Dove season opens Sept. 1, and over the next two weeks, state wildlife officials will be preparing dove fields on the agency’s wildlife management areas for opening day.
That’s if the unusual abundance of August rains will end. What will likely be the wettest August in the history of the state could ruin the highly anticipated dove season opener if it prevents the mowing and burning of feed fields for doves.
Every year, on dozens of the state’s public hunting areas, the Wildlife Department will mow, disc and burn crops in late August to put dove food on the ground. On some WMAs, this work has already started. On others, the mowing has been delayed because of recent rains.
“We don’t want to put that food on the ground too early because of situations like this,” said Alan Peoples, head of the wildlife division for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “Usually, we wait until at least the 15th of August to put that food on the ground, whether it be sunflowers or croton or wheat or whatever.”
State wildlife officials mow fields of sunflowers, croton and milo on the wildlife management areas so they hopefully will become dove magnets on the opening day of dove season. The seeds must be available and relatively bare on the ground for doves to use the fields.
“Doves can’t hardly land on a plant in the air,” Peoples said. “So the food has to be on the ground and hopefully removed from the plant.”
In the case of wheat, state wildlife officials will burn the chaff off the grain to leave the grain exposed, Peoples said.
The positive news from the rain is it should provide some water hole hunting out west in areas that have been dry.
And on wildlife management areas such as Cross Timbers in Love County, where there has been a burn ban in place, recent rains could result in burn bans being lifted so state wildlife officials can burn fields before the Sept. 1 opener.
However, state wildlife officials are at the mercy of the weather.
“It’s going to delay us mowing a little bit on some areas,” Peoples said of the recent wet weather. “But we still got about two weeks. We will be fine. It will dry out, and we will knock it on the ground.
“It might delay the birds bunching up on the WMAs. We would like to get them in there a little earlier, but if the rain will stop now, we will be OK.”
The majority of dove hunting is done on opening day. With the dove season opener on Saturday this year, there likely will be a large number of dove hunters in the field. Sept. 1-2 are also free hunting days in the state this year, meaning no hunting licenses are required for Oklahoma residents.
This year’s opening weekend of dove season could be one of the biggest ever. Assuming it doesn’t rain.
Top public dove hunting areas
1. Beaver River (Beaver County) — Dry conditions limited crops this year. For the best chances, focus on watering holes or roosting sites.
2. Hal and Fern Cooper (Woodward, Harper counties) — Very little rainfall spelled doom for any wheat crops, so the dove hunting might suffer.
3. Drummond Flats (Garfield County) — Milo, millet and wheat fields make this a popular dove hunting destination. Non-toxic shot only.
4. Packsaddle (Ellis County) — It’s fairly rough country, but good hunting can be found over native food sources and watering holes.
5. Black Kettle (Roger Mills County) — The WMA is broken up into smaller, scattered tracts, giving hunters an opportunity to get away from the crowd.
1. Hackberry Flat (Tillman County) — Several managed wheat fields and native sunflower fields scattered across the area typically draw good numbers of doves. Scouting is encouraged. Non-toxic shot only.
2. Mountain Park (Kiowa County) — Lack of rain slowed sunflower production, but standing wheat on the area is fair. More dove are expected as opening day approaches.
3. Sandy Sanders (Beckham, Greer counties) — Watering holes are in fair condition, but continued dry conditions have limited most crop production. Opening day looks iffy.
4. Waurika (Stephens, Cotton counties) — Agricultural fields on the area’s west side are where dove hunters will most likely find success.
Best that’s not west
1. Kaw (Kay, Osage counties) — Five fields are managed for dove hunting, but scouting is recommended for the acres that are leased to farmers to see which fields are attracting doves.
2. Fort Gibson (Wagoner County) — Normally has doves, but the hunting looks spotty this year due to rain and late crop harvests
3. Skiatook (Osage County) — Just two fields that usually have good numbers of bird, but the area is very popular with dove hunters.
4. Keystone (Osage, Pawnee counties) — The area has three wheat fields and a cornfield managed for doves.
5. Lexington (Cleveland County) — Because of its proximity to the Oklahoma City metro, hunters usually flock to the area. Opening day offers the best chance to limit out.