Predictions for this year’s early Dove season are great with an abundance of both Mourning and White-winged as well as Eurasion Collared dove to fill the game bags of hunters without too much trouble at all - can’t really call it “trouble” when we always have such a great time in the field, hopefully with safety in mind, with the dove flying overhead. We’re all just chompin’ at the bit for the big day to arrive so we can get busy filling that game bag, then enjoying the delicious meals to follow once the downed birds are cleaned and ready for the barbecue. In spite of the usual September heat and humidity, it’ll be pure pleasure getting out to our favorite areas before daylight to be ready to take that first shot as soon as the time is legal - Sept. 1 the sun will rise at 6:03 a.m. and set at 6:53 p.m. (Game and Fish figures those times for central Arizona - nine minutes later for western areas). In writing it’s 1/2 hour before sunrise until sunset.
A hunting license and Migratory Bird Stamp are still required for all hunters 16 and older. Youth hunters ages 14 and 15 do not need a bird stamp but do need a general hunting license. Up to two youth hunters 13 and under can hunt without a license or a stamp when accompanied by a licensed adult 18 or older.
Authorized license dealers in Yuma are The Game and Fish Regional Office, 9140 E. 28th St. - call 928 342-0091; Big 5 Sporting Goods, 505 W. Catelina Dr. 928 726-2884; Sprague’s Sports 345 W. 32nd St. 928 726-0022; The Sports Authority, 1448 S. Yuma Palms Parkway, 928 343-9933; WalMart, 2900 S. Pacific Ave., 928 343-9933; WalMart, 2501 S. Avenue B, 928 344-0992; or WalMart (Foothills), 8151 E. 32nd St. 928 344-5974.
Any style shotgun in any gauge that you shoot well is perfect for dove hunting. Game and Fish suggests shooting sizes from No. 7 1/2, 8s or 9s will work just fine bringing down a dove. While dove are fast, they are not overly tough on the wing. A good idea to let other hunters be aware of your location and use ear and eye protection, take along a good amount of cool water and bug spray, wear a hat and sunscreen, along with bags and a cooler to store your harvest. Find the latest news and updates from Game and Fish at www.yumadovehunting.com or call the Yuma Regional office at 928 342-0091.
A really great change is in the Possession Limit being increased to three times the daily bag limit. In the past we have been at a possession limit of 20 - it’s now 30 with no more than 10 mourning or white-winged doves (singly or in the aggregate) taken in any one day as it has been. (If you venture to California while you’re here, it’s best to check with them on any updates).
Game and Fish reports recent law changes will increase dove hunting access compared to recent years. Best to note that the three existing key state laws that make it illegal to hunt near homes, roadways, or trespass on private property include:
*ARS 17-309 (a)(4) - it is unlawful for a person to “Discharge a firearm while taking wildlife within one-fourth mile of an occupied farmhouse or other residence, cabin, lodge or building without permission of the owner or resident.”
*ARS 17-309(b) - “No person may knowingly discharge any firearm or shoot any other device upon, from, across or into a road or railway.”
*ARS 17-304 - provides provisions for private landowners ensuring “a person may not trespass on private property for taking wildlife if that property is posted ‘no hunting’ or if a person is asked to leave by the owner.”
If, while in the field, anyone observes any of these laws being violated, they should contact Game and Fish Operation Game Thief hotline at (800) 352-0700 or the local law enforcement agency immediately.
When it comes to hunting of any kind, think safety first, always. Gil Ash of NSSF Shooting Sportscast says, “Firearm Safety Depends on You” - good idea to keep that in mind whenever you have a gun in your hand for any reason - keep safety up front whenever you have a firearm in your hands especially in being sure of your target and what’s beyond and never pointing a firearm at anything you do not want to shoot - no horseplay. Another one is never climbing a fence or tree or jumping a ditch or log with a loaded firearm. Be aware of other people in the area.
One of Mr. Ash’ suggestions to help us with shooting dove is, “Don’t look down the barrel.” Another suggestion is to move your head to the target (dove) without looking at your gun.” And, “Always keep your eyes on and in front of the bird (in the direction the bird is going).” Ash understands the need for plenty of practice and suggests checking out “Where to shoot.org” to find a practice location if you don’t have one already. If you’ve come to Yuma from out of town and you’d like to get some practice in, we are fortunate in Yuma to have Adair Park shooting range facility 15 miles northeast of town off Hwy. 95 for our firearms shooting practice. Sprague’s Sports here in town has an indoor range as well to practice indoors (give them a call at 726-0022 for information). Game and Fish advises remembering to avoid shots when birds are too far away or too high. A good idea to pick one bird from a group and don’t wait too long to take your shot.
