Michael Pearce

Instant dove hunt, just add water

Jerrod Pearce watches for doves to come to water at a puddle Joey Yeager created at his family farm near Dodge City. Jerrod easily shot a limit of 15 mourning doves and four collared doves in about 90 minutes that evening.
Jerrod Pearce watches for doves to come to water at a puddle Joey Yeager created at his family farm near Dodge City. Jerrod easily shot a limit of 15 mourning doves and four collared doves in about 90 minutes that evening. The Wichita Eagle

Joey Yeager and his family have invested hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in assorted wildlife habitat projects. On their farm they have long rows of fluffy cedars and dense clumps of wild plum bushes they’ve babied for decades so things from songbirds to deer cans survive and thrive.

But about the past 10 days Yeager, some friends, and many kinds of wildlife have enjoyed a habitat project that almost took less effort to create than my typing the words to describe it. It probably cost no more than a dollar to build, too.

“Just got done dragging five hundred feet of hose out to keep the terrace in the milo full,” was a text he sent to me Saturday afternoon. Sunday evening we found the glorified puddle made by that hose teaming with doves and other birds.

Several Eurasian collared doves flushed as we walked to the shallow puddle only a few inches deep and smaller than my driveway. Mourning doves were even more numerous.

“It’s not like it was on opening day, but there should still be plenty of doves around,” he’d said in a phone call a few hours earlier. There certainly were “plenty.”

By sunset Jerrod and I were walking away with two limits of 15 mourning doves, each, and nine big collared doves.

For several years Joey has hooked about every garden hose he can find to a hydrant at his family’s farm headquarters, and snaked it into a crop field that borders their headquarters. It’s a low spot in the field that holds water for a few days after a rain.

(Kenny Kessler, a Kansas-based U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service game warden, confirmed that putting water out to attract doves for hunting is not considered illegal baiting as per federal regulations.)

Doves, as most hunters and birders know, prefer open shorelines for where they water. Mud or dirt banks are perfect. Joey’s dove puddle was ringed with several yards of flat, open dirt. Perfect.

I left Jerrod sitting on a bucket in the shade of some milo stalks at the puddle. An avid dove hunter since he was 10, the 28-year-old hunter certainly didn’t need his father’s advice at that spot.

About 200 yards away I set-up near a smaller, but deeper, puddle of water in the bottom of a pond. The water was chest-deep on Cade, our five-month-old Lab, so the pup could easily keep cool in the 90-something degree temperatures and full sun.

I wasn’t even totally set up, with a box of shells and bottle of water taken from my bucket, and a spinning-wing decoy set up 20 yards away, and I already had three mournings and a collard dove.

My 15th, limit-filling mourning dove fell within a few yards of the decoy within the next hour. From the sound of things Jerrod was enjoying steady action, too.

When Cade and I wandered over we found a pile of about eight mourning doves and four collared doves by Jerrod’s bucket. Empty shotgun shells placed beside the edge of milo rows showed me where to work Cade on birds Jerrod hadn’t found in the chest-high maize. The pup picked up those five unfound doves in short order, as well as the two Jerrod shot to finish his limit.

We hit another spot for a short hunt the next morning. Jerrod got 11 more doves and I another nine. To cool off the pup before the long drive home we stopped back by the headquarters. The puddle in the milo had shrunk considerably from the night before, and might have been dry within a day.

If Joey needs, he can simply turn the spicket on for a couple of hours and have a good water hole to shoot again. I doubt I’ve ever seen a habitat project so easy to build, and certainly never one that rewards so much enjoyment for such little effort and expense.

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