When veteran dove hunters make the early rise on Sept. 1, they might feel like they're stepping back in time to the good old days. The Arizona Game and Fish Department has turned back the clock on dove hunting regulations this year, giving the season a traditional feel.
Since last year, dove hunters have been able to hunt all day, after years of being told to stop midday. While hunters can still start 30 minutes before sunrise, they can now stay out until sunset.
“In the '70s they did it, too,” said Arizona Game and Fish public information officer Chris Bedinger. “But it just started again last year because they saw an increase in the bird population. What it does is help out local people, especially those who have to work and can't hunt in the morning.”
Adding to the new changes this season are expanded bag limits for the white-wing and mourning doves, as hunters can now get up to 10 instead of the usual limit of six. As far as other bag limit regulations, they have stayed the same. The possession limit is still 20 doves for the hunting season, which runs through Sept. 15 this year. And the changes haven't been lost on the local hunters.
“It's real positive to see the steps they've taken in recognizing the barriers that were put up — probably inadvertently — toward a pastime of many people,” said local hunter and Sprague's Sports owner Richard Sprague. “It's nice to see them address that and open up and get some of the flexibility into the sport that we all like.”
However, there is still no limit to the number of Eurasian doves that can be killed. Bedinger said Eurasian doves have become an invasive species that are hard to hunt because they usually inhabit areas around buildings.
There's another major change to dove hunting regulations in Arizona in 2011, as a new state Senate bill has also opened up huge chunks of land across the state for dove hunters to use. Bedinger said the bill frees up undeveloped land within city limits that was annexed, so long as it isn't close to buildings.
While the bill has immensely expanded the hunting regions in Maricopa County, adding 1.8 million acres of annexed land, Bedinger said the bill will have a little effect on the local dove hunting scene. Bedinger said the bill essentially allows Arizona Game and Fish to regulate the annexed city property instead of police, a responsibility the two organizations have shared in Yuma for years now.
“For us in Yuma, nothing has really changed. In the Yuma area, there was only a small area in south Yuma that was annexed that we had a governmental agreement with the city to use anyway. It hasn't really affected us at all.”
Bedinger said the biggest rule people should keep in mind is that they're not allowed to shoot a weapon within a quarter-mile of any building, whether they're hunting or not. Bedinger also said Arizona Game and Fish ramps up its presence in the field during dove hunting season to make sure no one exceeds bag or possession limits.
“We bring in extra wildlife managers to patrol during dove season because it is a busy season. It's actually our busiest season, as far as hunters being in Yuma. What we do is just keep an eye on people, just checking to make sure people don't get their bag limit, going back to the hotel and then coming back out to get more birds.”