Last Thursday was the dove opener in my home state, which meant I spent most of the day sitting at the base of prairie windmill baking my noodle in the 106-degree heat and reminding myself with each passing bird how little I practiced on the clays this summer. It took me a little while to limber up, but once the doves really started flying I got into that old familiar cadence my friends know so well: Bam. Bam. Curse. Bam. Bam. Curse. Look at shotgun in disbelief. Bam. Bam. Curse. And so on, ad infinitum, or at least until I run out of shells.
But on toward evening, with my shotgun’s barrels glowing cherry red, a K2-sized pile of smoking hulls at my feet, and a pitifully light game bag on my back, I spied a pair of huge doves winging their way toward my stock tank. Inexplicably, I managed to hit both of them and they fell to the earth with the kind of audible thud you just don’t get from a mourning dove. I had just shot my first-ever non-native invasive upland bird (pheasants, huns and chukars notwithstanding), the Eurasian collared dove. When I went to pick them up (remember, the dog stayed home) I was impressed with how much larger they are (damn near pigeon-sized) than a native mourning or whitewing dove.
How did this bird, a native of Europe and Asia, and one that was never officially introduced as a game species, meet its end on a dusty southern plains stock tank? Apparently the Eurasian collared dove was purposely introduced to the Bahamas sometime in the 1970s, and from there it hopped over to Florida, or, as I like to call it, the Ellis Island of invasive species. Then it began a slow, but inexorable march west. Ten years ago, at least in these parts, collared doves were mostly a bird of the urbs and burbs. They were a novelty at backyard feeders and you’d rarely see them away from towns. But no more. In the past few years they’ve begun showing up in hunters’ bags more and more often. Last year, on a Kansas pheasant hunt, I saw literally hundreds of them around grain elevators and feed fields.
And so I wasn’t totally surprised at finally shooting a collared dove in the wild. No one really knows yet what impact – if any – the spread of collared doves will have on native dove species, but some states aren’t waiting around to find out. In my home state of Oklahoma you can shoot as many collared doves as you want, no limit, while in other states collared doves do count toward the dove limit.
So with that in mind, how has your dove season gone so far? Anyone shot any collared dove? What’s the limit (or lack thereof) in your state?