If you are looking for an excuse not to hunt doves, don’t look to the Missouri Department of Conservation. Its staff has prepared 178 fields in 95 of Missouri’s 114 counties especially for dove hunting. No one in the state is far from a dove field.
Missouri’s dove season runs from Sept. 1 through Nov. 9. The daily limit is 15. In years past, the possession limit was twice the daily limit. This year, however, the Missouri Conservation Commission increased the possession limit to 45.
Mourning doves make up the vast majority of Missouri’s dove harvest, but Eurasian collared doves and white-winged doves also are found in the Show-Me State and are legal during dove season. Missouri residents age 16 through 64 must buy a small game hunting permit to pursue doves. All dove hunters 16 and older must have a Missouri Migratory Bird Hunting Permit.
More than 20,000 Missourians hunt doves. Why do so many people pursue such a small bird? Partly because doves are challenging game. They fly at speeds of up to 55 mph and perform aerial maneuvers that would inspire a “top gun’s” envy.
Doves’ popularity stems from their abundance. When they aren’t humiliating hunters (who average approximately five shots per dove taken), doves are nesting. They start in March and continue well into September, often rearing six clutches in a year. This year’s nesting season got off to a slow start on account of cool weather. On the whole, however, weather has been favorable, and the Conservation Department predicts a strong hatch.
Each year, the Conservation Department plants sunflowers, corn wheat, sorghum and other crops at conservation areas to provide food for doves and other wildlife. These fields typically are treated in the weeks leading up to Sept. 1 to create prime feeding spots for doves. This practice creates excellent hunting.
Finding these spots is easy. Just visit mdc.mo.gov/node/8905 for a list of CAs with managed dove fields. Information available on the website includes maps showing the location of dove fields and the type of crop planted there. Nine conservation areas (CAs) with managed dove fields are located in Jackson or one of the other counties bordering Kansas City. St. Louisans have seven CAs with dove fields within one county, as do Springfield residents. St. Clair and Butler counties have seven each.
If you haven’t hunted one of the Conservation Department’s managed dove fields before, here are a few tips to ensure a good, safe hunt.
• Scout your chosen area before the season to see where crops have been prepared for hunting.
• Arrive early on the day of the hunt to secure a prime spot.
• Keep a spacing of 50 yards between shooters for safe and enjoyable hunting.
• Talk with other hunters before shooting time. Find out who has hunting dogs and agree not to take low-angle shots.
• Tell nearby hunters before leaving your stand or sending your dog to retrieve downed birds.
• Give other hunters a heads-up when doves approach their position from a blind spot. They probably will return the favor.
• Pick up your empty shot shells before leaving the field. Leaving hulls in the field could lead to a citation for littering.
A handful of CAs manage dove hunting through drawings to prevent over-crowding and ensure safety. These areas are:
• James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area will have dove hunting by managed hunt with field assignment from Sept. 3 through 9. Hunting is open with a daily hunt card after that. Shooting hours are from 1:00 p.m. to sunset for the entire season. Call 816-622-0900 for more information.
• Columbia Bottom CA assigns dove hunting opportunities for the first week of the season by an annual drawing. Applications were accepted through July 31. Anyone can hunt starting Sept. 8. A daily hunting card and nontoxic shot are required. Call 314-877-6014 for more information. Flooding earlier this summer will limit the availability of food and cover, making hunting conditions tough.
• Eagle Bluffs CA holds drawings at 5:45 and 11 a.m. daily to assign morning and afternoon hunting opportunities for up to the first week of dove season. After that, it is open hunting. Call 573-445-3882 for more information. Hunting on this area is with nontoxic shot only.
• Ten Mile Pond CA holds daily drawings at 4:45 a.m. Sept. 1 and 2, then goes to open hunting. Nontoxic shot is required. Call 573-649-9491for more information.
• Marais Temps Clair CA will hold drawings at 5 a.m. and refill hunting spots vacated throughout the day for up to the first week of dove season. After that, it is open to statewide regulations. A valid area daily hunting tag and nontoxic shot are required. Availability of food and cover is similar to Columbia Bottom. Call 314-877-6014 for more information.
The Conservation Department bands approximately 2,500 birds annually as part of a nationwide effort to create a dove-management database. Approximately 12 percent of those doves are recovered and reported, mostly by hunters. Data from band recoveries drive a wide array of analytical processes that directly affect mourning dove regulations. By reporting band numbers, hunters are helping manage our dove resource for future generations.
The most important thing dove hunters can do to improve their sport is to check every bird they shoot for a leg band and report any they find at reportband.gov, or by calling 800-327-BAND (2263).
For dove recipes, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/4605.