Dove Opener Jsut Around the Corner. Jim Matthews Column


Mar 11, 2001
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Dove opener could be best in a decade

Hunters and biologists alike are predicting that this year's dove season opener on Sunday, September 1, is likely to be the best in nearly a decade.

The mourning dove population is up 24 percent over last year, and the call count survey data, compiled each year by the Department of Fish and Game, suggests the dove population is the highest it has been since 1993. This year's tally was also the second best count since 1988.

In addition, hunter harvest has been increasing steadily each of the past three years for which the Department of Fish and Game has data, according to Melanie Weaver with the DFG in Sacramento.

The most recent information on harvest the is from 2000, when hunters killed approximately 1.7 million doves in California. That was 10 percent greater than in 1999, and the `99 harvest was above the `98 kill. Most hunters reported a better shoot in 2001 than 2000, so the increase trend is likely to continue in spite of fewer hunters taking to the field.

David Dolton, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Denver, Colorado, said the data still indicates that we're still in a long-term dove population decline over the 10-year and 37-year cycles, and that the data from a single year doesn't indicate a big change in the population trend.

"We saw a one-year population increase from last year, but one year doesn't make much difference -- although it is always better to have increases," said Dolton.

Dolton and Weaver agreed that we may never see the same levels of dove numbers we had in the 1960s because of changes in farming practices that has reduced food sources and changes in land use.

There is optimism in California that the long-term decline in dove numbers is finally bottomed out and populations are increasing again. The dove population has likely stabilized at a new, lower level, and there seems to be a positive spike up from that level for this year.

Dolton did warn, however, that the affects of this year's Western drought were not measurable in the call count survey earlier this year, and that while doves were adaptable and mobile, this sustained drought could have a negative impact on dove numbers.

The season opens on Sunday, Sept. 1, and will continue through Sunday, Sept. 15, giving hunters an unusual three weekends to hunt the sporty gamebirds. The bag limit is 10 per day with 20 in possession after the first day. Upland Bird stamps are required to hunt doves.

SHOT SIZE FOR DOVES: I have a running debate with fellow writers and hunting buddies about the best size shot for doves. I mostly use 7 1/2s after being disappointed with the killing ability of 8s and 9s. I've shot steel 6s and 7s with good success, and lead 6s will whack them at 40 yards and beyond. Let me know what you shoot and why. Shoot an e-mail to me at or

DOVE HUNTING TIPS: After a couple of decades of chasing doves, I have a complex theory that predicts where dove hunting will be best. It factors in rainfall, weather patterns, a voodoo doll, and the Anaheim Angels record in August. It has been fool proof except in years of baseball strikes. Anyway, he are the predictions/tips:

1) Actual desert hunting (not hunting around desert agriculture) will not be as good this year as when we have good wet springs in the desert. The birds will be more concentrated in agriculture areas and up into the foothills where there is more food and moisture. There will still be birds coming into desert springs and stock tanks, just not as many as normal, even with the increase in bird numbers, because there is simply less feed in the desert for the birds.

2) The drought will make hunting around permanent water sources better than normal because so many seasonal and intermittent water sources will not be available. No-brainers I can generally get right each time.

3) Doves like open ground. As much as I hate excessive cattle grazing -- and a lot of public and private ground has been grazed down to nearly bare dirt this year -- doves seem to do well around grazed lands. I think this is because disturbed soils create a great environment for dove weed (mullen) and wild sunflowers to sprout. Dove love the seeds from both of these plants. Heavily grazed areas often have the best dove hunting.

SCULLING FOR DOVES?: Joel Depaoli, an absolutely gonzo bird hunter chum who spends more days in the field in one year than most guys do in a lifetime, has opened a bird guiding service on the Colorado River out of Blythe and will be offering an unusual option for the dove opener -- hunting from a scull boat. Depaoli said the birds will be taken pass shooting and jumped off sandbars in the main river. For more information, call Depaoli's 777 Guide Service at (714) 505-4301.

ONE ROUND OF PRACTICE: It has been several years since I collected a limit of doves on opening day. This is not because I haven't been in good places. It has to do with my shotgun shooting skills -- or lack thereof. I am heartened that I'm not the only one who shoots poorly opening day. Most of us buy a case of those on-sale dove loads each year before the opener, but don't bother taking one of those $3.79 boxes of shells to the trap, skeet, or sporting clays course to get a little pre-dove warm-up work in. I really could use it. Excited by the sight of birds, I always shoot up at least a box of shells with my cheek up off the stock peering at the doves. The shot string flies over them a mile. Then I go through a box or two with my cheek crushed down on the comb but stopping my swing. I'm usually on them by the second or third day of the season, but a lot of ammo has been burned by then.

One or two rounds on the trap range focusing on the fundamentals when I wasn't flustered by the sight of game would probably do wonders. This year -- this year! -- I'm going to shoot some clay targets before the Sept. 1 opener.

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