Mourning dove banding, hunting season preview
It was not hard to see why the mourning dove is the most populous game bird in North America. As we bounced through the picked field, 30 or 40 lifted off ahead of us and to the sides; winging away from the millet-baited wire traps that held seven or eight less wary doves.
Yet, this handful of birds and a few more in the next set of wire live traps would bring the DNR wildlife crew from Otter Creek Wildlife Area in Tama County to their banding goal of 100. And over the next day, they would fit another 80 with tiny aluminum leg bands, to pad their quota.
“You never catch them all. There are so many doves, and we’ll catch only a small percentage,” explained wildlife technician Rodney Ellingson.
Setups across Iowa in August yield similar results. Two thousand banded doves is the goal for this summer. Since 2003, 18,000 doves have been banded and released in Iowa. As any are harvested or recaptured, those bands tell wildlife biologists a lot about where the birds nest, age structure, their migration habits and just how many mourning doves are out there.
Even in mid-August, doves were on the move.
“We see a lot more birds. We know some are local, some are early migrants,” noted Ellingson. “Yesterday, we had some [already banded[ recaptures; probably from the northern part of the state. They are definitely on the move; after a few cooler nights.”
That is what hunters want to see, with Iowa’s dove season opening Sept. 1. The state’s newest season, hunters are still “trickling” into the dove fields; as more learn how to hunt the elusive, fast-moving game bird.
An estimated 8,200 dove hunters harvested about 118,000 doves in 2013. Band return data shows hunters harvest about 2 percent of Iowa’s doves. The population has remained stable over the last decade.
Regionally, the 2013 estimated dove population in the Central Management Unit was 141 million.
Scouting is important for successful dove hunting. Many of the better areas are along food plots on public hunting areas and on private fields enrolled in Iowa’s Hunter Access Program. Sunflowers have proven most popular in the first three seasons. Contact the area wildlife biologist for locations of dove plots. Observations by field staff indicate an abundance of doves this fall. Visit www.iowadnr.gov/Hunting/MigratoryGameBirds/MourningDoves.aspx for more information.
Iowa’s mourning dove season runs through Nov. 9. The daily bag limit is 15 doves — mourning and Eurasian collared combined — with a possession limit of 30. Shooting hours are half hour before sunrise to sunset. Dove hunters are required to register with the federal Harvest Information Program. Hunters can register with HIP online or through any license agent. Go to www.iowadnr.gov/Portals/idnr/uploads/Hunting/migratoryregs.pdf for information.
Nontoxic shot is not required for dove hunting except on areas requiring it be used. A list of public areas requiring nontoxic shot for doves is in the 2014-15 hunting regulations and at www.iowadnr.gov/Hunting/HuntingLicensesLaws.aspx.
Rabbit, squirrel seasons open
The 2014-15 hunting seasons for cottontail rabbits and fox and gray squirrels open Aug. 30.
Hunters should see better rabbit numbers than last year. Southern Iowa shows higher densities heading into the fall. Slow walks through abandoned farmsteads, fence lines and stomping brush piles are proven rabbit-locating methods. Having a beagle alongside is a big plus because they and other trailing dogs can increase success and improve the quality of the hunt. With a daily limit of 10 and a possession limit of 20, the cottontail season extends through February. Hours are from sunrise to sunset. Roadside counts of rabbits will be posted in early September at www.iowadnr.gov/pheasantsurvey .
Acorns are beginning to set on oak trees around Iowa; with a few dropping already. That is an obvious hint that squirrel season gets underway Aug. 30.
“Iowa’s squirrel numbers should be similar to last year,” anticipates DNR forest wildlife coordinator Jim Coffey.
Drought conditions in 2013 generally held nut production below normal. With up to three litters a summer, squirrels can rebound quickly. If hunting in an area with poor acorn production look for alternate food resources, such as hickory or walnut trees.
Southern Iowa experienced a better mast production for these species last year.
Squirrels provide high excitement and low hunting pressure opportunity, yet perennially, are an underutilized game species. They are great introductions to the outdoors for young hunters.
The squirrel season is open through Jan. 31. The daily bag limit is six fox and gray squirrels combined, and the possession limit is 12. There are no restrictions on shooting hours.