Locating doves likely will require more scouting this year
Scouting always is important, but dove hunters will want to scout as much as possible up to Thursday's opener this season.
The unusual cool fronts in August have birds on the move.
“We've just had a weird year,” said Kelvin Schoonover, wildlife biologist at Hackberry Flat near Frederick, typically the site of the premier opening day dove shoot in the state.
“We've had more rain than we've had in forever and it's just a complicated thing as far as managing doves. I'm not seeing widespread birds, let me put it that way. I hope it gets better.”
It's a similar story elsewhere around the state, said Alan Peoples, chief of the wildlife division for the Wildlife Department.
Peoples expects it to be a classic dove opener in Oklahoma.
“Lots of birds in spots,” Peoples said. “Beaver got down to 51 degrees the other day and they think they lost a lot of doves when it got down that cold. Fifty-five (degrees) is kind of the cutoff. If it gets down to 55, a lot of them, typically out west, will start moving.
“I do think they are bunching up now. If you see them, they are going to be in larger groups.”
The trick will be finding them. Peoples suggests hunters in eastern Oklahoma concentrate on recently cut cornfields.
“Those doves will hone in on those cut cornfields,” he said.
Out west, wheat stubble and watering holes should be primary targets, he said.
“There is a lot of water out west,” Peoples said. “There is water in spots that hadn't had water in a long time, so water hole hunting will be particularly good.”
Rod Smith, who is the agency's wildlife chief for the southwest region, said doves haven't been staying in one place for very long in his part of the state.
“It's been a really strange year with all the fronts that have come through,” he said. “You start to see really good numbers of birds, then you don't, and then you do, and then you don't.
“I think it's going to be one of those years where we really don't know until a day or two before the season...
“I have seen croton fields that were really good. Anybody who can find a good croton field, I think that will be a big deal this year.”
Dove hunters refer to croton as “doveweeds” because the birds love the cluster of small, hard seeds that are produced by the plant which thrives on otherwise bare ground.
On many of the state's public hunting areas, the Wildlife Department manages for doves by growing wheat, then mowing it, then setting it on fire.
“Most of the guys were very successful at doing that this time,” Peoples said. “We ought to have some pretty good dove shooting on the wildlife management areas. They all got birds. It's just a matter if they are going to be there (on Thursday).”
Schoonover said three days of hot, dry weather before Thursday would help.
“Consistent weather is what holds the birds,” he said.
Hunters headed out for Thursday's opener need to remember to carry their hunting license, a HIP Permit and a shotgun that can hold no more than three shells.
Sept. 3 and 4 are free hunting days in the state, so no hunting license is needed. Oklahoma game wardens will not check for the federally required Harvest Information Permit either on those days, but it would be a good idea for hunters to have them in possession.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers have required them in the past. The HIP (Harvest Information Permit) can be downloaded for free at wildlifedepartment.com.