SIKESTON -- With the timing of opening day for dove season, in addition to weather conditions over the past few months, hunters will likely be packed together a bit more closely when the season begins on Monday.
"The way things are looking right now as far as the availability of places to hunt, it's probably going to be one of the years that not a lot of places are available," said Leother Branch, conservation agent for Scott County. "The corn is late this year, so those (harvested) fields are going to be slim pickings this year."
Branch noted that the Department of Conservation will still have some of its public areas available, such as the 10 Mile Pond near East Prairie and Crowley's Ridge, Duck Creek, Otter Slough and Holly Ridge in Stoddard County. "But those areas are definitely going to be very limited as to where a person can get into a field and hunt doves."
And with more crowded hunting areas, it's imperative hunters are even more careful about being safe. "You want to shoot in a safe direction, of course," he said. "If you've got people in the field with you, make sure you get (the birds) in flight and that kind of thing."
Because of the crowding, Branch advises hunters to inquire about hunting on private lands. "But you definitely want to ask the landowner for permission to hunt on private land," he said.
Terrain features that can attract doves include valleys, bare ground and landmarks such as large, dead trees used as navigation guides, according to an MDC news release. Large concentrations also occur around food sources, such as seeds and grain crops.
Branch pointed out, however, that only natural agricultural practices are allowed. "You can't add grain to a field," he said.
There is something new for hunters to look out for this year -- banded birds. As part of a national effort to ensure good dove management, the MDC is placing leg bands on mourning doves, and hunter reports will add to the scientific understanding of how many doves there are and how hunting affects dove numbers.
"A lot of it has to do with migration trends. They're doing a survey, just seeing the migration of birds, the flight patterns and things like that," said Branch. "If you harvest a banded bird, of course, take down the information and send it in."
With opening day falling on the Labor Day holiday, Branch said it will be interesting to see how many hunters turn out. "It's been some years since (opening day) has fallen on a Monday," he said. While it is on a holiday when several will be off work, it's also the last day of the weekend.
"But we still expect a fair amount of hunters in the whole Bootheel area," said Branch, noting it has been called the dove capital of the world. "It's an area where people come from all over to pursue dove hunting."
And all those visitors mean not only will the hunting areas be packed, but hotels, restaurants and other stores in the areas will also be a bit busier.
"As a Chamber director, I'm very excited when dove season comes around, because there's a little bump in the local economy when it happens," said Missy Marshall, executive director of the Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce. "And we'll take any kind of boost we can."
Marshall said couples will sometimes hunt together, go back to the hotel for a nap and then head out on the town to eat and shop. "Or (male hunters) may bring a wife or girlfriend with them, who shops while they're out hunting," she said.
Leading up to dove season, the Chamber often fields several calls from visiting hunters who are looking for guides. "They want someone to take them out on property to dove hunt," she said. "We have a couple of members that casually do that, but we're usually scrambling to talk to our Chamber members to see who is willing to take these visitors."
The dove season will run through Nov. 9. Mourning, collared and white-winged doves are legal and the limit is 12 doves of all three species in the aggregate daily and 24 in possession.
Branch reminded hunters in groups to keep their birds separate, or they can face fines. "And if they do get in a pile, make sure you label them with your name, address and permit number," he said.
For more information about hunting regulations or public conservation areas, contact the Regional MDC Office at (573) 290-5730.