September brings the start of football season, school and, for local hunters, dove season.
Dove season runs from Sept. 1 to Nov. 29 this year. Local hunter Michael Reeves said it is a great precursor for other hunting seasons.
“Dove hunting season is a great starting point if you want to get into bird hunting,” Reeves said. “It’s kind of a preseason for us because it gives us a chance to sharpen or dust off our shooting skills before teal and big duck season.”
The first of the three Missouri doves eligible for hunting is the mourning dove. This breed can be found everywhere in the United States and down into Mexico. The mourning dove flies north during the summer for the mating season before returning south at the end of July, giving them a month before the start of hunting season.
The second species of dove is the Eurasian collared dove. This dove is the larger of the two birds that will be hunted this season. The Eurasian collared dove can be found everywhere except the northeast U.S.
The final of the three species is the white-winged dove. This dove is normally found in the southern United States but has been spotted in Missouri. The white-winged is larger than the mourning dove but smaller than the Eurasian collared dove.
Missouri allows up to 15 birds per day to be shot and a possession limit of 45. Hunters also are required to carry two permits: a small game hunting permit and a migratory bird hunting permit.
The rules of engagement are fairly simple for Missouri hunters. Hunters can use shotguns (10-gauge or smaller) and the gun cannot hold more than three shells. All other guns are prohibited.
“Doves are fast-moving, so you’ll want to pack a lot of shells,” Reeves said. “You’ll want a seven-and-a-half or eight-shot and use an open choke for wider patterns.”
Additionally, hunters are allowed to use dogs and a boat, though the engine must be turned off so that the boat is not in motion when shooting.
Hunting hours run from a half-hour before sunrise to sunset. The Missouri Department of Conservation allows hunting on land where there is a normal agricultural operation or stabilization practice.
“Timing is a big deal,” Reeves said. “You’ll want to when they’re most active, either setting up early in the morning or close to dusk when it starts to cool down.”
Reeves and conservation department officials say this season could be more difficult for local hunters due to flooding and recent weather. Fields may not be ready until later in the month.
“You want to get set up in tall grass next to a harvested grain field and sit next to power lines and tree lines with dead trees because those are the spots that doves like to perch on,” Reeves said. “I prefer sunflower fields, but with a wet summer the conservation department hasn’t had a chance to plant as many fields.”
With a break during the summer, the dove season is the first real chance for hunters to get back to it. Reeves said that makes for more traffic in the fields.
“With it being their first chance at getting back to hunting, the fields are always guaranteed to be packed,” Reeves said. “You’re more than likely to have multiple hunters around you, so you have to keep your shooting range safe and shoot above a 45-degree angle to avoid peppering others.”