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NORTHWEST TERRITORY: Dove-hunting opportunities are hard to come by

By Buddy Gough

This article was published August 10, 2006 at 3:15 a.m.

Just when it seems summer will never end, dove hunting season suddenly comes nigh.

This year it opens Sept. 2, only a little more than three blistering weeks away.

And as always, places to hunt are becoming harder to find, as what were formerly good hunting fields give way to suburban sprawl along the metropolitan corridor stretching from Fayetteville to Bella Vista.

Public hunting opportunities are the most limited.

Last year, for example, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the National Forest Service teamed up to provide public dove hunting in the Wedington Wildlife Management Area. Dove-hunting plots were prepared in fields near the Illinois River, and hunters were allowed to hunt at no cost. Unfortunately, the effort was mostly a bust as few doves were attracted to the spots.

Given the costs associated with preparing, seeding and monitoring the fields, the poor results last year didn't provide much incentive for trying the program again this year, according the Bob McAnally, the commission's regional wildlife supervisor in Russellville.

"Considering what it takes to attract doves, it would be nearly impossible for us to do enough to meet the demand for [public] dove hunting," he said.

So what's left, to my knowledge, are the same two public hunting spots mentioned last year - one field on Razorback Farms near Lowell and one field managed by La Paloma Hunting Ranch near Farmington.

Razorback Farms used to have a number of fields to accommodate hunters, but the shrinking farm is now down to two fields, one reserved for family and friends of the farm owners and one open to paying customers, according to farm manager Gerald Tate.

However, Tate said the public hunting field has already been booked for the opening Saturday by a single, large group of hunters. Space remains available for Sunday and the following days as long as the shooting is worthwhile. Cost is $40 per hunter and the numbers to call are (479) 263-4502 or (479) 756-6141.

So far, Tate is cautiously optimistic over the number of doves using his fields. "The numbers I'm seeing now are totally surprising, but in the past the doves have been known to move if something changes," he said Friday.

Last year, George Stowe-Raines with La Paloma Hunting Ranch scouted diligently to find a strategically located dove spot and hit pay dirt with a 40- acre field north of Farmington.

The field was near grain fields and weedy pastures and was in a traditional flyway for doves. The field was bordered by trees and had a pond in the middle. After reaching an agreement with the landowner, Stowe-Raines disked the field and overseeded with wheat. The location and preparation paid off.

"We had outstanding hunting on the opening weekend last year, and we'll be hunting the same field again this year," Stowe-Raines said Friday.

He said he was seeing some doves over the field and in the vicinity. He can be contacted at (479) 530-2983.

From my experience, getting in some dove shooting in Benton and Washington Counties has a lot to do with connections.

Quite a few landowners in the area prepare private dove-hunting fields for themselves and their friends. By keeping your eyes and ears open, it's possible to meet one of these people and perhaps wrangle an invitation. Generosity with goods and services also helps.

There are also hunters in the area who have joined together as a group to lease and prepare their own dove fields on a do-ityourself basis.

While fishing Friday night with Aaron Jolliff of Rogers, he mentioned that he and a group of friends had acquired access to a field near Pea Ridge and had been hunting there for several years.

"It takes a lot of effort and it's not cheap, but we usually have some real good hunts," Jolliff said.

Of course, finding such a field starts a year in advance with driving agricultural areas morning and evening to see where the doves gather and knocking on the doors of landowners with nearby fields.

After all, the season will be here before you know it.

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