All About Doves

Everything to know about mourning doves and our favorite opening day of hunting season.

Brad Bailey | August 7, 2002

It’s the opening day that Winchester, Remington, Federal, Fiochi, and other shotgun-shell manufacturers love — dove season.

Georgia’s 2002 dove season opens September 7 in the Northern Zone, and on September 28 in the Southern Zone.

From a shotgun-shell manufacturer’s point of view, doves are the perfect game bird. Put simply, they are difficult to hit. Apparently unable or unwilling to fly slow or straight, the birds dart, twist and flare over a dove field with an amazing ability to kick in the afterburners just as you have locked in your lead and hit the trigger.

Last year, Georgia’s estimated 54,200 dove hunters killed an estimated 1.4 million doves. If five shells per dove is an accurate estimate of the shooting efficiency on most fields, Georgia dove hunters fired 7 million rounds last fall (that’s 218.75 TONS of lead shot in the air, one ounce at time). That also works out to 280,000 boxes of shells. At $5 a box, Georgia dove hunters paid about $1.4 million for shotgun shells alone.

The Eurasian collared dove, an exotic import, is becoming more common each year in Georgia. The dove is about one-third bigger than a mourning dove; it has a distincitive black collar around the back of its neck, and instead of having a pointed tail like a mourning dove, the collared dove has a squared-off tail. The birds are considered non-game and do not count against your daily limit of doves. The birds reportedly fly slower than a mourning dove and aren’t as adept at the aerial acrobatics that the mourning dove is known for.

Dove Hunting Facts And Trivia
• The mourning dove is the most-hunted bird in North America.
• A Wildlife Resources Division small-game telephone survey after the 2001-02 hunting season placed the number of Georgia dove hunters at 54,200.
• Last fall, Georgia hunters harvested 1.4 million doves.
• If, on average, it takes five rounds per dove killed, last year Georgia hunters fired 7 million shotgun shells at doves.
• Mourning doves are hunted in 39 states; two states, Wisconsin and Michigan are attempting to open a season, but are embattled by antis including the HSUS.
• The nationwide population of doves is estimated at 475 million birds.
• The nationwide harvest is estimated at approximately 65 million birds — five times the harvest of ducks and geese combined.

Mourning Dove Stats
Length: 11 to 13 inches long from bill to tail.
Wingspread: 17-19 inches.
Weight: Four to six ounces.
Flight Speed: 45 to 55 mph top end.
Lifespan: 70 percent live less than one year. Three or four years maximum.
Male or Female?: Male doves have iridescent bluish feathers on top of their head and at the nape of their neck. Females have brownish feathers in the same areas.
Young or old?: Young-of-the-year can be told by their white-tipped wing covert feathers.

Dove Reproduction
• Doves may begin nesting as early as late February in the South. The peak nesting takes place in late May and June.
• Doves may nest from four to six times in a season.

• The usual clutch size is two eggs, occasionally there are three. Incubation takes 14 days.
• Young doves, called “squabs,” are fed a mixture of partially digested seeds from the parent’s crop called “pigeon milk.” The mixture is rich in protein and fat.
• Doves can fly in only 11 to 14 days after hatching.
• Doves are notoriously poor nest builders, creating a flimsy stack of twigs five to 25 feet high in a pine or cedar tree. Many nests are lost in high winds associated with thunderstorms.
• Nest predators include hawks, crows, bluejays, squirrels, raccoons and snakes.

Looking toward September from the end of July, Georgia hunters can anticipate a good year. Summer thundershowers in mid July have encouraged millet and sunflower fields across the state. There should be plenty of seed available to draw doves. The Northern Zone season opens a week later than usual, and that will give the fields a few days longer to produce seed.

When you arrive for a shoot, it’s a good idea to check the field before you hunt to look for obvious signs of baiting. Beware of grain or other substances that attract doves that don’t look like they were grown there.

If you are looking for a dove shoot, watch for flyers advertising fields at local sporting goods stores, check the classified ads in local papers, and the ads in GON. If you have a prepared shoot that you would like to advertise free, contact GON for a listing in the September issue.

There are also prepared fields on many of the WMAs across the state. About a week before the season, if you call the local game management office, they will give you a report on the status of the various fields in the area.

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