By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

I was about ready to throw in the towel and hang up my gun before dove season even starts Thursday.

And then I headed west, through Trego County and into Gove County.

Rest assured folks, I found the doves.

One, in fact, very nearly met me as I drove down a county road. I did thwack with my radio antenna a quail that was slow to rise from the side of the road.

For those of you who read my rants religiously (yes, both of you), every year about this time, I start writing about what I'm seeing along the road as I travel to work.

Typically, the morning drives bring with it anywhere from two to 100 doves per mile.

This year, it's a different story.

Other than the doves I have in the yard, including the Eurasian collared doves that nested and gave bird to two hatchlings, I'm not seeing any.

As in the roads are empty.

I couldn't figure it, other than to blame the weather, the drought and the heat.

But even that didn't make sense, considering the half-dozen or so doves that nested this summer in the yard.

Tuesday, my go west old man venture spoke volumes.

The first batch of birds were spotted not far from a sunflower field, glistening brightly under the morning sun. They were, as I've seen them in the past, thick as thieves. Dozens upon dozens of mourning doves were on the sand road, picking up pebbles to grind their food.

Hundreds of other birds would alight on power lines, only momentarily of course, before taking off as my vehicle approached.

They apparently had a thing against having their photo taken, as they were constantly out of range.

Or, they would drop into the sunflower field, disappearing in the yellow, before rising back up out of the way.

But the doves didn't stop there.

As I continued west, the birds continued to line roads and power lines.

Until I got into Gove County, into an especially drought-riddled area.

The corn was shriveled, the milo brown and the feed looked like undulating sand dunes.

There, the dove disappeared again, save for the one or two foolish enough to peek out from the weeds alongside the road.

The doves didn't abandon all of Gove County, however, as they once again appeared on the horizon further to the south as I made the trip back home.

Along that route, the crops were better -- relatively so. On one side of the road, the corn was brown, wilted and beyond hope.

On the other side, the corn was tall, bright green and showed promise for a harvest.

I can't explain that one either, but I'm confident the doves will ultimately head to the fields where crops performed better.

Now, we'll just have to find those fields.

It's already going to be tough enough to find a pond to hunt over.