The mourning dove is one of the most abundant bird species in North America and dove populations have been fairly stable for a number of years. Population estimates are derived from leg-banding studies and breeding bird surveys conducted in Virginia and throughout the country.
Data from recent years indicate there are around 300 million doves in the United States and around seven million in Virginia. Mourning dove hunting is very popular and is offered in 40 U.S. States and several Canadian provinces.
In the United States, there are an estimated 900,000 dove hunters that take an annual harvest of around 15 million doves. Recent surveys in Virginia indicate there are around 17,000 dove hunters in the state and the average harvest is around 250,000 doves annually.
In 2017, the late winter and early spring weather was warm and mild. The spring also started out fairly wet with many areas getting above average rainfall.
These conditions sometimes lead to a reduction in dove nesting success. Doves build fairly shallow nests that can get damaged by wet and windy conditions. In addition, the nestlings are susceptible to this cool and wet weather, and their survival is often lower in these conditions. So, some of the early dove nesting was likely hampered by these conditions. However, in July the weather turned hot with little rain in many areas.
Later nesting attempts appear to be doing well and production appears to be better during the latter portion of the summer. The summer trapping and leg-banding efforts being conducted by the department have captured fewer young doves so far this year, so early production does appears to be a little below normal this year, however, late nesting efforts may make up for these early shortfalls.
Dove hunter success often depends not only on the dove population and nesting success, but also on the condition of the habitat and the amount of food available. Conditions varied around the state, but in general the mild weather in late winter and early spring allowed many farmers to get their corn crop in 1-2 weeks earlier than normal this year.
In some areas, planting dates (both corn and sunflower) were delayed by the wet weather. With the wet spring, the corn crop got a fairly good start, as did many of the native dove foods. However, the dry conditions in late June and July will likely lead to an earlier corn harvest and possible a lower yield in some areas.
Some farmers in the eastern part of the state will likely cut their corn earlier than normal, and some fields that have been harder hit by the dry weather may just get bush-hogged rather than harvested.
An early harvest will open up a lot of feeding grounds for doves in early to mid-September. However, this may also spread the birds out across the available habitat, and make concentrations of birds harder to find. Some pre-season scouting may be necessary to help locate areas that doves are using. Look for fresh cut agricultural fields or areas with lots of native plant foods.
Enjoy your hunting and be safe. Also, remember to get your HIP permit well before going hunting so you don’t get rushed trying to do everything at the last minute.
Dove season opened on September 2, and the first few days (September 2–8) of dove hunting are only half-day (noon until sunset). Then it opens up one half hour before sunrise until sunset for the rest of the season (September 9–October 29, November 22–29, December 23–January 15). You can keep 15 doves a day with a possession limit of 45.
Conservation Police Report:
Hunting Investigation Spans State – On August 18, 2017, CPO Adam Keene completed a lengthy hunting investigation that resulted in 24 charges that spanned the state from Wythe County to Surry County. This investigation began when Officer Keene noticed a discrepancy at a check station in Wythe County that revealed that an individual had failed to check a deer as required and that the check station had checked the deer for the subject without seeing the deer and had back dated the check book.
The suspect was interviewed and admitted to numerous game violations in Wythe, Tazewell and Surry County.
While he was from Wythe County, he was attending college on the east coast and hunted in Surry County while attending these classes. He had killed ten deer in total in Virginia, five of which were bucks and five were spotlighted. He had also spotlighted and killed deer in Surry County with two of his friends who traveled out from Wythe County.
Officer Keene interviewed those individuals and received full confessions to spotlighting and killing deer in Wythe County and Surry County during the closed season and while using an unlawful caliber.
Officer Keene seized a total of four buck heads, four firearms and a variety of digital evidence from the subject’s cell phones. He also identified and interviewed a witness who provided a signed statement that was present when all three individuals spotlighted and killed four deer in one night in Surry County.
Narcotics Use Never Pays – On August 16, 2017, CPO Adam Keene received information about a distraught individual around Raven’s Cliff National Forest Campground in Wythe County. The individual claimed he was looking for two females that had been lost in the woods the whole day. Officer Keene contacted the local National Forest Law Enforcement Officer but he was unable to respond.
Officer Keene responded and located the male along with two females at a camp site. The male told the officer that he had finally found the females who had gotten lost hiking on trails in the area. Officer Keene identified the individuals and noticed they had not paid for their camp site.
The officer quickly recognized behavior that was indicative of drug use and received consent to search. The Wythe County Sheriff’s Office responded and assisted. Officer Keene discovered a bag of methamphetamine in the console of the vehicle and paraphernalia in the male’s pants that were lying on the hood.
One of the female’s produced a meth pipe from her bra and admitted to using the meth while they were hiking. The other female admitted to using marijuana but had already consumed it all. Officer Keene arrested the male and female for felony possession of a schedule I/II controlled substance (meth).
— Gary Costanzo, Migratory Game Bird Scientist, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.