The September dove opener typically marks the start of new hunting adventures.
Often, families and friends gather for group hunts. After sunset, everyone reunites for a feast.
One of the most numerous game birds in North America, mourning doves number more than 400 million. One nesting pair of the highly prolific birds might raise up to six broods per year. Each clutch consists of two to four eggs. Sometimes, females even lay eggs in two nests at one time. Devoted parents take turns guarding the nests.
Resident mourning doves inhabit every Mississippi county. As cooler weather arrives, more birds migrate south into Mississippi from farther north to supplement the local population.
Mississippi hunters might also spot a few white-winged doves, especially in the southern counties. Native to the southwestern states and Mexico, white-winged doves began expanding their range northward and eastward in recent years.
Doves like open fields, croplands, savannas, and pastures with nearby tall trees, fencerows, high wires, or other places that create perching areas where they can watch for predators.
Another species, Eurasian collared doves, arrived in this country from Asia about 40 years ago and thrived. Sportsmen can shoot the exotic birds without limit all year long and they do not count in the daily bag during dove season. Much bigger than mourning doves, collared doves grow nearly as large as park pigeons. A distinctive black neck collar provides the best identifying feature.
The swift and agile fliers offer extremely challenging wing shooting and can embarrass even the most skilled shots with their aerial acrobatics. Mourning doves can exceed 55 miles per hour while performing maneuvers any fighter pilot would envy. In flight, their broad, elliptical wings make distinctive fluttering whistles, especially noticeable when the birds flush or land. This sound, along with their mournful signature cooing that gives them their name identifies the species.
Doves like open fields, croplands, savannas, and pastures with nearby tall trees, fencerows, high wires, or other places that create perching areas where they can watch for predators. Sportsmen might spot them in forest clearings, but they don’t like thick tree canopies.
They also need to swallow grit to break up seeds they eat. The diminutive birds eat small seeds from sunflowers, millet, wheat, and wild grasses. To feed, doves prefer open bare ground with overhead cover to hide them from predators, especially hawks.
For many sportsmen, dove hunting begins and ends in September, perhaps after only one day, but Mississippi offers long seasons with liberal limits. The first split of the 2023-24 season opens Sept. 2 in the North Zone and runs through Oct. 15. The second split lasts from Oct. 28 through Nov. 26. The late split runs from Dec. 30 to Jan. 14, 2024.
The South Zone season begins Sept. 2 and ends Sept. 24. The second split goes from Oct. 7 to Nov. 5. The final split lasts from Dec. 23 through Jan. 28, 2024. Sportsmen can bag up to 15 birds per day in any combination of mourning and white-winged doves.
The state established dove fields on many wildlife management areas. For zone boundaries, places to hunt, and more information, see www.mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/dove-program.