Get your HIP permit and be ready for dove season

Published 10:20 am Friday, September 2, 2016

by Gary Costanzo

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 range of the mourning dove. Data from recent years indicate there are around 300 million doves in the United States and around 7 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 19,000 dove hunters in the state and the average harvest is around 250,000 doves annually.

The spring weather in 2016 started out cool and wet, and the wet weather continued into mid-summer.  These conditions often 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. Data from this spring and summer does indicate that dove production appears to be below normal this year.

In addition, the summer trapping and leg-banding efforts being conducted by the Department have captured fewer young doves this year. With fewer young birds around, the dove hunting will likely be a bit slower than usual.

The cool and wet spring also delayed the planting of some of the local agricultural crops/fields, including corn, where a lot of dove hunting takes place. Therefore, harvest dates will likely be later this year and some fields may not be harvested until the second or third week of September. Hunters that can find an early harvested field may do well before other fields get cut. Although the weather may delay the harvest, the conditions will likely increase the production of both the agricultural crops (corn, sunflowers, and others) and the native plants. This should provide a lot of food for doves but may spread the birds out a bit across the available habitat.

Some pre-season scouting should help hunters find the birds. Look for fresh cut agricultural fields or areas with lots of native plant foods. Remember to get your HIP permit well before going hunting so you don’t get rushed trying to do everything at the last minute. Enjoy your hunting and be safe.

GARY COSTANZO is a Migratory Game Bird scientist for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.