Game and Fish reports “when it comes to the early dove season, the hot action will typically be near agricultural areas with grain type crops growing or recently cut. While Arizona is well known for its cotton, the state also produces corn, serghum, melons, barley and even wheat - all great dove attractants.” They go on to say, “However, there are plenty of opportunities to harvest a limit of these aerial acrobats in the open desert. And don’t overlook the many citrus groves where doves love to nest. Doves consistently move along natural landscape corridors of brush- and tree-lined washes. Birds will move to and from roosting sites, and check for food and water throughout the day. Sunrise and dusk are typically the best times to hunt these desert corridors. Regardless of what type of hunt you choose, there is one common ingredient to a successful hunt - pre-scouting. Active crop locations, food, and water sources change from year-to-year, so don’t show up to last year’s honey hole on opening day without scouting - you may be in for a big disappointment.”
Knowing the locations for water holes and other water sources helps a lot as well as dense roosting sites and travel corridors. Check out www.google.com/earth to help in this - Also a good idea to check out www.azgfd.gov/dove for dove hunting tips. Sprague’s also has maps so see if that might help. Be sure you keep your binoculars with you whenever scouting as well as on the actual hunt. A GPS can also be a good tool to have along.
If you choose to hunt tribal lands, permits, which cost $60 are available in Somerton, AZ. at the Cocopah Gift Shop (in the breezeway between Cocopah Casino and Cocopah Hotel), 15268 S. Avenue B, Somerton, AZ 85350, 928 217-1068 as well as at Sprague’s Sports 345 W. 32nd St. 928 726-0022. Be sure to get a map of the areas envolved. Also contact the Cocopah Tribal Police Dept. at 928 627-8857 or Quechan Tribal Fish and Game Office at (760) 572-0544 if you plan to hunt Quechan Tribal Lands.
Knowing your birds before the shot is your responsibility. Game and Fish reports indicate that, “Mourning dove may fly with white-winged doves, but can be distinguished by their more rapid wing beat, more erratic flight path and pointed tail. In fall, the highest densities are found in the desert agricultural areas, around water sources and desert area where annual plants and seed are abundant. White-winged Dove are somewhat larger than a mourning dove with a white bar on the upper wing surface and a long, moderately rounded tail. The range of white-winged doves generally coincides with the distribution of the saguaro cactus. Eurasian Collared Dove are larger than both the native white-winged and mourning doves. They have a black collar on the top part of the neck, pale gray coloration and dark primary feathers. These doves are an introduced species that have recently expanded their range into Arizona. Originally native on the Indian subcontinent, this bird was introduced to the Bahamas in the 1970;s and quickly spread to Florida. They are widely distributed in Arizona and can be hunted year round in Arizona - there is no bag or possession limit. At times they can be difficult to hunt because they tend to congregate around buildings much like pigeons and with the 1/4 mile laws related to hunting near occupied structures, you will most likely need the permission from a landowner in a rural part of Yuma County to be successful.
We always intend on killing our targeted bird outright, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. Crippled birds must be killed immediately and always make a serious effort to retrieve the birds and retain them in your custody while in the field. If you have to leave the birds with someone else, be sure to tag your birds with signature and address along with numbers and species of birds and the date they were killed.
Remember to leave one feathered wing attached to each dove until it reaches its final destination.
Wear drab clothing and wearing a hat or cap will help keep you cool. Take plenty of drinking water with you as well as plenty of bug repellent (with DEET) - mosquito’s and gnats are horrible early mornings and as it starts warming up. Make sure other hunters know you are in the field. Know that snakes are a part of our environment. Dove hunters should avoid walking through thick cover and never reach down to grab a downed bird without carefully looking to be sure of what you are reaching for. Leave the snakes alone and they will most likely do the same for you.
While on the hunt, don’t be a litter bug (Don’t be a slob!). Take along a trash bag or two and put them to good use. APS has donated trash boxes for our use this year and Game and Fish is to put them out in the field so our litter can go there as well. Even if we find trash that’s not our own, we can pick it up anyway so we can “leave it better than you found it.” That protects wildlife, keeps the areas clean for other users and will help preserve Arizona’s dove hunting traditions for ourselves as well as for future generations. Note that shotgun hulls can do damage to farmers tractors and other equipment, so let’s do us all a favor and pick the shell hulls up to take with you and clean up the area in general to help ensure we’ll be welcome a next time.