BY SCOTT RALL
The Globe outdoors columnist
Every time a writer makes a statement, there are many who will agree and some who will not. This is pretty common. The first year that I wrote about the new season to hunt for doves in Minnesota, it was one of those great debates that went on for weeks after the printing.
That was back in September of 2004. Almost 15 years have past since that first mention of dove hunting and the hunt has kind of become non-issue for most Minnesotans.
The current population estimates for all breeding waterfowl is about 47 million animals. There are more than 350 million doves. This means there is almost seven times more doves than there are total ducks and geese.
Saturday is the dove opener for the 2018 season. I am going to be chasing them with my cousin John Bender in Leola, S.D.
I have never hunted doves in South Dakota before because it costs a little too much. A non-resident hunter purchases a license good for 10 days. They are broken into two five-day periods. The cost is $128 plus a $3 vendor fee. This means that I will have to use up an entire 5-day period to hunt doves for two days over the weekend.
I normally would not do it, but I am going to be in that area helping John with some manual labor on some wildlife habitat projects. We are going to spend two days removing old barb wire fences. It will help to make sure that our canine companions don’t end up at the vet.
John lets me and a few of my other Minnesota pheasant hunting buddies have access to the family land near Leola a few times per season. This is our way of saying thank you.
He told me that they could hardly buy a drip of rain out there and crops are very impaired due to lack of moisture. The opposite of here.
KELO-Land TV explained that the summer of 2018 was the third wettest summer in Siouxland history. The wettest and second wettest were in the years 2004 and 2008. I see a trend here.
Doves are just terrible nesters. They make a nest out of a few twigs. They are as flat as a pancake and even a moderate wind can blow them to the ground. Couple this with tons of rain and I think that the hatch rates of doves must be in the under 10 percent range locally.
I did the pheasant roadside counts the first week of August and saw almost no doves.
A few locals have been prepping some dove hunting spots in our area. This is legal as long as you don’t use bait. Normal farming practices are allowed. This might be mowing or harvesting at the right times to attract doves.
Small grain fields are the best places, but they are very few and far between around here. The ones that do exist almost always get manure spread on them shortly after harvest, which makes them less desirable to doves. If harvest happens more than a few weeks before the season starts, the areas green up with weeds, and the doves won’t use them as much.
In Dakota we are going to set up near stock watering ponds in the middle of cattle pastures. We dig a hole with a post hole auger and insert a dead branch. Doves will come to these areas and many times will get within gun range.
Doves are fast and erratic flyers. Most people cannot bag a limit of 15 with 25 shots. The average hunter shoots about 4-5 shells per dove harvested.
If you think you are a pretty good shot, go try hunting doves.
It takes just the right kind of dog to hunt doves. My hard-charging Labradors are pretty hard on a dove. I knew of one dog a friend of mine had that would actually swallow them hole on the way back to the blind.
The birds are hard to clean. My dog Axle is the best dove dog I have ever owned. He is gentle in the blind and makes a nice soft mouth retrieve with these little flight rockets. The rest of my foursome are just a little too anxious to serve me well in this role.
You need to be careful because dove hunting happens while temperatures are really warm. It is an easy time of year to overheat a dog, so pay attention to your dog for watch symptoms. Keep a water jug handy to pour over them between retrieves. It can go along way to keeping them safe.
This weekend, it looks like the weather is going to be great. Get a license, grab a gun and a dog if you have one and go sit on a bucket and wait for a dove. Fall is in the air, and even though there might not be many doves, getting outside is the main reason to go. The exercise is always a plus, too.