Dove hunting season will open Sunday, Sept. 1, across Oklahoma. The dove opener is always a highly anticipated opportunity for many hunters to get back into the field and harvest some game after the long, hot summer.

Bagging a daily limit of 15 birds might prove to be more difficult this year than in the past, thanks to rainy conditions earlier this year, according to Josh Richardson, migratory game bird biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

“Dove numbers are probably down a little this year. The heavy rains we had in the spring probably disrupted the early nests. But the summer nests were likely in good shape. There are still plenty of birds out there,” he said.

Cooler-than-average conditions could hold down the number of doves flocking to feeding fields and watering holes during the first days of the hunting season. “This doesn’t mean the birds are gone; they are just scattered more and move less on cooler, overcast or rainy days,” Richardson said. "If the following week is warm and dry, the Free Hunting Weekend should be looking good."

FREE HUNTING DAYS

The first full weekend of September is traditionally Free Hunting Days in Oklahoma. This year, on Sept. 7-8, Oklahoma residents can get outdoors to pursue game in season without the need to carry a state hunting license.

These free days also provide a perfect chance for current hunters to gather up some folks who have never been hunting and give them an experience that might open a door for them, as well as help continue a time-honored American tradition.

This year, open hunting seasons during Free Hunting Days include squirrel, raccoon, beaver, striped skunk, coyote, dove, rail, gallinule, teal, and resident Canada goose. State Game Wardens will not check for state hunting licenses or permits for residents on those days. But all hunters who plan to pursue teal, geese, rail or gallinule on Sept. 7-8 must carry the federal waterfowl stamp unless exempt.

GET LICENSES ONLINE

This year’s dove opener will be the first with the Department’s new Go Outdoors Oklahoma online licensing system. Using a computer or a mobile device, dove hunters are now able to buy hunting licenses and get a HIP permit immediately at license.GoOutdoorsOklahoma.com. The licenses and permits are delivered via email to the hunter, and the electronic versions are now valid proof for license holders in the field.

The easiest way to interact with the Department is to download the free Go Outdoors Oklahoma mobile app, available for Apple and Android devices. Experience new customer service features allowing customers to purchase, access and store license information, no matter where they are. The app is also a legal means of carrying licenses in the field. And hunters are able to complete e-check forms through the app, regardless if there is a cellular connection. The app automatically syncs when cellular service returns.

The mobile app also provides handy access to the hunting and fishing regulations guide, wildlife management area information and maps, and even access to the online hunter education certification course.

All sportsmen and sportswomen – especially lifetime license holders and returning customers – should sign in to the Go Outdoors Oklahoma online system to update their information and complete their profile setup. New users are invited to create a profile.

DOVE SCOUTING REPORT

Scouting in the field for doves ahead of opening day is always a best bet. But to give the dove hunters a head-start, here are some observations from several of the Department’s wildlife management areas as the dove season opener nears:

NORTHEAST REGION

Summary: Spring floods will affect dove season on many northeastern region wildlife management areas this year. Minor to major flooding was reported at Keystone, Copan, Hulah, Osage, Skiatook, Kaw, Oologah, Spavinaw and Candy Creek WMAs. Of those, only Candy Creek and Spavinaw WMA still have crops present.

Landowners and scouting hunters report that doves are present but not in large numbers and scattered.

Areas Affected by Major Flooding

Keystone: Keystone WMA saw record flooding over summer. This flooding killed all of the vegetation it covered and deposited several inches of silt on any seeds that may have been present. Huntable numbers of doves have not been seen at Keystone. Historic dove hot spots on the WMA likely will not be productive this year, but doves still have to find something to eat. Patches of croton along sandy hills may be the best bet for harvesting some doves.

Kaw: Only two dove fields were manipulated (refer to map here). Cemetery and Washunga fields were both burned. Cemetery was not impacted by floodwater. Washunga was significantly impacted by floodwaters, allowing about half of the field to be burned. Dove season will be harder than last year but not impossible

Oologah: None of the cropland was accessible and could not be planted. Floodwaters carried a heavy silt load so that even areas that have been flooded only a short time are buried under inches of silt, and plants have not responded.

Copan, Hulah, Osage: Dove season will be drastically affected this year as there is no food due to spring flooding.

