Biologist predicts average dove season

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Biologist predicts average dove season.

Missouri dove hunters need to keep their eyes open and their wits about them this year, for several reasons.

JEFFERSON CITY -- Dove hunters are likely to find an average number of birds when they don camouflage and load their shotguns Sept. 1. However, not all those birds will be mourning doves, and changes in the season length and bag limits will give dove hunters a greater-than-average incentive to stay alert.

Conservation Department Wildlife Research Biologist John Schulz says dove population surveys show mourning dove numbers slightly below the average of the last 10 years. The decreases are most significant in the Mississippi River lowlands region (down 29 percent) and the western prairie region (down 23 percent). The northern and eastern Ozark border and western Ozark border regions showed decreases of 16 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

Dove numbers decreased in every region compared to last year, when Missouri mourning doves produced a bumper crop of young. Those decreases ranged from 34 percent in the Ozark Plateau to 5 percent in the Mississippi lowlands. Statewide, the dove population decrease is 18 percent.

Schulz says he doesn't expect this year's modest decrease in dove numbers to put a damper in hunting action. He says the amount of time that hunters have spent to bag a given number of doves has remained constant in recent years, despite a steady decline in dove numbers.

The number of doves taken by hunters in Missouri has decreased from about 1.7 million in the mid 1970s to about 700,000 last year. During the same period, the number of dove hunters dropped from about 90,000 to a little more than 40,000. That proportional decrease has allowed the remaining hunters to maintain their success rate.

"When the season opens on Sept. 1, doves really haven't started to migrate yet," said Schulz. "Basically, the only doves in the state are those that arrived here in the spring or were hatched during the summer. Consequently, the quality of hunting on opening day depends entirely on the number of resident birds. By that measure, this should be an average dove season."

Schulz cautioned hunters to pay attention to regulation changes this year. In particular, he noted the decrease in the daily bag limit to 12 mourning doves.

"Harvest data show that the average dove hunter makes something like four dove hunting trips a year and bags about four doves per trip," said Schulz. "A huge majority of those who take part in the managed hunt at James A. Reed Wildlife Area near Kansas City each year bag fewer than eight birds a day. So, for most hunters, a daily limit of 12 is no limit at all."

In return for lowering bag limits, Missouri got extra days of hunting. Last year, the season lasted 60 days, and the bag limits were 15 mourning doves daily and 30 in possession. This year the season is 70 days, with a 12-dove daily limit and a possession limit of 24.

Responding to requests from hunters, the Conservation Department has gone back to a continuous dove hunting season. Last year's split season ran from Sept. 1 through Sept. 30 and from Nov. 1 through Nov. 30. This year's season will run from Sept. 1 through Nov. 9.

"I think hunters are going to be very happy with the changes," said Schulz. "However, lowering the bag limit creates the possibility that some people will shoot more than the legal limit. A few will forget that they can't take 15 doves per day this year, and a few others might not hear about it."

Schulz said hunters need to be aware of some other changes that they may notice in the field. He said there is an increasing chance of encountering three dove species other than mourning doves.

The Eurasian collared-dove, which has been spreading westward across the United States since the 1980s, now is found in all 114 of Missouri's counties. Though they are bigger on average than mourning doves, Eurasian collared-doves can be mistaken for their more common relatives.

Another species, the ringed turtle-dove, is sold in pet shops. A few of these birds have been released into the wild. While they don't seem to be reproducing and spreading like the Eurasian collared-dove, a few ringed turtle-doves survive in the wild and reproduce in Missouri. This species also can be mistaken for the mourning dove at a distance.

Because of the potential for misidentification, hunters who shoot either of these exotic species won't be cited for shooting nongame birds this year. However, they must include Eurasian collared and ringed turtle-doves in their daily limits.

Such leniency won't be offered to hunters who shoot white-winged doves. This species originally lived only in the southwestern United States and Mexico. However, in recent years it has been extending its range north and east, including Missouri. Bright white wing patches make this species easy to recognize when sitting or in flight.

"Dove hunters are expected to discriminate between mourning doves and other fast-flying nongame species, such as swallows and kestrels," said Schulz. "White-winged doves are just as easy to recognize as those birds, so misidentification is no excuse. Shooting a white-winged dove is asking for a ticket."

- Jim Low -  
 


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