Missouri is home to three species of dove that are legal to harvest during the state’s dove hunting season. Mourning doves are the most common species found statewide, but hunters may also encounter white-winged doves or Eurasian collared-doves. White-winged doves are common to southwest states and Mexico, and Eurasian collared-doves have arrived in Missouri fairly recently and are increasingly common, especially near urban areas.
Doves are popular birds to hunt in Missouri. They are found throughout the state and are often abundant, using both wild and planted food sources. Doves are fun to hunt because they are fast, agile fliers and test a shooter’s skills by twisting and turning through the air. Because doves are sensitive to hunting pressure, many dove-hunting fields are managed with no-hunting periods throughout the season so birds have the opportunity to feed without being bothered, which keeps them in the area longer.
All you need to hunt doves is a shotgun and plenty of shells (#7 ½ or #8 shot). Many hunters also pack along a piece of camo material for building a makeshift blind and a bucket or shooting stool to sit on. Camo clothing is also recommended to help hunters remain undetected, and dove hunters should consider eye and ear protection as well. Once you’ve found a promising dove field, the next step is to decide where in the field to hunt. If possible, scout the field a day or two before the season opens and observe how the doves enter and use the field. Oftentimes you will find that many or most of the doves use the same flight path. If possible, set up along this flight path in a spot that offers concealment but still allows you to see incoming birds. Also, because doves regularly perch in dead limbs before entering the field to feed, look for tall dead trees or limbs near the feeding field. Decoys, including motion wing decoys, may coax birds in closer.
Mourning doves are habitat generalists, which means they use many different habitat types across their range. Therefore, it’s not really necessary to conduct habitat management specifically for doves, although species benefit from many types of habitat management. The Department plants fields of seed-producing grains and sunflowers for forage and maintains low vegetation height and some bare ground to provide conditions favored by doves.
While dove season lasts several weeks, most dove hunters only go afield after doves for a few days in the early season. Hunters looking for a different dove hunting experience should consider hunts later in the season. While hunting pressure the first week often pushes doves off of feeding fields, a lack of disturbance later in the season may encourage field use by later migrants. Late-season dove hunters often report having the area to themselves, and can experience good hunting when conditions are favorable.
If you think you may have recently seen or heard a dove that didn’t look or sound quite right, chances are you’ve encountered a Eurasian collared-dove. This species was introduced to the Bahamas from Europe and Asia in the 1970s. By the 1980s, it had made its way to Florida, and from there it has has spread rapidly throughout much of the United States.
Eurasian collared-doves are larger than mourning doves, weighing 5-6 ounces, or about 15% more than their native mourning dove relatives. In addition to a stockier build, Eurasian collared-doves also have a squared tail tip rather than the pointed tail of a mourning dove. Their coloration is similar, though collared doves tend to have a lighter gray color than mourning doves. In addition, Eurasian collared-doves have a black crescent on the nape of their necks (hence the “collar” in their name), and broad white patches on the tail.
Like mourning doves, Eurasian collared-doves are also agile fliers. Collared-doves are seed eaters and may visit the same feeding areas as other dove species, giving you an opportunity to compare the two species. Eurasian collared-doves are considered legal game in Missouri, and may be included as part of a combined daily harvest along with mourning doves and white-winged doves.
Many Conservation Areas are actively managed for doves. Managed dove hunting fields are planted in sunflowers, wheat, millet, buckwheat, corn, or a combination of these. Each field provides a different type of hunting experience. Weather conditions in the spring and early summer of 2015 made it very difficult for planting and managing dove fields. Hunters are cautioned that field conditions may be fair or poor in many areas this fall. To locate dove fields, contact the Regional Office in the area that you’d like to hunt. Dove hunting maps are also available on the Department’s website. Below are some suggested dove hunting opportunities:
If you harvest a dove with a band on its lower leg, please report to 1-800-327-BAND, or at reportband.gov. We just want the ID number – you keep the band!