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Prepping for opening day of dove hunting: Scouting the impact of Illinois’ cool wet spring

As hunters prep for opening day for doves on Sunday, Illinois’ cool wet spring has had many lingering impacts.

Sunflowers at Iroquois County State Wildlife Area are better than most public sites around Illinois, where the cool wet spring has lingering impacts.
Dale Bowman

While wandering around checking dove fields and counting doves on wires this weekend, I was not alone. Sunday, I bumped into Tony Bonnette of Markham doing the same.

Or take Mark Pawlowski, who emailed, ``People think I’m nuts to do the 200-mile round trip pilgrimage from Barrington just to scout, but it pays off.’’

He draws at Green River State Wildlife Area, but this year he is considering hunting another site on stand-by. Green River was hard hit by flooding when the levee was topped. No sunflowers were planted. Among the things planted instead were sudex (a sorghum-sudangrass hybrid).

This year pre-season scouting matters more. Dove hunting in Illinois opens Sunday on Sept. 1 as usual. Because of the wet spring statewide, conditions vary wildly at public sites and private lands. Know before you go. (Click here for the box on key public sites.)

For example, Joe Lenkaitis, site superintendent at Shabbona Lake State Recreation Area, said the north field was still flooded in June, but they were able to plant millet.

``Doves are widely scattered due to widespread unplanted agricultural fields with lots of food available,’’ wildlife biologist Bob Massey messaged. ``Long wet spring with heavy downpours likely resulted in poor recruitment. Doves can nest up to four times per year, but half the nesting season featured cool extremely wet conditions which caused late or no dove field manipulation. Plan accordingly.’’

The most doves I saw were along a mowed ditch by a field too wet to plant.

Surprisingly, sunflowers look good at two local sites: Silver Springs State Fish and Wildlife Area and Iroquois County SWA.

Everybody I talked to said they were not seeing many doves. But anybody who has followed the vagaries of doves knows it can change from very few to lots overnight or a couple cold nights can change dove numbers from lots to very few.

The weather forecast looks more moderate than for most opening days.

Here are a couple dove-related notes. If you drew a permit, you must print it out on your own. Iroquois County SWA went to a permit system with limited stand-by. Many sites are now under the Windshield Card System after the first five days.

OTHER HUNTING: The early Canada goose season also opens Sunday. Logistically, there will be far more private lands suitable with so many unplanted fields; however, that still requires permission to hunt. . . . Saturday is the final day to apply for free upland game permits, coolest hunting program in Illinois.

WILD THINGS: This is the time nighthawks should be spotted at night baseball games, but I haven’t seen any yet.

STRAY CAST: Speaking of baseball, what team reminds you of tripping while climbing Starved Rock, then rolling down to the parking lot?