Dove season opened Sunday at noon across Tennessee and most hunters across the region reported a mediocre start. The annual Labor Day weekend is a big date on the calendar for the southern tradition of dove hunting.
The lion’s share of dove hunting is done during the first 10 days of the first segment of the state’s three-segment season. After opening day and the Labor Day holiday period passes, it seems doves scatter and participation falls off.
On a few rare occasions, some good dove hunts occur after the opening weekend passes, but that’s not the norm. Other segments offer opportunity later in the fall and even in the dead of winter.
Still, the enthusiasm level among the ranks of sportsmen seems to dwindle once other hunting seasons open, not to mention school activities, fall fishing and that thing Andy Griffith said folks call football. Dove hunters seem to scatter themselves, heading in several different directions with their free time.
Meanwhile, the arrival of dove season is a big deal among the ranks of Tennessee sportsmen. For many hunters, it’s the introductory level as a dove hunt is the maiden voyage into the outdoors or shooting sports.
From novice hunters to veterans and for all ages, dove hunts are great fun and it’s not all about how many you bag. Just being out there and sharing a grain field where the birds are swarming is quite a sight.
Sharing the hunt with friends and family is what dove hunts are all about. Teaching that youngster the do’s and don’ts of shooting and safety while also leading by example. Explaining wildlife regulations and perhaps a bit about management and the history and biology of doves themselves.
Around these parts, agriculture is a big part of the landscape. Through the years, doves have changed somewhat as once abundant silage fields around rural milk cow operations have pretty much vanished. Today’s dove hunts are more around prepared fields such as sunflower and top sown wheat.
Shelled corn fields are abundant but many veteran hunters have seen doves scatter once the harvest begins and today’s farming operations harvest earlier than their predecessors and leave less food on the ground.
Finding a place to hunt continues to be a challenge for a large portion of hunters who simply don’t have a place to go. Growing populations and shrinking public hunting opportunities have been a factor.
Wildlife agencies on the state and federal level haven’t been able to provide enough acreage for small game hunting such as doves, rabbits and quail. There are a few public hunts but, in summary, if you don’t know a land owner or farmer you’re out of luck. Even then some hunts are paid hunting as the cost of fixing up dove fields is expensive.
Across the region last weekend there were a few public fields leased by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. There was a field in Henry, Weakley and Carroll County which will be open again next Saturday morning.
For locations and directions to the public fields, log onto the TWRA’s website at www.tnwildlife.org. The fields, which were leased from farmers by the TWRA, were hunted last Sunday afternoon and Monday. They have been closed to access this week and will reopen Saturday morning so perhaps a few doves have returned to the feeding areas.
STEVE McCADAMS is The Post-Intelligencer’s outdoors writer. His email address is email@example.com.