“You ready?” said my cousin Jim Martino as I threw my shotgun, daypack and decoys in the back of his SUV. We had been drawn for the opening day of the dove hunting season at the Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area. Even nicer was the fact legal shooting hours didn’t begin until noon, giving no reason to leave during the morning’s earliest hours.
This state property, like many others across Indiana, manages fields and other open areas specifically for doves. They are planted with milo, millet and sunflowers. Consequently, these swift flying birds can sometimes pour into them by the hundreds, driving some shotgunners crazy. There has been plenty of hunters left standing with barrels wavering against an azure sky.
After the short drive, we found ourselves in a mix with people of all ages. Everyone congregates at the property office where the DNR does an excellent job of placing hunters in specific fields for the safety of everyone.
“This is one of my favorite days of the year,” said Mark Tranor of Lafayette, who has several reasons to love doves, most involving bacon, garlic and a hot grill.
Bob Sasser enjoys dove season for another reason. “Our family is going 50 different directions all year long,” he explained. “But dove season is a chance for the boys and I to spend some quality time together,” he added. He was flanked by his sons Ethan and Aaron.
Once assignments were handed out, everyone quickly headed to their designated locations. It wasn’t long before the report of shotguns echoed across the countryside.
During a lull in the action I visited briefly with Hank Schumacher, a plumber from Northwest Indiana. Sitting next to him was his son-in-law Jason Hatch, who resides in Indianapolis and heads up a software company. Hatch was introduced to bird hunting by his father-in-law.
“It has really given us the chance to form a father-and-son relationship,” Hatch explained, as he scanned the sky for incoming birds.
“We just had our first grandson too,” Schumacher added. “We can’t wait for the excitement of taking him hunting as well.”
Dove season opens with summer on the wane. Even though the temperature topped at out nearly 85 degrees last Sunday, heat and drought start to lose their grip come early September. For a dove hunter, sitting on a bucket tucked into a fencerow, cornfield or stand of thick cover, those first cool breezes are a welcome harbinger of more fall days to come.
By the end of summer, most sportspeople become antsy. They’ve had months to fish. The wild game they jammed into freezers is almost gone and their shooting reflexes need sharpened.
While some may hold deep regret for the beach season’s official Labor Day end, those with consumptive outdoor interests welcome the happy hunting season and nothing says it better than the first day of dove season. Even though the door opened for squirrel several weeks back, it just doesn’t signal the impending arrival of autumn like the start of dove season, regardless of what the calendar says.
The DNR estimates that more than 14,000 Hoosier hunters will harvest nearly 230,000 birds during this year’s split season, which concludes Oct. 13, before coming in again on Nov. 8 and running until Dec. 4.
Doves are found throughout the state but recently harvested grain fields with a nearby water supply are typically hotspots.
As far as table fare goes, mourning doves provide a sweet fine meat that can be prepared a variety of ways.
If you hunt doves, you’ll need a hunting license and game bird stamp, which can be purchased from almost any outdoor store or online from the DNR’s website. You also will need a free HIP number before going afield. HIP, an acronym for Harvest Information Program, is federally mandated in most states, so the USFWS can get a handle on how many birds are taken each year.
Every game animal has its own unique attraction for hunters. Doves are swift flyers and can turn on a dime, especially when riding a stiff wind. They are a challenge to hit and offer the excitement of shooting dozens of shells in just a few short hours. This is in comparison to one rifle bullet or arrow on a good day of hunting deer.
But be warned, dove hunting does have one drawback. It can be a social activity forcing some to talk smack.
“Are you shooting blanks,” I overheard someone yell, after his friend whiffed several in-your-face shots.
“Next time I’m bringing your sister,” he added, bringing insult to injury. I won’t get into the other comments that soon followed.
A few minutes later there was another break in the action. After a hearty late morning breakfast and warm sunshine my eyelids became heavy. I had no sooner closed my eyes when the report of a shotgun jolted me back to the task at hand.
“Are you asleep over there?” my cousin asked. “Three birds just flew right over you.”
Hunting, families and friends go hand in hand, and nothing says it better than the opening of dove season.
The second annual Indiana Sheriffs Association open team bass tourney will be held on Patoka Reservoir, staging out of the Newton-Stewart boat ramp. The benefit contest will be held on Sept. 21 beginning at 7:30 a.m.
Proceeds from the event will go to families of police officers who lost their lives in the line of duty and scholarship programs for students pursuing a degree in law enforcement.
Additional tourney details can be obtained by contacting Keith Kelley at 812-392-2889 or 812-592-2069.
• The father-and-son team of Dave and Joel Edwards took first place at last Monday’s Kokomo Reservoir open team bass tourney, sponsored by Cardwell Built Construction. They won the event with three largemouth dropping the electronic scales at 4.93 pounds. Mat Temme and Dennis McKee snagged second with three fish totaling 4.23 pounds. Third place and the weekly event’s biggest fish award went to Henry Cavazos with two fish weighing 3.60 pounds, with his largest topping out at 2.30 pounds.
• Bob Rose and Wayne Nolder won last Tuesday’s Delphi-Delco team bass tourney with five fish weighing 10 pounds, 8Nounces. Keith Milburn and Ed Lyke were second with three fish totaling 6 pounds, 7 ounces. A fish weighing just under 3 pounds also gave them the “big fish” trophy. Mike Harrison and Gary Thompson grabbed third place with one fish tipping the scales at 1 pound, 9 ounces.
John Martino is the Tribune’s outdoors columnist. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.