Sunflowers attract photographers now and dove hunters later

Columbia Bottom Conservation Area is enormous, which seems opposite of everything else I saw in a recent visit to my old hometown of Spanish Lake in north St. Louis County. My old school, the county park, my old house, the road I grew up on, were all miniatures of what I remember.

But not “The Bottoms” where I hunted for doves and shot crows with permission of the former farmers who tilled, planted and harvested the fertile flood plain. After historic river levels in 1993 and 1995 swamped the land at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, the state Department of Conservation purchased the 4,318-acre area for public use.

What seemed walkable to me as a shotgun-toting teen a few decades ago, sprawled endlessly from the front gate to the banks of both rivers. I was practically winded from driving the winding roads. How did I ever trudge across its expanse looking for a shot at something flying by?

The sunflower fields at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area are smaller than I expected, but the property is massive.

The area has barely begun to recover from another devastating flood in 1999. The visitors center is closed, and most of the area’s roads and trails remain impassable. The canoe and kayak access on the Mississippi River is unavailable, and you can no longer drive to the confluence point where the two biggest streams in North America become one.

What remains current are plantings of sunflowers for wildlife and patches of corn to feed waterfowl and other birds during their annual migrations. Those golden globes are a photographer magnet this time of year. I was expecting enormous fields of flowers but found food plots instead. They were still pretty, and the other wildflowers all over the area were fun to find. The bees and the butterflies seemed very happy.

Sunflowers are planted for mourning doves, and the hunting season for these birds begins on Sept. 1. Columbia Bottom Conservation Area is only open for dove hunting during managed hunts that require application in July.

The conservation department provides other public access dove hunting opportunities at more than 70 properties around the state that do not require advanced registration to participate. Pacific Palisades in northwest Jefferson County is one of those locations.

A seven-acre sunflower field is available to all hunters during the season, which remains open until Nov. 29. The daily limit is 15 and the possession limit 45. Hunters are required to have a small-game permit and an annual migratory bird hunting permit.

Most of the dove hunting areas in the state, including Columbia Bottom and Pacific Palisades require hunters to use non-toxic shot. Other managed dove fields in our region are at the August A. Busch Memorial, Marais Temps Clair, and Weldon Spring conservation areas in St. Charles County.

Mourning doves may seem like an easy target for hunters, but they are agile aviators adept at dodging danger.

Missouri is home to three species of dove and all three are legal to shoot. Mourning doves are most common, but hunters may also harvest white-winged doves and Eurasian collared doves. White-winged doves are generally found in Mexico and the southwest US. The slightly larger collared-doves were imported to the Bahamas in the 1970s and have slowly spread their way north from Florida and the southeast.

Because doves are a migratory species their populations are monitored by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as well at the state conservation department. Hunters may shoot a bird with a small, numbered leg band. The number on the band should be reported to online at or by calling 1-800-327-BAND.

John J. Winkelman has been writing about outdoors news and issues in Jefferson County for more than 30 years and is the Associate Editor for Outdoor Guide Magazine. If you have story ideas, e-mail
Originally published by Leader Publications on Aug. 18, 2022

Published by John J. Winkelman

A freelance outdoor writer for more than 30 years

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