Illinois hunting: Down doves, a perspective

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Dragonflies are what I think of as the shape of personal drones.

Such idle thoughts tumble around when shooting is slow in dove fields. It was as slow I remember in my nearly 20 years of recording opening day bags at Illinois sites.

The question is why.

I love watching the afternoon sun splatter vivid yellows on goldfinches as they feed on dried sunflowers; and love watching butterflies, moths and ruby-throated hummingbirds work weeds and sunflowers.

On the other aesthetic hand, one of my favorite feasts is grilling dove breasts with slices of home-grown jalapeno pepper wrapped in bacon.

How slow was it?

Normally, at least a few sites average near the daily bag of 15 doves per hunter on opening day, Sept. 1 in Illinois.

This year no site was even close as far as I know.

Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area had the best opening numbers on its second day when the even-numbered fields were hunted with 118 hunters bagging 1,182 doves, an average of 10 doves per hunter. There were 46 limits.

Here’s why doves are hard to figure.

On the opening day, when the odd fields were hunted, the site average was only 4.8 dph with only 12 limits, second worst opener for the site.

“The worst of the even fields were better than the best of the odd fields,” site superintendent Mike Wickens said. “I have been doing this 17 years and I can’t explain it.”

Lot of us fall in that group.

Edward R. Madigan SFWA was close with 9.6 dph on opening day.

Site super Ron Willmore guessed, like many many of us, that “the wet rainy cooler weather made for a poorer nesting year.”

That’s as good an explanation as any. Despite all the rain and flooding in June and July, the sunflowers, millet and wheat were at least decent at most sites.

The other main guess/explanation was that the cold snap in mid-August sent doves migrating. I tend to agree. I know on my morning ramble I saw the usual dozens of doves through Aug. 24, almost none the next morning and since.

Stan McTaggart, agriculture and grassland wildlife program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, was not overly concerned.

“I haven’t seen all the numbers for the permit sites yet, but I am not surprised harvest is down,’’ he emailed Friday. “With all the rain in June and July, the sunflower and wheat fields were delayed in some areas and drowned out in others. I think local production is also down this year as well, due to all the rain.

“Overall, I don’t think lower harvest is surprising or worrisome. I hope to get out next week when the cold front hits and hopefully brings some new birds!’’

A regular at Silver Springs SFWA, which was slow opening day (2.1 dph), emailed had a similar plan in mind. He planned to wait for the next front to move in fresh doves, possibly early this week.

That strategy might be as good as any.


One more thing, there’s nothing Quite like driving home and counting dozens of more doves sitting on wires than were watched in the field.

Maybe they know something.

Or we don’t.

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