Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
The popularity of Iowa’s dove season continues to grow. This year, for example, there were actual “dove camps” on public areas. On the eve of Monday’s September 1st Opener, hunters’ campfires glimmered near the outskirts of favored sunflower plots — more reminiscent of traditional duck openers than what we’ve seen for Iowa dove hunts.
But although hunter enthusiasm was obviously running high, local weather conditions proved anything but ideal. Severe thunderstorms and heavy rainfall rumbled across a wide portion of the state late Sunday night. In northern Iowa’s Cerro Gordo County [where I ended up hunting] there was more than enough lightning and precip to go around as storms dropped anywhere from 1 ½ to 2-inches of rainfall during the predawn hours.
Although the rain stopped just before daybreak, heavy overcast kept hunters in the dark until well past legal shooting time. When daylight finally arrived, the doves came with it. Last week’s back to back series of weather fronts, cooler temps, and NW winds must have triggered substantial migrations. During the first hour of shooting, it quickly became evident that there were easily four or five times more doves on the wing than I had seen on any previous day of scouting. Other hunters were apparently observing the same; the sound of distant gunfire was intense.
A good south breeze was whipping up and incoming doves were really sizzling across the plot. Before long, my supply of ammo was nearly exhausted. When I fired my last shell [a clean miss] ; I had 13 doves on the ground. Fortunately, I had a good store of .28 ga. shells in the truck. Although it was a long walk back, I decided the round trip would be well worth the effort: I love to eat doves. When I returned with more ammo, I managed to collect my last two birds. It was a beautiful bag. Doves were hog fat condition and nearly all were in bright, adult plumage.
At least from where I sit, this may have been Iowa’s best dove opener yet. Everyone I’ve talked to — including Conservation Officers — has shared the same opinion. Everyone is also in unanimous agreement that DNR sunflower plots are about maxed out in regards to hunter numbers. Further crowding would certainly compromise the quality of the hunt. Public dove plots are definitely a high use; high yield recreational resource. When it comes down to considering the cost/benefit ratio, I doubt wildlife managers will ever devise a better way of providing a bigger bang for the buck — pun intended.