Dove hunting is one of the most popular and enjoyable forms of hunting in the US. Every year, millions of hunters take to the fields and skies to pursue these fast and elusive birds. Dove hunting offers many benefits, such as improving your shooting skills, spending time outdoors, bonding with friends and family, and enjoying a delicious meal.
However, dove hunting also requires some knowledge and preparation. You need to be aware of the laws and regulations that govern dove hunting in your state and across the country. You also need to know how to identify, handle, and cook doves properly.
In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about the dove hunting season, from the species of doves to the state-specific rules.
Species of Doves
In most states, there are five species that can be legally hunted during the dove season: mourning doves, white-winged doves, white-tipped doves, Eurasian-collared doves, and rock doves. Let's take a closer look at each one:
The most common and widely distributed doves in the United States. They have a gray-brown body with a black spot on the cheek and a long, pointed tail with white tips. Their distinct cooing sound, resembling "oo-AH cooo-cooo-cooo," can be heard in various habitats such as farms, fields, woodlands, and suburbs. These migratory birds feed on seeds, grains, and insects, and they fly south for the winter.
Larger and darker than mourning doves, have a brown-gray body with a white stripe on the wing and a white-tipped tail. Their loud cooing sound, resembling "who-cooks-for-you," can be heard mainly in the southwestern states, particularly Texas, where they are abundant. White-winged doves primarily feed on seeds, fruits, and cacti. While some of them migrate, others may reside year-round in warmer areas.
Similar in size and shape to white-winged doves, have a pale gray body with a black crown and a white-tipped tail. Their soft cooing sound, resembling "coo-coo-coo," is commonly heard in southern Texas along the border with Mexico. These resident birds rely on seeds, fruits, and insects as their main food sources.
Eurasian collared doves
An exotic migratory game birds originating from Europe and Asia, have a pale gray body with a black collar on the neck and a square tail. Their harsh cooing sound, resembling "coo-COO-coo," can be heard in most states except for the northeastern ones. They feed on seeds, grains, and garbage. Unlike migratory birds, Eurasian collared doves are resident species.
Also known as the "common pigeon," is not typically hunted, but it is legal to do so throughout the year. These gray-brown birds have a white bar on their wings and emit a distinct "coo-COO-coo" sound. They can be found across the continental United States and feed on seeds, grains, fruits, and insects.
Name of dove
States they are commonly hunted
Native and abundant
All states except Hawaii
Native and expanding
Arizona, California, Florida, New Mexico, Texas
Native and declining
California, Colorado, Oregon, Utah, Washington
Introduced and invasive
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina
Protected doves that are illegal to shoot in all states:
Inca doves, common ground doves, and Band-tailed pigeons. Here are some characteristics of each kind:
These are small and slender doves with a brown-gray body and black-and-white bars on the wings and tail. They are found mainly in the southwestern states, especially Texas and Arizona. They feed on seeds and insects. They are resident birds that do not migrate.
Common ground doves
These are small and plump doves with a brown-gray body and reddish-brown wings with black spots. They are found mainly in the southern states, along the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Coast. They feed on seeds, grains, and insects. They are resident birds that do not migrate.
Band tailed pigeon
These are large and stocky pigeons with a gray-blue body, a white band on the neck, and a yellow bill. They are found mainly in the western states, especially California and Oregon. They feed on fruits, nuts, and acorns. They are migratory birds that fly south for the winter.
Dove Hunting Season
In most states, the first of September marks the opening day of the dove season and it runs through the last Sunday in January. During this time, you can hunt mourning doves, white-winged doves, white-tipped doves, and Eurasian-collared doves. For hunting Rock doves, you don't need a special closed season; they can be hunted in most states throughout the year.
You must have a valid state hunting license with HIP Certification to hunt these species of doves. The legal shooting hours for all three species are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset but can vary when hunting on public lands.
You must follow the daily bag limit and total limits set by the state. The daily limit for all three species of doves is 15 birds for most states, which may include no more than two white-tipped doves. The total limit for all three species of doves is 45 birds, which may include no more than six white-tipped doves.
License and Hours
Before you go dove hunting, you need to make sure you have a valid hunting license with a HIP Certification, if applicable in your state. A hunting license is a document that grants you the legal right to hunt certain game animals within a specified area and time period.
A HIP Certification is a Harvest Information Program that collects data on migratory bird hunters and their harvest. This data helps wildlife managers monitor and manage migratory bird populations.
You can obtain a hunting license and a HIP Certification online or by phone from your state wildlife agency. You can also buy them from authorized vendors, such as sporting goods stores, convenience stores, or county clerks. The cost and duration of a hunting license and a HIP Certification vary by state, so check your state’s regulations before you buy them.