Areas Affected by Minor Flooding

Candy Creek: The wheat field on the north portion of Candy Creek will be mowed and burned. Wheat did well despite some flooding throughout the spring.

Skiatook: Wheat fields at Coldirons and Wild Horse were destroyed. These fields will be disked in an attempt to expose some food, but these fields will not attract the numbers of birds that hunters have become accustomed to in the past.

Areas Not Affected by Flooding

John Dahl, Cookson.

Tips: More than ever, hunters this year are encouraged to scout. Birds will still need to eat and drink, but traditional hotspots will probably not be productive this year. Biologists on areas not affected by spring floods anticipate a higher number of hunters due to the loss of fields on nearby WMAs.

NORTHWEST REGION

Summary: Overall it should be a good season for dove, but large numbers have yet to be seen. Scouting hunters report seeing doves on harvested wheat fields and along county roads.

Areas Affected by Major Flooding

Drummond Flats: Dove season will be harder than last year, but not impossible. Less diversity of food due to inability to plant summer crops early enough to reach maturity and manipulate before dove season. The only crop available to make a dove field is wheat. You can hunt managed fields, water, or roosting/loafing areas on Drummond Flats and have a successful hunt. Pick your favorite method.

Areas Affected by Minor Flooding

Packsaddle: Dove season will not be affected this year. There is an abundance of sunflowers and some birds are moving into area. This is subject to change for better or worse depending on weather.

Cimarron Hills, Cimarron Bluff: Flooding occurred but did not impact crops. However the heavy rains did impact nesting and brood rearing of doves. Local production of doves was good, but expected cool fronts and rain may force local doves to start moving south, and doves from northern states may not have arrived by dove opener. This has been the pattern for the past few years.

Areas Not Affected by Flooding

Black Kettle, Ellis County, Beaver River, Optima.

Tips: Hunters should arrive early to their favorite water or food source as watering holes, burned areas and wheat fields are dove hotspots. Hunters should also try to catch birds moving between roost trees and food sources.

SOUTHEAST REGION

Summary: Dove season will not be affected by spring flooding, but biologists offer these tips for a few areas.

Lexington: For the best chances of success, hunt opening morning and get there early. There are dove fields on the southwest portion of the WMA and east of 180th between York and Duffy roads. Use satellite imagery to help locate dove fields.

Atoka, Stringtown, McGee Creek: Hunt near disked or summer-burned fields and watering holes.

Three Rivers: Clearcuts with a lot of croton and pokeweed are the best areas to target. If hunters can find water or a pond nearby, it will be even better.

SOUTHWEST REGION

Summary: Low numbers of doves have been reported by landowners and scouting hunters. Popular areas such as Cross Timbers and Hackberry Flat are expected to have a lot of hunters this year. Hunters should go before dove season opener to scout the best areas for hunting.

Areas Affected by Major Flooding

Altus-Lugert: Dove season will be drastically affected this year. Roads are being repaired or rebuilt, and food plots were flooded with debris. Hunters are encouraged to scout for areas that may not have been hard-hit with flooding and debris.

Areas Affected by Minor Flooding

Sandy Sanders: Although floods washed away all millet and milo, wheat and sunflowers will be excellent. Therefore, dove season should not be affected this year. Several fields will be mowed, and hunters should scout the normal fields for hotspots. Be sure to take advantage of the many ponds for afternoon hunting.

Hickory Creek: Crops are still present, and dove season will not be affected this year. Biologists have manipulated wheat fields along Pear Orchard Road on the eastern side of the WMA.

Waurika: The area saw minor flooding, but dove season will not be affected this year. Hunters should scout the usual hotspots, paying special attention to food and water sources.

Mountain Park: The area saw minor flooding, but dove season will not be affected this year. Hunters should scout the usual hotspots, paying special attention to food and water sources.

Areas Not Affected by Flooding

Hackberry Flat, Fort Cobb, Washita County.

Cross Timbers: Use caution while afield because usually there are a lot of hunters around the manipulated fields. All the fields that have been manipulated are along Little Cabin Road. Native sunflower and wheat fields have been manipulated.

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For complete information and license requirements, consult the current Oklahoma Hunting and Fishing Regulations Guide found online at wildlifedepartment.com or in print across the state wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold.