Wildlife Management: Dove Habitat Management


Mourning dove and white-winged dove are both migratory species and as such are regulated by federal laws. However, allow these dove regulations do afford some protection to these birds, controlled hunting is allowed within most states. In fact, dove management units have been set up in the eastern, central, and western United States to regulate dove hunting.

Hunting pressure and dove numbers vary in each of these dove management units. To establish breeding population trends, federal and state wildlife agencies conduct annual roadside call counts and counts of doves seen over established routes. Breeding population numbers, based on these call counts, are the primary basis for determining dove hunting seasons and bag limits.

The fall population of mourning doves in North America is estimated at about 475 million. Although that is a lot of birds, surveys show that dove numbers across the U.S. have been declining over the past 40 years.

In most parts of the country, mourning dove hunting is often a social affair, usually by invitation of a landowner or a group of sportsmen who have located and arranged for a dove field to shoot. Mechanical harvesting or planting of grain leaves some grain that attracts concentrations of birds. By proper timing of plantings and harvesting of crops such as hay, corn, sunflower, wheat, oats, and other grains, hunters can legally concentrate and harvest both mourning and white-winged doves.

Annually, however, the legal methods of preparing fields or hunting over fields may change. Once again, doves are regulated by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and these laws are enforced by federal and state officers. Make sure you are familiar with the current year’s dove hunting regulations before heading out into the field.

With regards to attracting doves to your property or dove lease, brown top millet and combine milo are effective plantings for early season shoots and are economical to plant. Management of fields for dove hunting should include these three points: agricultural practices, safe control of shooting and extending hunting over the largest possible time during open season.

Native grasslands or pasturelands can also be manipulated, or managed, to attract both mourning and white-winged doves for early fall hunting. The plowing or disking of areas in late winter will stimulate the growth of beneficial forbs such as croton and sunflower. Dove relish the seeds of both of these plant species and they respond readily to simple habitat management, or in this case, habitat disturbance.

Hunting success can be increased by mowing or disking some of these same areas just prior to the dove hunting season. This will allow doves great landing sites and knocks loose many of the plant’s seeds. Dove will respond by using these areas heavily, making for great dove hunting for you and your friends.

Average dove hunter success is 4 or 5 birds per hunt, but success definitely varies according to shotgunning skills. As you might suspect, dove hunters usually expend more ammunition per bird than any other hunter. Although it’s great fun, dove hunting can be very frustrating for the inexperienced hunter—or for those that are just having a bad day. Trust me, it happens.

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