Where to Dove Hunt on Wildlife Areas and Avoid the Crowds

by Leslie Howard, Wildlife Habitat Supervisor II

This article was provided by the California DFG Region 4 Office as an assistance to dove hunters.

Some ten to twelve years ago personnel managing the wildlife areas started growing safflower as a high energy food for birds and rodents. As was expected, this crop attracted lots of mourning dove. Soon the Department of Fish and Game opened valley wildlife areas traditionally managed for waterfowl to dove hunters. Dove hunting on the wildlife areas quickly became very popular!

Staff put out maps showing people where crops have been planted to let them know how the money from their Upland Game Stamps was being spent and where to look for birds. Unfortunately, two aspects of the dove hunting program have not worked very well. First, the hunters get the impression that the fields shown on the map, especially safflower, are the only places to hunt. Second, the hunters scout the areas for the fields receiving the most bird use and then go there to hunt on opening morning not realizing many others have done the same thing. Then it becomes COMPETITIVE!

Strangely hunters think they are the only ones who scouted the field and are very upset on opening morning when they discover fifty other have done the same thing. Everyone wants the other guy to move and it became territorial and possessive. It got to the point where people were sleeping in the field to claim territory in an effort to beat their hunting brothers and sisters. Was it the good dove hunting or the desire to compete and win that drove this behavior?

The result of all this was the Department of Fish and Game restricted the number of hunters and began issuing reservations. This has reduced opportunity along with the number of hunters and has only put a band-aid on the bigger issue of competition.

A change in thinking needs to occur. Instead of believing the fields marked on the map are the only places to hunt, hunters need to spend their time scouting to learn where and how the birds get to and from the fields, where they roost and loaf, and where they water. This will reveal lots of places to have enjoyable hunts away from the crowded fields. This is part of enjoying the sport. Many early mornings or days in the field can be enjoyed in anticipation of the opening day.

Dove often fly along fences, ditches, tree lines, rivers and sloughs. They loaf in trees near water and have the same pattern day after day while in an area. Wildlife area staff takes this into consideration when preparing for public use and manage these areas to be accessible.

If you plan on hunting dove on one of the valley wildlife areas this year, be different! Scout out one of the hidden-away places the dove use within the thousands of acres available. On opening morning enjoy your hunt in a more secluded area instead of complaining about the other guy who is hunting the marked grain fields. Try it — you'll like it!

By the way, one of my favorite places to hunt dove is along the San Joaquin River on the China Island flood plain off Highway 140. Good luck and enjoy your hunt.

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