When (mourning) doves fly, how often do hunters make them pay?

Rather late in life, I joined the cadre of hunters who open hunting season in September. When I was growing up, I didn’t hunt doves. I don’t know anybody who did and it could be that there wasn’t a season on these fast-flying gray missiles back then.

Years later I got in on the sport and really, it’s hard to call dove hunting dove “hunting.” It is more of a social gathering where friends get together in a field of bush-hogged sunflowers, millet or wild goat weed, have a barbecue beneath the shade of a big oak and scatter out, bellies full, to find a shade to sit under and take a crack at doves flying over.

We’re a few weeks away from opening of dove season this year as it traditionally opens on Labor Day weekend. In the meantime, research is ongoing concerning doves to see what effect hunting doves has on the overall population.

Marty Edmonds, retired employee of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, is involved in research and provided information about these popular game birds.

“Mourning doves nest in every state except Hawaii. In Louisiana, nesting is observed throughout the year with peak nesting period being from May to July,” Edmonds wrote.

“The male picks the nest site and both male and female doves incubate. The nests are poorly constructed with both males and females building nests that may take from a few days to a week to construct. The pair averages about five young per year.”

According to information Edmonds furnished, doves feed almost entirely on plant seeds such as goat weed, rag weed, poke salad, foxtail, sunflower, corn and wheat.

It is estimated that the mortality rate of doves is in the 70 percent range whether doves are hunted or not. Although they have the potential to live several years, most live only a year or so.

A research program is ongoing, headed by Jeff Duguay, Dove Research Program Director for the LDWF. Doves are being trapped and banded not only around the state but nationwide at this time to determine the impact hunting may have on doves.

“The trapping and banding program is part of an overall program to gauge mortality. Banding and recovery of bands gives us information on hunting mortality,” said Duguay.

“When a hunter harvests a banded dove, he goes online and reports the band number. This gives us an idea of what percentage of banded doves are bagged, which gives us an overall estimation of dove harvest not only in Louisiana but nationwide. It’s similar to the waterfowl banding program in this regard,” he said.

How do you capture doves for banding and release? Duguay said that doves feed on bare ground and when suitable areas are located either on wildlife management areas or private acreage where permission has been granted for banding, feed such as milo, wheat or cracked corn is used to attract doves to the area, which can take a week or two before birds begin regularly coming to feed.

“This is when we put out the wire traps which feature a funnel entrance that birds can readily utilize but can’t figure out how to exit. There is an opening on top where birds are removed for banding, recording band numbers and (then) released,” Duguay explained.

This coming season, I’ll not only be on the lookout for doves flying over my shade tree. But just like in duck hunting, I’ll get an extra thrill should I be fortunate enough to hold in my hand, a dove when a silver band on its leg.

Contact Glynn at GlynnHarris37@gmail.com