The Mourning Dove is Missouri’s most popular migratory game bird. Their population, both nationwide and in Missouri, is stable with no evidence of a change in abundance. Dove hunting is an exhilarating experience, and a sound wildlife management practice. They taste pretty darn good, too.
Dove season opens in Missouri on September 1. Since it is one of the first hunting seasons to open each fall, dove hunting is somewhat of a kickoff for fall hunting season.
Dove hunting is a great means of introducing youth to hunting, since it doesn’t require sitting still for hours and the action can be fast and furious. To ensure dove hunting opportunities exist for youths around the state, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is partnering with the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) and Quail Forever (QF) to provide mentored hunts for first-time dove hunters eight years of age or older. The hunts will take place on five sunflower fields located on private land across the state and one on public land.
Hunts will be offered on the private and public fields on opening day of dove season, but don’t worry if you can’t get on one that day. The fields will hold more hunts throughout the season. The specific dates for hunting each field will be determined by the participating landowners. You likely won’t have a field all to yourself, but the number of hunters will be managed to maximize safety and provide a quality experience.
To participate, the hunters must first attend a hunter-orientation workshop. The participants will learn about doves and how important hunters are to wildlife management. Hunter safety will be covered, and the youths will have the opportunity to practice shooting a shotgun. A parent or guardian must accompany hunters 8-15 years during both the pre-hunt workshop and the hunt. No equipment is necessary for the workshops or hunts.
The hunter-orientation workshops will be held:
- Meadville — Aug. 10, 1-5 p.m., MDC Fountain Grove Conservation Area;
- Kirksville — Aug. 17, 1-5 p.m., MDC Northeast Regional Office;
- High Ridge — Aug. 21, 5:30-9 p.m., MDC Jay Henges Shooting Range;
- Parkville — Aug. 27, 28, and 29, 5:30-8:30 p.m., MDC Parma Woods Shooting Range;
- Williamsburg — Aug. 30, 1-5 p.m., MDC Prairie Fork Conservation Area;
- Ash Grove — Aug. 30, 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., MDC Andy Dalton Shooting Range;
- Cape Girardeau — Aug. 30, 4-8:15 p.m., MDC Apple Creek Trap and Skeet Range.
If you can’t make one of these events, you can still hunt doves on public land around the state, or on private land you have permission to access. Dove hunting is simple. Hitting them in flight is not. As far as guns go, any 12, 16, or 20-gauge shotgun will work. Take plenty of shells with you, because you’ll need more than you think. Size 7 ½ or 8 shot will suffice for loads.
Mourning doves congregate in agricultural fields of sunflowers, wheat, millet and buckwheat. In drought-prone years, corn chopped for ensilage provides crop residue that attracts doves.
Situate yourself and other hunters on the edge of a crop field edge with the sun at your back. Doves are hard enough to hit without blinding yourself by looking into the sun. Stay low and break up your outline the best you can, and don’t move until your ready to shoot.
Once you have shot a bird, visually follow it to the ground. Mark the spot you saw the bird fell. Call the field cold, meaning no one shoots, and retrieve your dove right away. These little birds can be hard to locate, so thinking you can shoot three and find them all is a dangerous idea. No one wants to waste game, so do the ethical thing and retrieve immediately following your kill. A good retriever makes dove hunting an even more enjoyable experience.
For more information on how you can participate in one of the managed youth dove hunts, contact John Burk of NWTF at 573-676-5994 or email@example.com, or Elsa Gallagher of QF at 660-277-3647 or EGallagher@pheasantsforever.org. Apply online at tinyurl.com/nax8qhm.
See you down the trail…