JEFFERSON CITY-With the 2014 dove hunting season opening on a national holiday, the Missouri Department of Conservation urges hunters to pay special attention to safety.
Dove-hunting season opens on Sept. 1 each year. This year, that date happens to coincide with Labor Day. Conservation areas (CAs) with good dove habitat often draw large crowds on opening day, even in years when dove opener falls on a weekday. A holiday opener guarantees that some fields will be crowded, and the Conservation Department wants to be sure hunters put safety first.
"The more hunters in a field, the less space between them," says Conservation Department Hunter Education Coordinator Kyle Lairmore. "You can hunt safely in a crowded field, but it requires extra care."
Lairmore says things to keep in mind when hunting near others include maintaining safe spacing of at least 50 yards between hunters. If you can't find a spot with this spacing, wait at the entrance to the field until another hunter leaves and take his or her place. He also recommends arriving early enough to talk with other hunters before shooting time. Find out who has hunting dogs, and agree on safe zones of fire.
It's also important to take other hunters' presence into account when choosing shots at doves. Don't take low-angle shots that could send pellets toward other hunters. Wear shooting or safety glasses to protect your eyes from any stray shot, and warn nearby hunters before leaving your location or sending your dog to retrieve downed birds.
Resource Scientist Tom Thompson is the Conservation Department's dove specialist. He says hunters are likely to find plenty of doves this year, thanks to more moderate weather than during the summers of 2012 and 2013. Missouri has enjoyed more normal rainfall and temperatures than in the past two years. However, Thompson notes that the spring of 2014 was cooler than normal, which can cause doves to nest later. Doves are prolific nesters, often raising several clutches of two eggs each in a summer, so with favorable conditions, they can make up for a late start.
Overall, Thompson says he doesn't expect significantly more doves than last year statewide. He mentioned some significant regional differences.
"This year, dove numbers seen in our annual roadside counts were up in northern Missouri," says Thompson. "In southwest Missouri and Ozarks areas, dove numbers seem to be down. However, doves can bring off three or four clutches after the surveys are done, so early nesting problems don't necessarily tell the whole story. Things can turn around during July and August."
Quality hunting depends on more than how many doves are in Missouri on Sept. 1. For example, droughty weather the past two years has prompted farmers to harvest corn and other crops early or simply plow them under. This created vast areas where doves could feed, potentially reducing the number of birds using managed dove fields on CAs. In contrast, crops seem to be doing well this year, so doves can be expected to flock top fields where food is available, making them easier for hunters to find.
The 2014 dove hunting season runs through Nov. 9. The daily limit is 15, and the possession limit is 45. Mourning doves make up the vast majority of Missouri's dove harvest, but Eurasian collared doves and white-winged doves also are found in Missouri and are legal during dove season.
All hunters age 16 through 64 must buy a small-game hunting permit to pursue doves. Dove hunters 16 and older also must have a Missouri Migratory Bird Hunting Permit. Additional details about dove hunting are contained in the 2014 Migratory Bird Hunting Digest, which is available at Conservation Department offices, permit vendors, or at mdc.mo.gov/node/2454.
The Conservation Department bands approximately 2,500 birds annually as part of a nationwide effort to create a dove-management database. Approximately 11 percent of those doves are recovered and reported, mostly by hunters. Data from band recoveries drive a wide array of analytical processes that directly affect mourning-dove regulations. By reporting band numbers, hunters are helping manage our dove resource for future generations.
The most important thing dove hunters can do to improve their sport is to check every bird they shoot for a leg band and report any they find at reportband.gov, or by calling 800-327-BAND (2263). Hunters may keep the band.
The Conservation Department manages more than 700 fields on 93 CAs managed specifically for doves. This involves planting sunflowers and other crops to provide high-energy food for doves. Reports from CA managers across the state show that many of these fields will be in good to excellent condition on Sept. 1. For a list of managed dove fields, maps and contact information for area managers, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/8905.
The dark, red meat of mourning doves has a rich flavor similar to that of ducks and geese. For dove recipes, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/4605.