The Wild Side: Mourning doves are becoming a popular hunt
Mourning doves are one of the most widely distributed birds in North America. They are found breeding across Wisconsin, but are more common south of U.S. 8 than they are to the north. A pair of doves will build a nest and lay two eggs, which they cooperatively hatch. They also work together to feed their young. They can repeat the nesting and rearing process with up to 5 pairs of chicks in a single season. The mourning dove was named the state symbol of peace in 1971, and became a legal game species in 2001; the first dove season was held in 2003.
Mourning doves are the most hunted migratory game bird in the United States. In Wisconsin, over 10,000 people reported hunting doves in 2012, harvesting over 50,000 birds. This was a drop from 90,000 birds the year before; in fact, the harvest has dropped every year since 2008. The season opens September 1 statewide. Unlike some other kinds of hunting, you can start mourning dove hunting with relatively little gear; camouflage at a minimum, and maybe a few decoys if you want to get more sophisticated. Find a spot where there is a grassy or weedy opening with a couple of scattered trees, maybe near a stream or pond, and where you can be fairly well concealed. You will need a small game hunting license. Because doves are a migratory bird, you will need to be HIP certified and have a plug in your shotgun. If you are on state land, like the Woodboro Lakes State Wildlife Area, Thunder Marsh State Wildlife Area, the Willow Flowage, or the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, you will need non-toxic shot. A retrieving dog is a good idea; in fact, the dove hunters I have spoken with have said it is a great way to get your dog trained up on retrieving. If you want to learn more about dove hunting, you can check out the DNR website, or stop in at the DNR Service Center in Rhinelander or Woodruff for a regulations pamphlet. If a smartphone is more your speed, you can check out the new FFLIGHT interactive mapping tool. It allows hunters to locate and view areas that are suitable for hunting doves (as well as ruffed grouse, woodcock, and pheasants). There are topography maps, air photos, and measuring tools as well.
I don’t hunt doves myself; I have heard it is extremely fun, great for getting youth into hunting, and the meat is delicious. From a professional perspective, I feel that harvest of doves makes good use of a renewable resource, and with careful monitoring the population will continue to thrive while providing hunting opportunities. Right now, an estimated 6% or less of Wisconsin’s fall dove population is harvested annually. Wisconsin dove numbers have continued to rise steadily by 0.6% over the last 10 years. We are taking great care of our doves, and enjoying wise use of the resource.
Jeremy Holtz is a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR and writes a weekly column in the Star Journal. To contact him, call (715) 365-8999.