Doves, Kids and Hunting

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Published on: Aug. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

doves) are fed crop milk or pigeon's milk, which consists of partially digested seeds and sloughed off skin cells from the crop.

As the squabs grow, their parents decrease crop milk feedings and the young doves slowly switch to a grain diet. The entire nesting cycle from nest building to fledging requires about 32 days.

You can increase your take of doves by learning a little about dove feeding behavior. Scientists classify mourning doves as exclusive grain-eating ground feeders. That means they eat plant seeds that are lying on bare ground. Some hunters may have seen doves hanging upside down on sunflower heads, but those are exceptions. Because doves have weak feet and legs, they cannot scratch for buried seeds like chickens or quail; the seed has to be on top of the ground. The mourning dove bill is also weak, compared to most seed-eating birds.

When looking for places to hunt doves, remember doves will take advantage of seasonal food abundances. Preferred seeds include wild and cultivated sunflowers, corn, wheat, foxtail, ragweed and various millets. Croton, a common wild flower seed, is such an important dove food in some areas that the plant is called dove weed. Remember, doves prefer open areas for foraging with seed easily available on bare ground.

Because mourning doves are migratory game birds, harvest management is a cooperative venture between the states and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Each year, USFWS and state biologists review previous population trend data and recommend hunting season frameworks. Hunting season options vary across the country because of regional differences in dove populations.

Based on banding data, three distinct areas or management units have been shown to contain largely independent dove populations. Each population, or management unit, is managed separately. States have various hunting options to choose from concerning season length, daily bag limit and splits and zones within a state.

Missouri is in the Central Management Unit. Although mourning dove hunting regulations have changed little for several years, it is a good idea to double-check the current hunting regulations before heading out.

The Conservation Department manages many of its areas for mourning dove hunting. Bois D'Arc Conservation Area near Springfield annually conducts a special youth hunt. The young hunters attend a training clinic the week before hunting and then get to participate in a special hunt the following Saturday. Some areas, like Davisdale Conservation Area in central Missouri, provide unrestricted access with a flurry of action on opening morning.

Other areas, like Eagle Bluffs, William R. Logan, and William G. White and Erma Parke Memorial Wildlife Area are managed to provide a "quality" hunting experience and a longer season. These areas often limit the number of hunters by assigning hunters to stations. Shooting stations are determined by a daily drawing for at least the first week or two of the season.

Other areas, like the James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area, can handle several hundred hunters at a time by having multiple sunflower fields where the number of hunters per day is regulated. Some areas have multiple fields where hunting is rotated on a predetermined schedule. Other areas have hunted and nonhunted fields to provide a refuge area for feeding mourning doves. Some areas also managed for waterfowl have steel shot restrictions. Always double-check the area regulations before leaving home.

Conservation areas managed for dove hunting have special fields to attract and hold birds during the hunting season. Some areas provide burned wheat stubble, which provides an ideal feeding place for hungry doves. After a few days of rain, however, the wheat seed sprouts and is unusable by the birds.

Although wheat stubble and cut corn are traditional dove hunting areas, dove hunters often equate hunting with sunflowers, lots of sunflowers. Conservation areas usually have specially planted sunflower fields that are mowed and disced to attract doves throughout late summer and early fall.

Not only do managed sunflower fields provide great dove hunting spots, they also provide a valuable food source for migrating doves. Other seed-eating birds, such as American goldfinches, cardinals and black-capped chickadees, make extensive use of these managed fields long into the cold winter months.

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