Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
This year’s Iowa dove opener is officially in the can. In spite of the fact that unseasonably cool weather during late August resulted in a substantial reduction in dove numbers across the state’s northern tiers of counties, more than enough birds remained to provide plenty of excitement. Farther south, the northern exodus may have bolstered dove numbers south of I80.
According to DNR Conservation Officers, this year’s opener was a hit with hunters statewide. In northern Iowa, [where I spent the opener] public hunting area parking lots were filled to capacity, with some locations reporting in excess of 50 hunter vehicles. A large number of parties left the field with 15-bird limits, while other groups had come very close to attaining that mark. Dove hot spots included weedy fallow fields [especially those containing foxtail], sunflower plots, and abandoned sand and gravel pits where birds congregate for grit and water.
Faster than a speeding bullet; connecting with fleet winged doves is a highly challenging, extremely humbling endeavor. For this year’s opener, I chose to hunt on public land. The popularity of Iowa dove hunting continues to grow by leaps and bounds and, as expected, I had lots of company. Although calm winds and high humidity led to fog bound conditions at daybreak, a rising sun quickly cleared the skies.
My hunt got off a fantastic start as I went “three for three” with my .28 gauge Ruger – my favorite shotgun. I missed the next shot, but then connected again with the fifth. Four plump doves in the bag for five shots fired. I must admit that I was feelin’ pretty good about the day so far.
But I know from painful experience that any time I get to thinking that my marksmanship is all that; things are destined for a sudden change. Sure enough; my sixth, seventh, eighth, and — well, let’s just say that I no longer had to deal with an inflated ego problem. Like I said, doves have a way of humbling you. Although I felt bad about the misses, I’m guessin’ that I didn’t feel nearly as bad as the two young guys down the way who, as it turned out, had burned nearly three boxes [75 rounds] of ammo between them for a combined bag of six birds.
Fortunately, my hunt concluded on a much higher note. Following an undisclosed number of additional shots, I had eventually attained fourteen birds in the bag. While marking the high speed passage of a group of four, one of the doves suddenly broke off and came scorching past my right hand side. The bird was traveling at warp speed; afterburners lit. It was also low, close and, to much my amazement, completely stopped flying at the sound of my shot. I was thrilled by the result. Those fifteen plump, early season doves would easily provide two of us with three, full flavored wild game dinners.
But my Opening Day story wasn’t quite finished. Reaching down to collect my bird, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The day’s final dove was banded.
Working in cooperation with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, DNR wildlife workers across the nation capture and band wild mourning doves from local populations. Mourning doves are North America’s most abundant gamebird and are an important recreational resource. As hunters bag and report banded doves, the data provides essential information needed for comprehensive, continent-wide migratory bird management. A majority of the recoveries from doves banded in Iowa [but recovered elsewhere] have been reported from the key wintering areas of Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico.
Although I’ve been hunting doves for a lot of years now, I have only bagged three banded doves in my lifetime. All represent fond memories. But because of the way this year’s opening day hunt played out, this band will be my most treasured. It didn’t occur to me until on the way home, but if just one of those afore mentioned misses had been a hit instead, then I would have never collected the banded dove.