Thursday, July 18, 2013

UPDATED THROUGHOUT: Expect mixed bag of conditions at Ohio's managed dove-hunting fields


It takes a lot of gumbo to bury a 17,125-pound, four-wheel-drive John Deere 7730 tractor.

Yet that's just what happened when the 9,021-acre Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area staff attempted to till the ground this spring.

As a result, prepping this area's popular dove-hunting fields was almost all but abandoned. Only a light salting of wheat planted last fall is maturing in spite of the seemingly constant onslaught of heavy rains.
 
In some extreme Northeast Ohio locales rains fell for 16 consecutive days between late June and early July.

In turn, prospective dove hunters won't find either much grain or hiding cover at Mosquito.

“We've had to pull out of the mud all of our tractors at one time or another,” said an exasperated Lou Orosz, the area's manager.

The situation is marginally better to the west at the 7,453-acre Grand River Wildlife Area. Here, wheat has emerged and which will provide some grain as dove food at two of the area's three designated dove-hunting fields.

“The fields off Stroup-Norton Road should be best, and we'll kill off the weeds and wheat there with an herbicide and then burn it just before the dove season starts,” said Ron Ferenchak, the area's manager. “You don't want to burn too early because the doves will eat all the grain before opening day.”

Elsewhere in Wildlife District Three (northeast Ohio) better dove-hunting conditions are expected at the justly popular 2,265-acre Highlandtown Wildlife Area.

And if this area's manager, Jeff Janosik, has anything to say then he and his two-person staff has created some of the finest dove-hunting fields anywhere in Ohio.

"The corn, the millet, the sunflowers; everything is excellent this year," Janosik says. "It's going to be a heck of a draw for the birds and the hunters."

Janosik says also that is terrific news since Highlandtown draws dove hunters from far and near, magnetizing interest from gunners living in Youngstown, Akron, and Cleveland.

"We even have hunters from as far away as Sandusky," Janosik says..

All that being said, one uncertainty still remains, That being, this year's dove season opener – September 1 – not only falls on a Sunday but on a holiday Sunday as well.

Consequently, with a holiday weekend start coupled with fewer successfully planted fields, more than a few Northeast Ohio dove hunters may find themselves boxed in more tightly than usual.

That's not so much the case elsewhere around the state, though. Largely, only a scattering of the Wildlife Division's 37 wildlife areas with one of more managed dove-hunting fields also have experienced crop-damaging heavy rains.

In Wildlife District One – Central Ohio – are found four wildlife areas that have managed dove-hunting fields.

District One wildlife biologist Donna Daniel says for the most part, two or three of the designated wildlife areas are showing good dove-attracting crop maturation.
 
That thumbs-up includes the manicured sites at the 8,662-acre Deer Creek Wildlife Area. This area arguably is one of the most popular locations in the state for dove hunters, says Daniel.

So attractive are Deer Creek's managed dove-hunting plots, in fact, that hunters are known to stake a claim the night before the season opener, sleeping on the ground until Zero Hour, says Daniel.

“It's only 45 minutes south of Columbus,” Daniel said of Deer Creek's near-urban setting. “We should be in pretty good shape in spite of all the rains and some flooding we've seen there.”

On the downside, however, are the managed plots at the 7,018-acre Delaware Wildlife Area.

“Delaware traditionally doesn't see a lot of doves or dove hunters,” she said. "And half of the fields have been flooded out."

A question mark, though, says Daniel, is the 5,722-acre Big Island Wildlife Area.

“That's a real tough place to farm,” Daniel says. “The sunflowers did not do well but the wheat is looking good."

Even so, says Daniel, hunters can't just look at how well the dove-attracting crops fared this growing season. No less important is ensuring that the designated sites have bare ground upon which doves can forage along with trees for roosting and water nearby for when they're thirsty, Daniel says.

Moving northwest into Wildlife District Two, this farming-rich section may wind up wearing the crown as the best location to hunt doves in Ohio this year.

John Windau, the district's media relations spokesman, says the region's five wildlife areas with managed dove-hunting fields are in “generally good shape.”

“In some cases they are the best-looking that some of the managers have ever seen,” Windau says.

