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story.lead_photo.caption Opening day of dove season has long been a family affair for (from left) Luke Berger, Ella Berger, Cooper Berger and Lauren Berger. Arkansas’ 2018 season opens Sept. 1 - Photo by Bryan Hendricks

Kids are back in school and Arkansas hunters are preparing for the fall festival that begins Sept. 1 with the opening of dove season and early Canada goose season.

Early teal season will open Sept. 15 and ends Sept. 30.

Sept. 1 will also open the seasons for gallinules, and the season for Virginia rail and sora will open Sept. 8. There is a contingent of avid rail and gallinule hunters in Arkansas that find fertile hunting grounds in the Arkansas River Valley, particularly at the Frog Bayou Wildlife Management Area in the Alma Bottoms.

Dove season is the big event, though. For hunters, it is the unofficial beginning of fall, the lead-in to the deer seasons and finally to duck season.

Dove season will have two segments this year, Sept. 1-Oct. 28, and Dec. 8-Jan. 15, 2019. The daily limit is 15 mourning doves with a possession limit of 45. There are no bag or possession limits for Eurasian collared doves.

While you can enjoy superb hunting especially in the second segment, most dove hunting occurs on the opening weekend, and mostly on opening day.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not released migratory bird hunting statistics from the 2017-2018 seasons yet, but statistics from preceding years show 748,800 dove hunters killed 13.2 million doves in 2015, and 837,800 hunters killed 13.5 million in 2016. In 2015, that averaged to 18 birds per hunter and 16 birds per hunter in 2016. That is lightly more than a one-day limit.

Hunters in Arkansas killed 252,400 doves in 2015 and 258,200 in 2016, or 22- and 29 percent of the national total in those respective years. Arkansas hunters killed an average of 14 doves in 2015 and 16 doves in 2016, enough for one good round of dove poppers.

The Fish and Wildlife Service recorded 17,800 active dove hunters in Arkansas in 2015 and 16,300 active hunters in 2016, comprising 24 and 28 percent nationally for those years.

Dove season is an exciting, communal affair that brings together generations of friends and families for at least one day of high-volume wingshooting.

The ritual includes a pre-dawn gathering at a tractor shed or barn to share news and gossip. Hunters gulp down the last few slugs of their convenience store coffee before filling the air with the scent of mosquito repellent. Young kids are always quiet, especially those attending their first hunt. They are reverent and awestruck to finally enter this mystic fraternity.

Women are increasingly part of these events, too, especially young girls. Many of them participate in the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's Youth Shooting Sports Program, and their prowess in shooting clay targets leads to an interest in hunting. The newcomers and veterans from the Youth Shooting Sports Program are welcomed at these hunts because everyone knows they are competent shooters and that they are steeped in hunter safety.

The farm owner is always the hunt master. He strolls into the congregation like a pastor and assigns shooting station. After he explains the rules, everyone climbs aboard a tractor-towed trailer or pickup to ride to the shooting fields.

The first birds arrive right about legal shooting time. Shouts erupt, followed by gunshots. Cheers or jeers follow.

If it's a good field, doves arrive in increasingly greater numbers. They come from all directions, making staccato whistles that come from their wingbeats forcing air out their throats. Some loaf along and others streak over the fields like fighter jets. At the sound of gunfire, they dove, juke, corkscrew and perform all manner of evasive maneuvers. Some circle a field multiple times and draw fire from every hunter. Those that make it through the gauntlet often land and begin feeding. They are safe because it is unsporting and unsafe to shoot a dove on the ground.

Birds generally stop flying about lunchtime and resume flying in the evening.

Public dove fields

If you don’t have access to a private dove field, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission maintains dove habitat at wildlife management areas around the state. Some fields were planted late and might not be ready until later in dove season. Visit agfc.com for more information.

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA ACREAGE FOOD TYPE

Bayou Meto WMA 20 at Wrape Plantation Topsown wheat

Dave Donaldson Black River WMA 4 Corn, sunflowers

Dardanelle WMA 8 acres on Okane Island Topsown wheat

Ed Gordon Point Remove WMA 50 Milo, millet, wheat

Freddie Black Choctaw I. WMA East 31 Milo, wheat

Freddie Black Choctaw I. WMA West 14 Milo, wheat

Fort Chaffee WMA Six fields Topsown wheat

Galla Creek WMA 50 acres Topsown wheat

Hope Upland WMA 80 acres Topsown wheat

Blue Mountain SUA 5 acres Topsown wheat

Ozark Lake WMA 17 acres Topsown wheat

Petit Jean River WMA 12.5 acres Topsown wheat

Grandview Praire WMA 80 acres Topsown wheat

Shirey Bay Rainey Brake WMA 4 acres Sunflowers

St. Francis Sunken Lands WMA 68 acres Corn, sunflowers, millet

Raft Creek Bottoms WMA 30 acres Topsown wheat

Trusten Holder WMA 12 acres at Jardis Point Topsown wheat

Wedington WMA 6 acres Sunflowers

Dove baiting

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission regulations say it is illegal to hunt or kill doves with the aid of bait, including salt, grain or other feed that has been placed, exposed, deposited, distributed or scattered to attract game.

An area is considered baited for 10 days after the complete removal of all bait.

Anyone hunting who knows or reasonably should know the area is baited is liable for the offense. Hunters should physically inspect the field for any signs of baiting and question landowners, guides and caretakers to ensure the field is legal to hunt.

Natural vegetation may be manipulated in any way to attract doves and other migratory game birds.

It is legal to plant grain crops in a field that has been plowed and disked, including topsewn or aerially seeded wheat fields, if seeding rates are in line with Extension Service recommendations. It is illegal to seed the same field repeatedly, concentrate wheat in long rows or pile wheat on a field.

Harvesting a field often scatters some waste grain which attracts birds. If harvest was conducted as normal agricultural operation, it is legal for doves.

Unharvested fields may be mowed, shredded, disked, rolled, chopped, trampled, burned or treated with herbicides. These fields may be hunted legally for doves.

It is legal to plant food plots, provided that grains grown for wildlife management purposes are not harvested then returned to the field.

Livestock may be allowed to graze on harvested and unharvested grain. These fields may be hunted legally for doves.

Dove hunting regulations

Doves may taken only with shotguns, with lead shot no larger than size BB and with non-toxic shot no larger than size T. For lead, sizes 7 1/2, 8 and 9 are standard.

Shotguns must be incapable of holding more than three shells total.

Legal shooting hours start 30 minutes before sunrise and end at sunset. Check the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s sunrise/sunset tables for times in your location.

Hunters must make a reasonable effort to retrieve downed birds.

Eurasian collared doves must remain fully feathered while in the field and during transport.

Doves given to another hunter must be accompanied by written and signed information stating the number of birds being transferred, the species, the date the birds were killed and the name, address and hunting license number of the person from whom the birds were received.

Photo by Bryan Hendricks
Dr. Bob McGowan of Little Rock kills his 15th dove to fill his limit on opening day of the 2017 dove season in Pulaski County.

Sports on 08/19/2018

Print Headline: For love of dove

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