Fall hunting seasons open at the break of dawn the first part of September with hunters taking a crack at fast-flying doves.
The 2021 dove hunting season opened Sept. 4 across Arkansas, riding in on a warm and breezy overcast morning. First light saw about 40 dove hunters fanned out across 57 acres near Prairie Grove on land leased by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission for dove hunting.
It's one of five fields across the state Game and Fish has available for permit-only dove hunting. Several other nonpermit public dove fields are open to everyone on wildlife management areas statewide, including the Wedington Wildlife Management Area west of Fayetteville.
Game and Fish staff grooms these fields before opening day to attract doves by planting crops such as sunflowers and winter wheat for doves to eat.
At the permit field near Prairie Grove, several rows of corn were harvested and winter wheat was planted by scattering it on the ground. Top sowing, it's called.
Hunting at this field was allowed the first two weekends of dove season, Sept. 4-5 and Sept. 11-12 this year. Other permit fields around the state are hunted the first three weekends.
Some 1,200 dove hunters apply for permits in early August, said Keith Stephens with the Game and Fish communications staff. They indicate which field they're applying for and which weekend, then pay a nonrefundable $5 application fee. The number of permits awarded varies by field, as few as 16 per weekend up to as many as 45 per weekend.
Lucky hunters are selected by random computer drawing.
Near Prairie Grove, 40 permits were issued for each of the two weekends for a total of 80. Each permit holder may hunt Saturday and Sunday and bring one guest. The two must hunt together at the same shooting station. These were marked by round bales of hay at Prairie Grove.
Three distant shotgun pops ushered in first light on opening day as legal shooting time arrived 30 minutes before sunrise. A south wind added comfort to a warm dawn, but shotgun barrels remained cool for the most part.
Doves were scarce, but it wasn't for lack of food in the field. Wheat was on the ground everywhere, like sesame seeds on a crust of bread. Camo-clad hunters had their theories as they left the fields for their pickups parked nearby.
"I don't think the doves have found this field yet," one hunter speculated. "When they do, the birds ought to be thick."
"Could be there just aren't many doves in the area right now. It's been so hot," another said.
Still another blamed the windy morning.
The permit dove-hunting program is in its fifth year. It started with one leased field in Lonoke County in central Arkansas. Others are in Green County (northeast), Prairie County (east central), Lafayette County (southwest) and Washington County.
The nonpermit public fields at Wedington Wildlife Management Area are a good option or the rest of dove season in Northwest Arkansas. These and other Game and Fish fields are open each day of dove season on a first-come, first-served basis. Maps of the fields are available at agfc.com.
But hunters may have an entire field to themselves. Dove hunting goes great guns on opening weekend, maybe the second weekend. Then attention veers toward deer hunting and duck hunting seasons that open soon. Archery deer season opens Sept. 25 statewide.
Dove season 2021-22
• Sept. 4-Oct. 24 and Dec. 8-Jan. 15.
• Daily bag limit is 15 mourning doves. There is no daily limit on invasive Eurasian collared doves.
• Shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset.
• More information, agfc.com/dove.
Source: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission