Many Ozarkers would be surprised to find out what the most-harvested gamebird in the U.S. is.
The first pick of many people would be the wild turkey. It’s a good guess, but a wrong one. Ducks would be another logical choice, but equally incorrect.
The country’s most populous and widespread gamebird is the one that has a season that’s just around the corner in Missouri – the mourning dove. Each year, more than nine million mourning doves are bagged by hunters in the U.S. That’s larger than the cumulative take of any
other game bird in the country, but with a North American population estimated to be at somewhere around 350 million, it’s a hunting harvest the continent’s mourning dove population can easily recover from each year. Missouri’s dove season, which runs from Sept. 1 through Nov. 9, is special to Ozarks hunters for several reasons. For many, it’s the kick-off to fall hunting. When dove season opens, area sportsmen know seasons for waterfowl, deer, and other popular game animals aren’t
far off. For some, dove season is about fellowship. Dove hunting means you’ll be getting together with friends and relatives to share in the camaraderie of an early fall hunt. On top of these reasons, people enjoy dove hunting because it’s a challenging way to get
wildlife fare for the table. The flight speed and darting actions of a mourning dove in flight make for a tricky target that is missed far more often than it is hit. Several factors have played a part in the current abundance of mourning doves in North America. One of these is the bird’s reproductive capabilities. In Missouri, mourning doves have an average of five nestings per year. There’s also little doubt that mourning doves have benefited
from America’s ever-increasing interest in bird feeding.
Another reason biologists give for the current abundance of mourning doves is that the birds are habitat generalists. Species that occur in a variety of habitats and seem to make do with whatever the habitat provides are called generalists. In addition to adapting to different types of landscapes and food choices, habitat generalists also adapt to being in close proximity to humans and frequently benefit from some of our activities. In terms of being a habitat generalist, mourning doves fit most of these descriptions. They
have proven to be highly adaptable to the habitat variances provided in different parts of the country, and they’ve also benefited from some of the landscape changes and agricultural practices that humans have introduced. When you have a bird that has a high reproductive capability and an ability to adapt to a number of habitat conditions, the result is often a high number of that species.
Of course, dove hunters did not need to read all this science to know that doves can be found in this area both on public and private land. This year, as has been the case for a number of years, the Eurasian collared dove and white-winged dove are legal species to be hunted. This provides for the incidental taking of these two species, which can be found in Missouri along
with the mourning doves.
Dove hunters are once again being asked to watch for banded birds. Bands recovered and reported by hunters provide important information about survival, migration, harvest rates, and distribution of doves. To report band numbers, go online at reportband.gov. In return for their
help, hunters who report banded birds will receive a certificate of appreciation and information about the bird’s history. Dove hunters need to remember a migratory bird permit and a small game permit are
needed to hunt doves. The daily limit is 15, and the possession limit is 45. More information about dove hunting regulations and publicly owned areas that feature good dove opportunities is available in the Department of Conservation publication “Migratory Bird and Waterfowl Hunting Digest, 2023-2024.” This free publication is available at many Missouri Department of
Conservation offices and most places that sell hunting and fishing permits. People planning to hunt doves during the upcoming season should remember there are 26 Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) areas managed specifically for dove hunting that require hunters to use nontoxic shots when dove hunting. In these areas, the use or possession of lead shot for hunting doves is prohibited. In addition to the 26 MDC areas that have nontoxic shot regulations specific to dove hunting, 46 additional MDC areas have nontoxic shot requirements for all hunting activities with
shotguns. A complete list of the 26 MDC areas that require nontoxic shots for dove hunting and
the 46 MDC areas that require nontoxic shot for all types of hunting with shotguns are in the above-mentioned MDC publication. The reason nontoxic shot is required at these areas is because of the effect that lead shotgun pellets can have on birds. Since birds lack teeth, they need to consume small pieces of gravel and other hard items – collectively known as “grit.” This grit is stored in the bird’s gizzard and is used to help a bird digest its food. In their search for suitable grit items, spent shotgun pellets are often consumed. The ingestion of these lead pellets can be fatal to birds. The nontoxic shot requirement has been placed at certain MDC areas that are heavily used by shotgun hunters.
As a result of this shotgun use, an abundance of spent shotgun pellets are deposited on the landscape.
Information on mourning doves and dove hunting is also available on the Department of Conservation’s website, mdc.mo.gov.
Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call 417-895-6880.
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