Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Dove hunters appear set for heavy fall campaign

Havana, Ill. — No matter how many dove hunters take to the fields for the traditional Sept. 1 opener, they are each likely to discover the same scenario: A typical number of doves looking for a less-than-typical number of water holes.

If the drought is having any effect on mourning doves, it   didn’t start up soon enough to show up in the state’s annual index of abundance during the breeding season around the end of May and early June, according to Dan Holm, waterfowl project manager for DNR.

There was no change in this year’s survey compared to last year, said Holm.

“Average is a good way to characterize it,” Holm said, noting that an average of 24 birds were heard along each of the state’s 20 listening routes in 2011.

This year, the average was 23.8 birds per route.

And the state’s annual banding of doves, which began in early July, is showing roughly the same ratio of immature to adult birds as last year.

“The ratios look almost exactly the same as last year,” Holm said. “Last year, we had 1.5 immatures per adult. So far this year, it’s 1.7.”

Asked if the drought could hurt mourning doves, Holm said he’d rather not say.

“I can’t say that, one way or another,” he said. “I assume it could have an impact on [available] food.”

But he said he’s seen no evidence that’s been the case.

“It looks like we’ve got good production from the young and adults,” he said.

The heat did slow down the DNR’s banding work this summer.

“We don’t want to put the birds under all of that stress in this heat,” he said.

As of press time, the DNR had captured about half of the birds needed to complete the work.

As far as the dove season goes, estimates from last season indicate that 37,000 hunters harvested 668,547 doves – a drop of 23 percent from the previous season’s harvest.

Dove hunter participation and the number of birds harvested has ebbed and flowed over the past decade, peaking in 2004 before falling over the subsequent years.

A hunter survey of the 2010-11 dove season revealed that the most popular part of the state for dove hunting is Region 4, which covers southwestern Illinois. During that season, approximately 15,000 hunters in shot 290,000 doves. The next closest was Region 5 – the far southern portion of the state – where 8,700 hunters killed 127,000 doves in 2010-11.

Overall, the U.S. dove population is estimated at between 80 million and 90 million birds.

The average life span of a dove is only about 8 months. And did you suspect that more shotgun ammunition is expended on mourning doves than on any other game bird.

The birds also will flock to ragweed patches to gorge on the tiny weed seeds. If you can arrange for the ragweed to be mowed down that will attract more doves, and also make them easier to find when downed.

Like most birds, doves like to drink after feeding, so setting up near a water source is a good bet. Just any water hole will do, though doves won’t come to lakes or ponds as a general rule. They don’t like to land in heavy cover, or approach deep water edges. One of the best dove watering holes is a large puddle of rain water in a dirt road. Sand quarries usually have several shallow depressions filled with water, and beach-like pond edges bare of vegetative growth are likely dove watering spots.

Gravel roads adjoining feeding fields are hot spots for doves seeking grit for their craws.

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