Brainerd, Minn. – Thirty minutes before sunrise on Sunday, Sept. 1, the 2013 Minnesota mourning dove hunting season will open.
As a game bird, a mourning dove does not possess the wariness of, say, a mallard duck. Nor does it slink away under impenetrable cover like a rooster pheasant at the sound or sight of an approaching hunter.
That doesn't mean the small brown birds with marble-size heads are a hunter's version of fish in a barrel. Scouting for a prime hunting location before the Sept. 1 opener is by far the most important way to ensure a productive first day hunt.
Mourning doves, just like other game birds, have three basic requirements: food, water and shelter. Find any one of these dove necessities, or better yet all three, and you are likely to find doves. Early morning or late afternoon is the best time to scout because that is when doves are most active.
Mourning doves thrive on small grain, so finding a recently harvested field of oats, wheat or sunflowers is a good place to start looking.
Doves also eat a variety of weed seeds. A farmer's dictionary would tell you a "dirty field" is one with weeds sprouting between neat rows of crops. For the mourning dove, a "dirty field" is a good thing. A weedy field can provide a hungry dove with a smorgasbord of delectable weed seeds like foxtail, Johnson grass, pigweed and others. Also, look for low areas in crop fields that were flooded during early summer rains since those spots are often overrun with weeds, much to the delight of doves.
Mourning doves require water at least once per day, usually just before going to roost in the evening. The birds prefer to drink from a pond with an open view. In other words, they get their water along shorelines free of tall vegetation such as cattails.
Cattle watering ponds are great spots to look for doves because livestock will have stomped down or otherwise eliminated the vegetation along the shore. During periods of drought, ponds that normally feature a weed-strewn shoreline might be low enough to provide doves with an open spot to land and drink.
Mourning doves prefer to spend the night tucked in thick groves of trees, usually close to food and water. Pine plantations are often used as nighttime roosts, but any stand of trees providing the birds with a spot well-protected from the wind might serve as a roosting location.
During the daytime, doves often pass the time perched in dead trees or on electrical wires, especially if the wind is calm. These loafing sites are usually close to available food and water.
Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.