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Dove season offers challenges, opportunities

August 30, 2013 at 07:25 AM

The State Journal-Register

Late-maturing sunflowers could make dove hunting even more of a challenge this fall.

Dove hunting opens Sunday in Illinois. Statewide hours are sunrise to sunset.

Doves have a reputation for being fast-flying targets that are maddeningly difficult to hit.

Mike Wickens, site superintendent of the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area near Chandlerville, said 80 percent of the sunflowers planted for dove hunting fields will still be standing when the season starts.

That’s because the farmer working with the site harvests them as a cash crop, and they aren’t ready to come out yet.

The state’s share — 20 percent — were mowed this week to provide open spaces for hunters and “fall areas” where downed birds can be more easily located and retrieved.

“But (hunting) is going to be tougher than normal,” he said.

Wickens said the 30-yard-wide “fall areas” will be sufficient as long as hunters carefully pick their shots.

Hunting areas at Jim Edgar Panther Creek were staked Tuesday.

“Tuesday was the first day we could go into the fields to start mowing the sunflowers because they weren’t able to be harvested,” he said.

“They were planted in May, which was the first time that has happened in 15 years.”

Doves still are showing up to feed on sunflower seed left by mowing and by wheat seeds left on the ground when fields were burned a few weeks ago.

Wickens said recent dry weather has helped, because wheat seed that fell to the ground during the burns is still there.

“The seed is still on the ground since there has been no rain to germinate it,” he said. “That’s what’s bringing in the doves, not the sunflower seeds.”

“But we do have quite a few doves using the area.”

Randy Hawkins, site superintendent of Sangchris Lake State Park near Rochester, also reported “quite a few doves” on site this week.
He and his staff were burning wheat fields and staking hunter locations this week.

Scouts Karl Densmore, Jake Frech, Jonathon Haile and Austin Vincent repurposed some old Illinois Department of Natural Resources boundary signs into numbered stakes for dove hunters. Photo courtesy of Randy Hawkins.

Scouts mark the spot

Hawkins said hunters at Sangchris will know exactly where to go this year, thanks to a Boy Scout troop that repurposed old Illinois Department of Natural Resources boundary signs.

The scouts turned them into numbered stakes, marking the assigned spot for each dove hunter.

“Randy called me and asked if (our troop) was looking for a public service project,” said Mark Frech, former director of the Illinois Department of Conservation and father of a member of Troop 216.

“It turned out to be a bigger project than we anticipated,” he said. “We did 92 of them total.”

Six scouts from the troop based at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 2100 Bates Ave. and led by Scoutmaster Abel Haile, sanded, primed, repainted and numbered the old signs.

Frech said the project was a chance for the scouts to see wildlife management in action.

“Last fall I had the opportunity to take them on a campout to the Sanganois State Fish and Wildlife Area,” Frech said. “And we took them on a tour so they could better understand wildlife management.”
Sanganois is a popular public waterfowl hunting area between the Illinois and Sangamon Rivers.

Scouts saw how wetland plants grow during the summer to feed migrating birds in the fall.

“Last year they could see a prime example of wildlife management and Mother Nature helped tremendously,” he said. “They saw the moist soil plants at their best. This project tied into what they learned last year.”

Instead of waterfowl, dove hunting provides management for migratory birds in an upland environment.

“So they got to see the sunflowers that will provide opportunities for hunters as well as a good nutritional food source for migrating doves,” he said.

Hawkins said the scouts went “above and beyond,” spending a month on the project.

“In the past we used these utility locator flags,” he said. “But after a day or so they were gone and I’ve got hunters wandering around looking for their stake.”

With the new signs, there will be no doubt where each hunter should be when the season opens.

“I am so proud of these,” he said. “We had all these old boundary signs that were piled up, and they turned out just fantastic.”

Sunflowers were still blooming a month ago at Sangchris Lake State Park.

Pay attention to baiting rules

Hunters preparing dove-hunting fields should be careful not to cross the line into baiting.

Conservation Police Officer Matt Graden, who is based in McLean County, said it is important to focus on baiting rules that pertain to doves. Migratory waterfowl baiting rules are somewhat different.

“You can grow sunflowers with the intent of harvesting doves,” he said. “You can mow and manipulate. You can make seed available on the ground that is grown there.”

But that’s all.

“You cannot add or supplement the seed in any manner,” Graden said. “You can mow it. But you cannot carry bushel baskets of sunflower seed into the field to supplement it. At that point, you cross over the line into baiting.”

The message is the same for agricultural fields, such as a harvested wheat field, or a field where a farmer has harvested corn early for silage.

“Any grain left as a result of normal agricultural practices is OK,” he said. “If you have a little bit of waste you can hunt that field without it being considered baited.”

Adding additional grain is not allowed in either scenario.

“As long as he is harvesting using normal practices (some waste grain on the ground is OK), but it is not normal to just dump or waste grain,” he said.

“You cannot add to or supplement grain for doves in any situation.”

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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