With small game hunting getting into full gear, having opened Monday, it's interesting to note that our region's top selections of game species to hunt have become pretty limited. Gone are the wild pheasants. Thin is the population of varying hare (snowshoe rabbit). Grouse and woodcock are spotty at best. That leaves what? Deer, turkey, cottontail rabbit, squirrel and waterfowl, with deer and turkey being the current darlings of the DEC.
Where you aware that the Number One small game species in the nation isn't hunted in New York? It's also the most abundant and widespread small game species in the nation, numbering 400 million and annually attracting 2 million hunters. Sounds impossible, huh? Well, it's a fact. That game species is the dove, and it's fully protected in New York State, despite being classified nationally as a "migratory game bird."
According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, about 24 million doves are harvested by hunters each autumn, and that represents only about 6 percent of the total annual dove population. Officials, however, say hunting has little effect on dove numbers since the average life expectancy of a dove is a little less than one year due to other factors like predation, disease, weather and accidents. Efforts to make doves a huntable and managed game bird species in New York have been attempted several times, but have never been successful, primarily because of antiquated notions that doves are in the same category as protected songbirds. Much of that thinking, I believe, comes from years ago, when the doves' most northerly range was farther south, primarily ceasing in Pennsylvania. In recent decades, milder winters and agricultural changes have resulted in New York now being home to massive numbers of the birds.