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Bag limit increased for Az dove-hunting season

BUCKEYE – Eleven-year-old Hunter Lopez got up at 2 a.m. to start his day, although he admitted being so excited he barely slept.

Lopez, his father and his uncle loaded up their shotguns and started the one-hour trek from Queen Creek to Robin’s Butte Wildlife Area.

Dove hunting season is the reason for Lopez’s excitement, especially this year with hunters allowed to shoot 15 doves per day rather than the usual 10. As of January, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission will allow Lopez and other minors to bag the same number as adults, where historically the youth limit has been half the adult number.

The season happens in two waves: The early season runs from Sept. 5 until Sept. 28 this year. The second wave is from Nov. 22 to Jan. 5.

Johnathan O’Dell, a small game biologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said the bag limit is set based on the dove population.

“Dove hunting is a long tradition in Arizona. We’ve been hunting dove for over 100 years,” O’Dell said. “We felt it was time, and we have the data to support moving the bag limit up.”

O’Dell said that doves breed and spend the winter in Arizona. In August, 20 million to 30 million doves are born in the state.

Despite the large number of doves, the Humane Society of the United States opposes the hunt, saying hunters are treating the birds as “cheap skeet.”

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“Doves are not overpopulated, and hunting them doesn’t feed anyone or help manage wildlife,” its website says.

An Arizona representative of the group didn’t respond to phone messages seeking comment.

Hunters take less than 5 percent of the dove population annually, O’Dell said. Bag limits are based on harvesting reports, where Game and Fish employees count and place metal bands on doves. The bag limit is determined on the number of doves these officials see.

The most common types hunted at Robin’s Butte are white wing, mourning and collared doves. Hunters are limited to shooting 10 white wings, 15 mournings and an unlimited amount of collared doves.

The breast area is mainly what sportsmen eat off the dove. Hunters can find recipes for dove kabob and other treats on the Game and Fish website, but Lopez prefers his mother’s recipe: dove breast mixed with cream cheese and jalapenos and wrapped in bacon.

Scott Pike, a Youth Outdoors Unlimited employee, helped put on the junior hunt Lopez participated in over the Sept. 5 weekend. He said he’s been hunting dove for decades.

“There were 10 hunts we hosted last year,” Pike said. “But it’s been a smaller turnout than usual this year. It could be not everyone had (Labor Day) off, but the later season is always more crowded.”

Hunting collared doves is unlimited because they are larger and often bully the smaller doves out of their natural habitats, according to Pike. However, hunters need to be aware of what they are shooting at. Pike said if hunters mistake a raven for a dove, they could face a $2,000 fine.

Sportsmen should also be aware of where the legal hunting area. O’Dell said the zone “pretty much runs outside the perimeter of the freeways.” He said to be sure to be a quarter of a mile away from any building in any direction.

Wiping the sleep from his eyes, Hunter Lopez said he tries to go shooting every weekend during the seasons. And he offered some tips for bagging doves.

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“Pay attention and make sure it’s the right bird,” he said. “If you shoot too early, you’ll spook the bird and it will turn around and fly away if it’s not close enough. Just make sure it’s high enough and close enough before you shoot.”

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Helen Tracey-Noren/Cronkite News

Eleven-year-old Hunter Lopez takes part in a dove hunt near Buckeye.