Highly-anticipated Sept. 1 opener requires preparation

PRATT -- Ranging from Mexico to Canada and coast to coast, the mourning dove is the most popular, abundant, and widespread game bird in North America. Its adaptability and high reproductive rate have allowed its population to flourish in both agricultural and urban areas, making it one of the most common birds in Kansas, especially in summer and early fall. The Kansas dove season is Sept. 1-Oct. 14 and Nov. 1-16. The daily bag limit is 15, and the possession limit is 30.

The dove's fast, erratic flight make it one of the most challenging game birds to hunt. The most successful dove hunters begin their season by scouting possible hunting areas in late August. Hot spots include shelterbelts near sunflower or wheat stubble, and water holes, particularly in shortgrass pastures.

Once a hunting area is located, hunters should set up along a fence row or other cover. Small blinds may be used to hunt the middle of a field. Camouflage clothing, while not necessary, may give the hunter an extra edge. Hunting in groups can also increase success. Individuals distributed around the edge of a field keep the birds moving, providing constant action. Groups of hunters, however, should always be aware of where their partners are hunting and never shoot in their direction.

A minimal amount of equipment is needed for dove hunting. Warm-weather clothing, a shotgun, a couple of boxes of number 8 shot shells, a 5-gallon bucket, and plenty of water are all that's needed. (The bucket serves the two-fold purpose of equipment container and seat.) If you have a dog, be sure to bring extra water because the weather will likely be warm. If possible, hunt near water, so the dog can cool off with a swim.

Twelve- or 20-gauge shotguns with improved cylinder or modified chokes are the most popular combinations. Smaller shotguns such as .410 and 28-gauge are suitable for the expert shot, but beginning dove hunters may find these smaller gauges discouraging because their smaller shot charges reduce the chances for bringing down game.

Hunters should always pattern their guns before the season begins and limit their shots to 30 yards or less. More distant shots increase the chances of missing or wounding a bird. Remember that doves fly faster than most other game birds, and even the most seasoned hunters may need to practice on clay targets to prepare for the hunt.

Once a dove is shot, the hunter should mark and quickly recover the bird. The use of a retrieving dog is recommended, but hunters without dogs can effectively retrieve birds in open areas, limiting shots to one bird, and carefully watching where the bird falls after the shot.

Kansas residents 16 or older and younger than 65 must have a valid Kansas hunting license, which costs $20.15. All nonresidents must have a Kansas nonresident hunting license, but nonresident hunters younger than 16 may purchase a junior nonresident license for $37.15. Anyone required to have a hunting license must also purchase a Kansas Harvest Information (HIP) Stamp, which costs $2.15. Shotguns must be plugged to hold no more than two shells in the magazine.

Baiting of doves, or any other migratory bird, is against federal law. Baiting is defined as "the placing, exposing, depositing, distributing, or scattering of shelled, shucked, or unshucked corn, wheat, or other grain, salt, or other feed so as to constitute for such birds a lure, attraction, or enticement to, on, or over any areas where hunters are attempting to take them." Areas where these activities have occurred are considered baited and remain so for 10 days following the complete removal of the bait.

Doves may be hunted over areas where grain is scattered solely as the result of normal agriculture planting and harvesting. They also may be hunted on or over lands where a crop was grown and manipulated for wildlife management purposes. Many wildlife areas in Kansas have sunflower fields that are managed for dove hunting.

Doves are excellent table fare. Wrapped in bacon and grilled, they are sure to satisfy the most sensitive palate. They also make an excellent meat pie. Plan for about 10 birds per pie.

The opening of dove season is just around the corner. For avid Kansas hunters, this means it's time to sharpen skills on clay targets and stock up on shells. And be sure to clean the grill.