Earning A Shot

We all sport badges of shame and pride; some we earn, others are foisted on us. One of my claims to shame had always been that I'd never lived in a state that allowed dove hunting. I was born and raised in Wisconsin, lived in Iowa for eight years and then moved to Minnesota more than two decades ago. Legislators from these otherwise honorable states simply never had the chutzpah to do the right thing and establish a dove season.

But I'm proud to report that my burden has been lifted. This year, Minnesota will host its first modern dove season, thanks to diligent and intelligent lobbying by conservation groups, support from the DNR, and politicians who listened to science and reason and not emotional game-playing. Gopher State sportsmen have been handed a hard-won privilege (which Wisconsin hunters have already enjoyed for a season--could Iowa be next?), and I pray we capitalize on our opportunity.

REGION-WIDE WING-SHOOTING

Of course, you don't have to travel far to find a good dove hunt in the Midwest. In Indiana, the Huntington Reservoir is a large public area noted for top-notch gunning over planted sunflower fields. Though the first two days of the hunt are reserved for hunters who apply in advance, shooters who show up early during the rest of the season can bag one of the slots offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

I've always adored chasing upland birds in September, especially on cool, frosty days that hint at the fall to come. In Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the ruffed grouse season opens this month, and counties like Dickinson, Iron and Menominee should host good hunting in young aspen clear-cuts and thickets of hazel and alder near creek bottoms--even though ruffs are far from the peak of their 10-year cycle.

In North Dakota, sharptails are the bird hunter's target of choice this month. I've been impressed by the opportunities on the Little Missouri National Grasslands in western counties like Bowman and Slope. Remember to bring water for the dog. The September hunt is hot and arid.

Ohio waterfowlers kick off their season with early opportunities for geese and teal, and the Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area is a good place to start. Located only 55 miles from Cleveland, this public hot spot hosts a resident goose flock that gets an infusion of birds during the fall migration.

Smallmouth bass are but one species that turns on in South Dakota's Lake Sharpe in September, as they return to shallow, rocky bays. My friends tell me that that the waters near Fort Thompson are particularly kind to anglers who pitch tube jigs and crankbaits. Another good bet is the small rivers in northeastern Iowa. Float the upper reaches of the Upper Iowa, Maquoketa or Wapsipinicon (known as the "Wapsi") and you'll be torn between scenery and smallmouths up to 5 pounds.

A fine fall trout fishery can be found in Nebraska's Pine Ridge region. There, creeks like Big Bordeaux (near Chadron) and Soldier (in Fort Robinson State Park) host intimate trouting that's worth a look. Scout for deer and bird seasons while you're there.

DEER DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN

Many folks have whitetails on the brain this month. If you're one of the lucky ones to draw a coveted tag for the Kansas early muzzleloader season, it's time to start scouting prime food sources like alfalfa and soybeans. Don't neglect water sources, especially if it's hot and dry. Coincidentally, many top public hunting areas are situated near reservoirs and river systems.

Finally, Wisconsin bowhunters are looking at a banner year this fall. Deer numbers in northern counties like Sawyer and Price are in excellent shape. The Chequamegon National Forest has been a perennial winner, but state tracts (like the Flambeau River State Forest) are logged more aggressively these days and also get the nod. For a crack at a north-country bruiser, hike in and hunt the edges of remote aspen clear-cuts or oak ridges abutting a swamp or creek. Here's hoping your fall is a winner.

For more regional information, go to www.outdoorlife.com/destinations