather is good, hunters will get out and harvest a lot of birds.”
In addition to the public fields, which are open to all hunters, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife will conduct several quota hunts with limited numbers of hunters in the field.
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife will hold three Mentor/Youth quota dove hunts on Sept. 2: one at Higginson-Henry Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Union County, another at the Gilbert Tract of Kentucky River WMA in Owen County and a third hunt at a cooperator field in Green County. Any adult who has hunted during more than two license years can qualify as a mentor.
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife will also conduct its first general quota hunts for doves. The hunts are being held Sept. 1 and Sept. 9 at Big Rivers WMA in Crittenden County and the Welch Tract of Kentucky River WMA in Henry County.
Applications for all quota dove hunts opened Aug. 7 and will close at 4:30 p.m. (Eastern) Aug. 18. Apply online at fw.ky.gov.
Traditionally, most hunters want to be in the field on opening day, anticipating those areas will hold a substantial stock of unwary birds. Harvest records show that 80% of doves are taken within the first weekend of the season, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t enough doves in Kentucky the rest of the season. Most hunters are simply choosing to hunt early in the season. Heavy hunting pressure early can reduce the number of doves seen in a field later in the season.
This dichotomy isn’t lost on biologists. This is why the new quota hunts at Big Rivers WMA and Kentucky River WMA have more than a week between them.
“Access to these fields will close in between hunts, giving them time to rest. We hope the second hunts on Sept. 9 will be as good as the first hunts on opening day,” said Little.
All quota hunt fields open to general hunting the day after the last quota hunt is held.
Dove hunters will need to purchase an annual or 1-day hunting license and a migratory bird/waterfowl permit before hunting. Youth dove hunters ages 12-15 need youth licenses but are exempt from permit requirements. In addition, all dove hunters must complete the Harvest Information Program (HIP) survey through the MyProfile online portal before hunting. The HIP confirmation number will appear on your license when you reprint it from the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife website. There is no charge to reprint your license from home.
Doves exhibit predictable behaviors – which is great news for new hunters — while the challenge of shooting on the wing keeps experienced hunters coming back.
Mentors often use dove season to take beginners on their first hunting trip. Dove hunting is fast paced and less intimidating for beginners as compared to hunting from a deer stand deep in the woods or using an elaborate waterfowl blind.
Because doves must fly into shooting range, hunting relies on the concept of shooting “on the wing.” If you’ve ever hollered pull at a shotgun range, it’s likely you’ve practiced wingshooting.
Leading a bird compensates for a moving target. It may take extra time to break the instinct to carefully line your bead to the target before firing if you’re unused to shooting on the wing or clay target practice. Though it sounds contradictory to the rule of taking a steady breath and pulling the trigger as you exhale, you must change shooting tactics and learn to lead a bird instead.
Without the proper form, dove hunters will be missing out. When you’re quickly getting into shooting position, keep your feet planted and avoid turning your whole body. Instead, rotate with your hips, and aim your shot ahead of your target. As you move, stay aware of your surroundings and be sure of the trajectory of your shot, especially during group outings. Most importantly, never shoot at low flying birds. Follow through after your shot, tracking the bird with your gun barrel as it falls.
Practice will require consistency and repetition, and patterning your shotgun each year is essential. The Kentucky Shooting Range database lists a number of ranges; use this to determine which ranges allow shotguns. When practicing, use the same load you plan to use in the field.
Little encourages hunters to try steel shot instead of lead shot in their shotguns. “In blind studies, there’s no evidence that lead performs better. However, there is a lot of information on how harmful lead is to wildlife. Fields with non-toxic shot requirements get less hunting pressure, too. Get away from the crowd and give steel shot a try,” he said.
Check to make sure your shotgun is rated to handle steel shot. While modern shotguns generally can handle steel, Grandpa’s shotgun may not.
Prepare for your hunt
Productive fields commonly are sunflower, hemp, corn silage, winter wheat, millet and other cover crops; these crops are preferred by doves to forage on the ground.
Doves tend to stay in the same area and follow the same routine throughout the summer if they have nearby access to food, water and roosting sites. When scouting, pay attention to the flock’s schedule and where they gather to feed; use this to decide the vantage point where you’ll set up in the field. Keep in mind that a newly found food source, such as a newly harvested silage field, can quickly change this routine.
Make sure to pack the right equipment for a great hunt. In addition to your shotgun and shells, you’ll need:
These are the necessities, as well as any food and water you’ll want. Typically, some form of chair is a must, but remember that shooting while sitting prevents you from getting into proper form. A bucket or lawn chair allows you to rise quickly for a standing shot. Sunglasses and binoculars are extras that come in handy, and many hunters wear a vest or shell bag so they can grab new ammunition conveniently.
When it’s finally that time to go afield, remember the proper form and don’t let the excitement of a hunt negate your hours of practice. If you’re an experienced hunter, take a beginner along to introduce them to the excitement of dove hunting.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here