Why No Doves?

     Young hunters (or any new hunters for that mater) like two things: casual, relaxed hunts and lots of shot opportunities. It doesn’t matter if the game is small, what counts is getting comfortable with guns, techniques and the overall hunting mindset. Hunters who get started under these circumstances are far more likely to stick with hunting in general and expand their horizons to include other game and methods. They are also more likely to repeat those early hunting experiences year after year and establish their own traditions around them.
     In the northeast one of the top game animal contenders for the introductory hunt is the gray squirrel. If we expand further afield it could easily be claimed that the gray squirrel is one of the most prevalent game species in the eastern United States. So it stands to reason that almost every hunter at some point gets involved with a squirrel hunt at some time or another. I spent an awful lot of time hunting them when I was a kid and still enjoy an annual squirrel hunt. But there is an alternative game animal that meets the above criteria but is tragically overlooked.
     Dove hunting has a solid following in the south and for good reason. They are plentiful, don’t require fancy equipment and are easy enough for beginners but challenging enough for seasoned hunters. Sadly, dove hunting has never been a part of Northeast hunting tradition.
     According to a brief article posted on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s website (http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/59626.html) only nine of the lower 48 states do not allow the hunting of mourning doves. Among the exceptions are New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The explanation in New York is very simple: “State law does not classify mourning doves as either a migratory game bird or an upland game bird (ECL 11-0103); therefore, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) does not have the authority to establish hunting regulations for doves under the current law.” Attempts have been made in the past to introduce legislation to allow for a dove season, but those efforts never got off the ground. It seems lack of interest in hunting doves has been a major factor in stifling the changing of legislation.
    Which really is a shame. Maybe my mindset differs from that of other hunters but it seems to me that we should seize any chance we get to expand hunting opportunities, especially since the DEC freely admits that the dove population is high enough to allow hunting with no other biological factors that would preclude establishing a season. I can’t help but suspect that New York is not alone in this assessment. Other Northeast states are silent on the subject of doves but it stands to reason that dove populations are plenty adequate to hold up to regulated hunting.
     When I was just getting involved with hunting I would loved to have had an alternative to squirrels. Doves would have been ideal for more than one reason. Shooting at a flying target would have added a new challenge and their abundance would have afforded many chances to shoot. Furthermore, like squirrel hunting, dove seasons tend to be slated for September when the weather is still perfectly pleasant which is a key factor in holding the interest of a budding sportsman. As for the present day, I routinely see doves while hunting other game, especially in September and October. On many occasions I could easily have shot several, if only they were legal to hunt. But they could be legal. All it takes is generating enough interest and getting the attention of state legislators. So if anyone is interested, you’ve got my support.

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