The shooting soon will start over dove fields throughout the Magnolia and Pelican states. Here's a preview of that coming action. (September 2009)
Dove season is a Southern tradition that offers just as much excitement to seasoned wingshooters as it does to those new to the sport. However, one element must be present in order for a successful hunt to take place -- plenty of doves.
Unfortunately, the availability of doves in any particular area is, for the most part, out of our control. Let's take a closer look at the conditions that determine how good (or bad) the upcoming dove season will be.
Although mourning doves are migratory birds, they will stay in warm climates, such as Mississippi and Louisiana, year 'round. In fact, during the first few weeks of the season when most hunting pressure takes place, the vast majority of the birds that hunters harvest are these "resident" doves. The migratory birds do not generally start showing up this far south until October or November.
A dove's primary diet consists of seeds from agricultural grain crops, native grasses and weeds. Since mourning doves are poor scratchers, they feed mostly on open ground. It should also be noted that while doves will travel to forage, they prefer food sources that are nearby.
Banding data from both Louisiana and Mississippi indicate that most doves have a very small home range, if there is good habitat with plenty of food in that particular area. With only a few rare exceptions, most of the doves in these studies were harvested within a few miles of where they were captured and banded a month or two earlier.
Fresh water for drinking is another necessity of doves. There must be a pond, puddle or stream near their nesting sites for access daily. The water source should ideally be in an area with scarce vegetation. This allows the doves to have easy access to the water's edge and good visibility to be on the watch for predators.
According to studies conducted across the Southeast, the long-term trend has been a slight decrease in dove populations.
"We have attributed this to a change in habitat availability," said Scott Baker, wildlife biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. "Thousands of acres of our open fields have been planted in trees. However, a fragmented landscape consisting of the right mixture of openings, trees and water is the habitat best suited for doves to thrive."
"Here in Louisiana, our data indicates that dove populations are stable to slightly increasing," said Mike Olinde, research program manager with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. "But opening weekend success may vary across the state depending on factors such as how much rain has fallen, whether farmers have been able to harvest grain crops, and how many doves have migrated into an area."
With the opening day of dove season fast approaching, hunters in the Deep South begin thinking about finding a place to hunt doves. Hunters with access to harvested grain fields or hay meadows have a ready-made dove field. However, many hunters without access to farms or pastureland will be dependent upon public fields provided by state agencies or to seek a spot at one of the pay-to-hunt dove fields scattered across the Miss-Lou area.
Unlike most other game species, federal authorities regulate the sport of dove hunting. Because doves are considered to be migratory birds just like waterfowl, the parameters for their season dates, bag limits and other specific regulations are set based on guidelines from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The breakdown of the Mississippi and Louisiana dove-hunting seasons is very similar. Both states offer three season splits in North and South zones, with the traditional early-season opener falling on the first Saturday in September. The second season split begins in October and the third and final season split falls in late December or early January. It is expected that the 15-bird daily bag limit and the 30-bird possession limit will remain in place for the 2009-2010 dove season, but check the regulations for any last-minute changes.
In addition, the exotic Eurasian collared dove does not count against your limit, as long as you don't dress out the birds before leaving the field.
WHERE TO HUNT
The offerings are many when it comes to public access to dove fields in the Magnolia and Pelican states. While quality dove fields will be available at a number of the respective state wildlife management areas, numerous others can be found on private land made accessible to the public through the Private Land Dove Field Program in Mississippi and the Public Dove Field Leases in Louisiana.
According to Baker, many of Mississippi's WMAs had successful dove hunts during the 2008-09 season. These same tracts are once again offering dove hunts to the general public on a first-come, first-served basis. A few of the more popular WMAs are Mahannah, Leroy Percy, Shipland, Divide/Canal Section, Hell Creek and Black Prairie. Baker suggested that dove hunters check the MDWFP Web site as the season approaches for any changes in WMA schedules.
Hunters can purchase one of three types of permits for the Public Land Dove Field Program that allow multiple hunting opportunities at either one location or all locations throughout the season. The cost of the permits vary by location, depending on the crop grown, the level of management, and the number of hunters the field can safely handle.
The MDWFP handles the permit sales and oversees the entire hunt for each location. Hunting is only allowed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays beginning at noon, and only during the first two dove seasons.
Louisiana also had some quality dove shoots on its public lands last season, and similar results are expected this season. According to Olinde, the LDWF has dove hunting on about 20 WMAs statewide. It has specifically planted dove fields on more than a dozen of these tracts. Some of the more popular ones are Bayou Pierre, Loggy Bayou, Point Aux Chenes, Boeuf, Sherburne and Red River.
In addition to the opportunities available on Louisiana's WMAs, the LDWF also leases three to five fields from private landowners each year that are available for opening day only. Public Dove Field Lease permits are available at each field on a first-come, first-served basis for a nominal fee. Hunters under the age of 16 will be admitted free, but they must check in and have a permit.