Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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State dove hunt kicks off Sept. 1

Staff Writer

Fort Snelling, Minn. Minnesota’s first mourning dove hunting
season in nearly 60 years is slated to last two months. But experts
caution that the season, which begins next Wednesday, will
effectively be over long before its scheduled Oct. 30
culmination.

“Far and away, the majority will get out of here pretty early,”
said Steve Wilds, Region 3 Division of Migratory Birds chief for
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Fort Snelling. “By the first
of October, most of them will be gone.”

Despite that, hunters seem genuinely excited to hunt doves, the
nation’s most popular, and abundant, game bird. The state
Legislature passed legislation allowing dove hunting last spring,
making Minnesota the 40th state with a dove hunting season.

“I’m pretty pumped about getting out and trying it,” said Mike
Sidders, who worked to push the legislation with Minnesota Hunters
for Dove Hunting. “It’s not something I’ve done before, so it’s
going to be kind of a trial by fire.”

Sidders plans to hunt on his farm property south of
Glenwood.

Private farmland will likely be the best place to find doves,
officials say.

Small-grain fields that have been harvested or corn fields that
have been cut for silage should provide good hunting, said Bill
Penning, DNR farmland wildlife coordinator.

Mourning doves feed on small seeds, making small-grain fields
particularly attractive, Wilds said.

Mourning doves are most common in the southern and west-central
parts of the state, according to the DNR.

Minnesota’s dove population averages between 8 and 12 million
per year. Nationwide, Wilds expects a fall flight of about 400
million birds a population greater than any other game bird, but
down from past years.

“Over the long haul, there has been a downward trend in dove
populations,” Wilds said. “It’s most likely that this is a habitat
issue. We don’t know exactly what the inter-relationships are, but
we know something is going on out there.”

Though hunters take about 25 million doves each year, hunting
hasn’t led to the decline, Wilds said.

“When you have a species with a short life span, that’s just not
a factor relative to their population’s well being,” Wilds
said.

Weather-dependent

If there’s a wildcard in the dove season, it’s the weather, said
Pheasant Forever’s Mark Herwig, a dove hunter with more than 20
years of experience.

The birds migrate south once the temperatures fall into the low
40s or high 30s, Herwig said.

“It’s been an unusually cold summer,” he said. “That’s not good
for dove hunters.”

Herwig has heard of large numbers of mourning doves on roadsides
in southwest Minnesota. When temperatures cool off, those doves
will be gone, Wilds said.

“They are a bird that’s very sensitive to (low) temperature and
cold rain,” he said. “As soon as those things come along, most of
them will migrate.”

Finding them before they fly south, and before the season opens,
is a common theme.

While he’s never hunted them before, Sidders knows that food,
water, and roosting areas will be the key to a successful dove
hunt.

Since the majority of doves will likely be on private land,
doing some homework is important, Wilds said.

“(Hunters) need to do some scouting and talking to people in
advance,” he said.

A family affair

Proponents of a dove season sold the idea to lawmakers in part
as a youth recruitment tool, said Gary Botzek, of the Minnesota
Conservation Federation.

“I think it is going to be experienced and enjoyed,” he said of
the hunt. “It’s a good time for family time.”

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