Whether it is lost in the Christmas excitement or just finds many outdoors people sated with hunting, the late dove season in Arkansas is greatly underutilized.
Some dove enthusiasts know first hand, though, that the Dec. 13 to Jan. 2 season, last of three segments, offers exceptional opportunities for shotgunners who get out and get after the challenging birds.
Just as in that early September opening, doves are found nearly everywhere in Arkansas. But there are some differences from the hunts three months previously.
Food for doves is scarcer in December, mostly because planted crops like sunflower, soybeans and even corn are gone or nearly so. The doves resort to natural food, primarily weed seed.
Hunters aren't able to pinpoint these food sources as readily as with the planted fields.
Offsetting this factor is the tendency of doves to bunch up late in the year.
The flying singles and doubles of early September become groups of 20, 30, sometimes as many as 60 doves together.
With several hunters spread out in an area, this has the potential of some hot and heavy shooting.
Mourning doves are migratory, so the bunches of birds seen in Arkansas in December may be from places to the north where snow has blanketed the ground and the available food.
One of the better places to seek December doves is along the Arkansas River.
Brushy areas on the banks and on islands provide the weed seeds needed for food, and the river itself is a migration route for many varieties of wintering birds, doves included.
A productive technique for hunters is to have several spread out and slowly work an area.
The walking hunters likely won't get within shooting range of a group of doves, but the birds will often fly only a short distance before settling again. Or birds fleeing one hunter may come within range of another.
A doubleheader of duck hunting early and dove hunting later in the day is feasible in December.
Hunters will change out their shotguns shells, of course, swapping the heavy duck loads for lighter dove shells.
Be aware that having lead shot on your person while hunting ducks is a violation of federal and state regulations. Carefully check pockets and containers before going after ducks. Having steel shot while hunting doves is not a problem.
Another regulation to keep in mind is hunter orange is required for dove and other upland hunting when it's during the muzzle-loader deer season.
These dates vary by deer zones. Check a 2008-2009 Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Hunting Guidebook for specifics.
If you haven't hunted doves or ducks this season, be sure that you are registered for the required Hunter Information Program (HIP).
This is free at any license outlet or AGFC office.