For the Birds Radio Program: Wisconsin Mourning Dove Season

Original Air Date: Aug. 19, 2003

A Mourning Dove hunt will begin in Wisconsin in two weeks. Date confirmed.

Audio missing


The Wisconsin state Supreme Court on Friday rejected an attempt to block the start of Wisconsin’s first mourning dove hunting season, which means the season will begin Sept. 1. The backyard doves of people who live in towns and cities will be safe as long as they stay put. But they’ll be fair game as soon as they light out for the territory.

I’m not at all an anti-hunter, but I am absolutely opposed to this dove season. Doves are the most heavily-hunted of all American game birds, hunted in all the southern and western states, and most of the east except the northern tier of states and New England. And despite being shot at in most places doves are doing just fine. But the reasons Mourning Dove hunting was prohibited in some states to start with is that doves at the northern, forested end of their breeding range simply do not have as rapid a reproduction rate as those in the central and southern states, nor in the Great Plains. Our doves are already hunted when they fly south, and their numbers in Wisconsin are barely holding steady now, despite increasing habitat as ever more of the forested areas of the state become fragmented for agriculture and housing. And if their population declines as a result of hunting, I don’t trust the Wisconsin DNR to remove them from the list of game species. – it wasn’t until after the Passenger Pigeon was actually declared extinct that it became illegal in Wisconsin to shoot them. The very last wild Passenger Pigeon ever known was shot in Babcock, Wisconsin, long after the species was known to be in danger of extinction. Of course, many managers in the Wisconsin DNR are objective in making decisions about species and habitat management, but most decisions about hunting are made by DNR people with a stake in game species, not non-game ones. And once a species is declared a game bird, it’s hard to stop hunters from taking it. Even in bad years when their population is dangerously low, Redheads and Canvasbacks can be taken by duck hunters throughout their range. The point system keeps hunters from shooting as many of them as they do more abundant species, but when a species is in trouble, hunters should simply not be allowed to take them. The Sharp-tailed Grouse, which is declining and fairly rare in Wisconsin, can still be hunted by over 1000 hunters with special permits. If hunters were truly conscientious about sustaining populations, they’d leave declining species alone.

The Mourning Dove will be the first bird designated a game bird whose history and tradition in Wisconsin, for at least three generations, has been as a beloved backyard bird whose population has been supported not by the DNR or any game management practices but entirely by farmers and people with bird feeders. And dove numbers in Wisconsin are not increasing despite increasing habitat as more of the forested areas of the state are fragmented for agriculture and housing.

Unfortunately, the dove hunting debate was acrimonious and unfair on both sides. Way too many people opposed to dove hunting called hunters greedy, blood-thirsty killers, which would put anyone on the defensive. And the hunters kept decrying the anti-dove hunt people as being emotional rather than rational or scientific in their arguments. But in the case of doves, no one is complaining that there are too many of them, or arguing that hunting is a necessary tool of management. So the reasons for anyone to propose hunting them are emotional, not rational or scientific. What possible reason is there to hunt doves except to give hunters fun and satisfaction in the field, and a cheap victory in the courtroom?

So in two weeks, the bird designated Wisconsin’s Official Bird of Peace will be a shooting target, after a long and acrimonious debate in which the image of hunters as true conservationists was tarnished. It’s going to be a long time before hunters and non-hunters adapt to one another’s ways and learn to get along. And the Mourning Dove season took the process a giant step backward.