"Business as usual" describes prospects for the 2005 dove hunting season, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation's dove expert. Resource Scientist John Schulz says that is good news for hunters.
Dove season is the same this year as last year -- Sept. 1 through Nov. 9. The daily limit remains 12, the possession limit 24. Shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise until sunset.
Schulz said population surveys conducted earlier this summer showed dove numbers about the same as they have been for the past 10 to 15 years.
"Year-to-year changes in Missouri's dove population over the past 10 or 15 years are so small they don't make any practical difference," said Schulz. "Stability of dove numbers means continued good hunting. The key to success is finding the right spot to hunt."
Surveys do show significant differences in dove populations from region to region, however. Missouri's Bootheel and northwest and northeast prairie regions always come in near the top.
This year, Conservation Department workers found 2.09 doves per mile of survey route in the Bootheel. The Northwest Prairie region was not far behind with 1.83 doves per mile, followed by the Western Ozark Border with 1.56 doves per mile. Runners up were the Western Prairie region (1.40), the Northern Riverbreaks (1.29), the Northeastern Riverbreaks (1.13), the Northern and Eastern Ozark Border (.94) and the Ozark Plateau (.70)
Asked if extreme drought in much of the state will affect hunter success, Schulz said "It's a two-edged sword. Doves are seed eaters, and they like to feed on open ground. With a drought like the one we have had this year, you get lots of open ground, and it causes plants to mature earlier. That is good for the September first dove opener, but dry weather also decreases the number and quality of seeds."
The abundance of open ground this year won't be much help to hunters, since most open areas will have little dove food, and therefore few doves. The birds will congregate in areas where local conditions have produced high-quality seeds.
"There is no easy formula for success based on this year's hot, dry weather," said Schulz. "Hunters who go out before the season and find pockets of abundant food will have lots of shooting. That could mean areas that got more rain or fields where crops were planted early. Otherwise it's just hit or miss."
The Missouri Department of Conservation manages fields on some conservation areas especially for doves. Sunflowers, wheat, millet and other seed-producing crops make many of those spots dove magnets. However, the quality of managed dove fields varies widely depending on resources available for cultivation. Some fields are excellent, others poor. Only pre-season scouting can reveal the difference.
For dove field locations, visit missouriconservation.org/hunt/dove.
Dove hunters ages 16 through 64 must buy a small game hunting permit to pursue doves. All dove hunters 16 and older must have a Missouri migratory bird hunting permit for dove hunting.
Three species of doves are legal game in Missouri. Mourning doves are native to Missouri. White-winged doves, which once were found only in the southwestern United States, have expanded their range into Missouri in recent years. A third species, the Eurasian collared dove, arrived in Florida in the 1980s, probably blown there by tropical storms. That species also has expanded its range to include Missouri.
Mourning doves make up 99.9 percent of Missouri's annual dove harvest. Show-Me State hunters see the other two species so seldom, they often don't recognize them until they are in hand. The Conservation Department includes the two uncommon species as legal game so hunters don't have to worry about accidentally bagging illegal birds.
The daily limit of 12 doves is an aggregate limit, including all three species. For example, a hunter could shoot 10 mourning doves, one Eurasian collared dove and one white-winged dove in one day. Full details of dove hunting regulations are found in the 2005 Migratory Bird Hunting Digest, available wherever hunting permits are sold.
Schulz urged dove hunters to collect empty shotgun shells following each hunt.
"Missouri hunters harvest approximately three-quarters of a million doves every year," said Schulz. "A good wingshooter might kill one dove for every two shots fired. The average hunter fires a lot more shells per dove. That means there could be several million empty shotgun shells lying around after the season unless hunters pick up every spent shell. Littering isn't just illegal, it's trashy."