Prime locations come this dove season opener include the 2,272-acre Resthaven Wildlife Area as well as the 3,200-acre Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area.

Which is a little bit of a surprise. The reason being northwest Ohio has experienced erratic weather patterns that sometimes poured out its wrath in the form of heavy rain showers over these two locations.

“There were issues with growing sunflowers at first when some of the fields became too wet so the crews replanted with buckwheat, and that did come up,” Windau said. “We also left the corn standing from last year, and we'll chop that and then burn it all along with the wheat that was planted.”

Tucked in the extreme northwest part of the state sits the 2,430-acre Lake La Su An Wildlife Area.

Here, says Windau, may exist some of the finest emerging grains found at any of the state's wildlife areas. Highlandtown, excepting perhaps.

“The corn, the wheat, the buckwheat and the millet are all doing well there,” Windau says.

In Wildlife District Four (southeast Ohio), the conditions dove hunters will see as a result of this rain-soaked growing year should be better than what they encountered during the 2012 drought-deprivation growing season.

“But not by much,” said District Four wildlife biologist Chris Smith.

At some of  District Four's nine wildlife areas with managed dove-hunting fields the Wildlife Division might even have to fine-tune the crops. This work could involve going back in, planting some fast-growing millet and hope it matures in time for at least a portion of the state's dove-hunting season, Smith says.

“Most of the area managers are confident about what they've planted, so while the crops won't be a bust they won't be ideal, either,” Smith said.

The district's two most popular wildlife areas with managed plots include the 12,000-acre Salt Fork Wildlife Area and the 19,050-acre Woodbury Wildlife Area, says Smith.

Normally Wildlife District Five (southwest Ohio) collects the most bravos from dove hunters.

Alas, there could be fewer of those accolades coming forth from there at the start of this dove-hunting season.

“We've had some of the same heavy rain issues seen up in northeast Ohio,” says Brett Beatty, District Four's wildlife management supervisor. “Fortunately down here we do have a larger margin for error in planting.”

Thus, while Orosz and Farenchak were forced to endure not only a cool spring but a wet one with snow falling as late as April 29, their southwest Ohio-located counterparts saw acceptable farming conditions stretched over a longer time frame.

“At our (1,174-acre) Rush Run Wildlife Area some of the planted sunflowers haven't done well and the millet's been just mediocre, but the wheat's been very good,” Beatty said.

Having issues, too, is the grain production at the 1,382-acre Fallsville Wildlife Area's managed dove-hunting fields, says Beatty.

“Especially in the low-lying areas,” he said.

Better news exists for the dove-hunting fields found at the district's 842-acre Spring Valley Wildlife Area, the 10,186-acre Caesar Creek Wildlife Area, and the 11,024-acre Paint Creek Wildlife Area.

The latter because of exceptional drainage that helps feed growing things but doesn't allow so much standing water that the emerging plants die, Beatty says.

“Most years we don't have an issue with too much water, except for (1,799-acre) Indian Creek, which is always bad there,” Beatty said.

Beatty said as well that the special dove-hunting lottery drawings for Fallsville, Spring Valley, the St. Marys Fish Hatchery, Rush Run, and Indian Creek are still a “go.”

And yet one uncertainty remains regardless at which point on the compass an Ohio dove hunter look. That being, this year's dove season opener – September 1 – not only falls on a Sunday but on a holiday Sunday as well.

Consequently, with a holiday weekend start coupled with fewer successfully planted fields, more than a few dove hunters may find themselves boxed in more tightly than usual.

Even so, says Daniel, hunters can do more than just throw up their hands in surrender because of possibly marginal grain production and elbow-to-elbow hunting traffic jams.

As much as anything, says Daniel, is ensuring that a chosen designated site has bare ground upon which doves can forage along with adjacent trees for roosting and water nearby for when the birds are thirsty, Daniel says.
 
Likewise, hunters are encouraged to visit the Wildlife Division's web site (www.ohiodnr.com) and then connect to the dove-hunting link where maps of each wildlife area can be downloaded.

Similarly, the dove-hunting link includes a portal to Google Earth where topographical photographic views of each wildlife area and associated dove fields and which are available for downloading as well.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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