You also need to know the hunting hours for doves in your state. Hunting hours are the times of the day when you are allowed to hunt certain game animals. Most states allow hunting from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset, but some states may have different or additional rules depending on the region or species.
For example, in Texas, you can hunt doves from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset, except for the Special White-winged Dove Area, where you can hunt from noon to sunset during the first two weekends of September.
In California, you can hunt doves from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset, except for the Imperial Valley Zone, where you can hunt from one-half hour before sunrise to noon during the first two weekends of September.
You should always check the official sunrise and sunset times for your location and date before you go hunting. You can find this information online or by using a smartphone app. You should also check the local weather forecast, as it may affect your visibility and safety.
Regulations for Dove Hunting
When you go dove hunting, you need to follow some ethical and legal methods and practices.
- One of the most important rules is not to bait doves or hunt in baited areas. Baiting is the act of placing or distributing any food, salt, mineral, or other attractant to lure or entice game animals.
- Baiting is illegal in all 50 states for dove hunting, as it violates the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Baiting gives hunters an unfair advantage over the birds and disrupts their natural behavior and migration patterns.
- A baited area is any area where bait has been placed or distributed within the past 10 days. You should never hunt in a baited area, even if you did not place or distribute the bait yourself. You are responsible for knowing whether an area is baited or not before you hunt there.
- You can avoid hunting in baited areas by scouting the area beforehand, asking the landowner or manager for permission and information, and looking for signs of baiting, such as piles of grain, salt blocks, feeders, etc.
- Another important rule is to follow the daily and total limits of birds that you can shoot and possess. A daily limit or the daily possession limit is the maximum number of birds that you can shoot in one day.
- A total limit is the maximum number of birds that you can possess at any time during the season. The daily and total limits during the dove seasons vary by state and species, so check your state’s regulations before you hunt.
For example, in Texas, the daily limit for doves is 15 birds, which may include no more than two white-tipped doves. The total limit for doves is 45 birds, which may include no more than six white-tipped doves.
You should always count and identify your birds after each hunt and keep them separate from other hunters’ birds. You should also tag your birds if you place them in the custody of another person, such as a friend, a family member, or a processor.
A tag is a piece of paper or other material that contains your name, address, hunting license number, date of kill, species, and number of birds. A tag helps identify your birds and prevent overharvesting.
As mentioned earlier, dove hunting is regulated by state wildlife service agencies, which set the rules and regulations for each state. These hunting regulation publications contain rules and regulations, including the season dates, hunting hours, license requirements, HIP Certification requirements, daily and total limits, methods and means of hunting, reporting and tagging requirements, etc.
These rules and regulations may also vary by region or zone within each state. For example, Texas is classified into 3 zones: North Zone, Central Zone, and South Zone. Even the date of the season opener may vary slightly from one zone to another.
You should always check the current rules and regulations for the current hunting seasons in your state and also be aware of any changes or updates before you plan your hunt. You can find this information online or by contacting your state wildlife agency.
You should also check the current rules and regulations for dove hunting in any other state that you plan to visit or hunt in. You should always follow the rules and regulations of the state where you are hunting.
You should also be aware of any changes or updates to the rules and regulations for dove hunting in your state or any other state that you plan to visit or hunt in. These changes or updates may occur due to changes in population status, weather conditions, disease outbreaks, etc. You can find these changes or updates online or by contacting your state wildlife agency.
You should also respect the rights and property of other hunters and landowners when you go dove hunting. You should always ask for permission before hunting on private land.
You should also follow the rules and guidelines of any public land that you hunt on. You should never trespass on any land that is posted or fenced. You should also never litter or damage any land that you hunt on.
Dove hunting is an exhilarating and rewarding pursuit for all ages and skill levels. Wing shooters eagerly wait for the date: 1st of September. It's not just about the thrill of the hunt; it's about honing your shooting skills, immersing yourself in the wonders of the great outdoors, and creating cherished memories with loved ones. And the ultimate reward? A mouthwatering feast awaits you.
But remember, it's vital to follow crucial safety and local laws and regulations. If you are hunting with your dog, follow the rules specifically designed specifically for our furry friends. Keep your four-legged buddy under control, retrieve any fallen birds, steer clear of areas with fellow hunters, and stay away from busy roads.
Prioritize safety by practicing responsible shooting habits and staying up-to-date with all the rules and regulations. Be prepared for any situation by creating a hunting plan and an emergency backup plan with your group and informing someone of your whereabouts. So go out there, have a blast, and may luck always be by your side!