By Terry T. Clapp
There is no doubt that Dizzy Dean was one of baseball’s greatest pitchers. And without a doubt, in his good old boy fashion, he was the Ozark dove hunter’s poet laureate. As each baseball season ended on the air as announcer for the St. Louis Cardinals, he would say these poetic words, “I’m headed to Arizona where the dove are flying low and slow.” Dove flying “low and slow”, now if that’s not poetry to every wing shooter’s ears, what is? I’m fairly sure that Mr. Dean never used the word “Nirvana” in his vivid Ozark descriptions of dove hunting in Arizona, but just as his pitching was always right on, so was his pick of Arizona as a place for no-doubt dove hunting. Dizzy’s words, along with his Ozark conventional wisdom on Arizona dove hunting, have stood the test of decades of dove hunting. He was spot-on in announcing to everyone that Arizona is dove hunting Nirvana.
A Three-Winged Circus
To support Mr. Dean’s position, Arizona has two dove seasons and several species of dove of which three can be hunted. In ring one the incredible acrobatics of the Mourning Dove, the smallest of these three species, is always center ring in this wing shooting greatest show of speed and agility. This headliner can do 55 mph and change directions on a dime. Can you say pass the shells, please? In ring two is the ever popular White-Winged Dove. This headliner is noted for the white bar on the upper wings. The White-Winged Dove is a little larger than the Mourning Dove, with a more rounded tail. In ring three is a new comer. The largest dove of these three species and the feral hog of the dove family is the Eurasian Collared Dove. The Eurasian Collared Dove is considered an invasive dove species. It can be harvested year-round, without limits. A ring of black feathers around the back and sides of the neck of the Eurasian Collared Dove give this light gray colored dove its’ name.
Two Dove Seasons: Dates/Limits/License Fees for Non-Resident Hunters
The first of Arizona’s two dove seasons has a usual start date of September 1st and runs for two weeks until about the 15th of September. This is a ‘hot’ in every sense of the word wing shooting experience. During this intense two-week period of dove hunting, the hunter can experience a delightful mixed bag of dove. The bag limit in this first season is combined to 15 dove a day. The 15 dove a day limit may consist of no more than 10 White-Winged Dove. Remember, the Eurasian Collared Dove does not have a bag or possession limit and can be hunted year-round. Both the Eurasian and White-Winged Dove are larger than the Mourning Dove and easy to identify. The responsibility to identify the dove taken is that of the hunter.
- Season Dates: September 1st-15th approx.
- Early Season Bag Limit: 15 Dove a Day
- Species of Dove: No more than 10 White-Winged
Arizona’s late dove season runs from around Thanksgiving through the first week of January. This is usually about 45 days. The 15 dove per day limit is in full force and all 15 birds must be Mourning Dove. The unlimited daily bag limit on Eurasian Collared Dove is a given. After opening day of both dove seasons, there is a 45-bird possession limit. The exact dates for both of Arizona’s dove seasons should be listed on the Arizona Game and Fish site by late summer of 2017 at (www.azgfd.gov). A hunting license and an Arizona Migratory Bird Stamp are required for all dove hunters’ ages 10 years and older.
- Season Dates: Thanksgiving-1st Week of January 15
- Late Season Bag Limit: Dove a Day
- Species of Dove: All must be Mourning Dove
Refer to www.azgfd.gov for upcoming 2017 exact Hunting Season dates.
Non-residents, 18 years old and older, have two fee options for dove hunting licenses. The Combination Hunt and Fish license is good for one year at the cost of $160.00 or the short-term Combination Hunt and Fish license for the cost of $20.00 per day. The late or second season dove hunt, during the winter months, is a very pleasant hunt with excellent weather and the opportunity to hunt Arizona’s quail with the Gamble’s being the most abundant quail species. But, double check season dates for the time you are afield. A side bar hunt experience in the late hunt can be waterfowl if you are hunting desert tanks. Jump shooting ducks off desert tanks is more common than most hunters think. So, if you are planning on dove hunting over water, it’s nice to have the Federal Migratory Bird Stamp. Also, check on the season dates of such for both ducks and geese in Arizona.
Non-Residents 18 Years and Older
- Option 1: Combination Hunting and Fishing License good for 1 year for $160.00
- Option 2: Short Term Combination Hunting and Fishing License for $20.00 per day
Plus $5.00 Arizona Migratory Bird Stamp.
For youth hunters, the second season includes a lot of time when everyone is out of school for both Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations. Non-resident kids, ages 10 to the day before their 18th birthday, hunt for $5.00 and this includes the $5.00 Arizona Migratory Bird Stamp. Oh, to be a kid again! Everyone 18-year-old and older will need to purchase the $5.00 Arizona Migratory Bird Stamp, along with the license to hunt dove in Arizona. The best way to buy a license and Arizona Migratory Bird Stamp is online at (www.azgfd.gov). Be prepared to use your social security number as your Department I.D. or have Game and Fish issue you a Department I.D. Whichever options you choose, make a note of your Department I.D. This I.D. number can identify you for future hunts or in case you lose your license. This number will be printed on your Arizona Migratory Bird Stamp.
Non-Resident Kids Ages 10 to 17
- $5.00 Total
This includes license and AZ Migratory Bird Stamp.
Places to Hunt and Field Conditions
During the early dove season in September, it will be hot. Daytime temperatures will reach triple digits. However, early morning sunrises and late afternoons at dusk offer the coolest, most productive and comfortable times for shooting. The best dove hunting during both the early and late seasons will take place around agricultural areas where various grain crops are grown. Fields that have been harvested are especially good at making locating downed birds very easy. In scouting, it is fairly easy to spot flights of dove moving from field to field, to roosting areas or to water. Scouting is as easy as driving around the croplands and looking for flights of dove. These agricultural areas will usually have some dairies, which have huge feed lots. These dairies offer nice dove shooting opportunities and are easy to scout. If dove are using these areas, they will be flying back and forth from the dairies to close-by water. The same applies to the croplands.
Dove are often plentiful in open desert areas. They move as you would expect along natural corridors of bushy tree-lined, dry washes. Look for stock tanks, irrigation overflow holding ponds and canals as sources of water. Sitting on a desert tank is a good way to hunt dove. The dove shooting can get very fast and furious over a tank, with the hottest action being just after they have fed in the morning. From 7:30am to 10am is a good time to be at a tank. Also, right before dark, tank shooting can really heat up. Arizona is home to 13 rattlesnake species and it is not uncommon to see them at these times during the early dove season in open desert areas. So, make sure you keep an eye out for them.
Dove hunting has to be one of the most fun of any hunting experiences. It is so social in nature that safety could be overlooked. Don’t forget all of the gun safety rules or snake safety rules you have learned because of the relaxed informal environment that a dove hunt will provide. Camouflage is okay, but more important is sitting or standing still and breaking up your silhouette.
Hunter orange is a good idea because a lot of hunters will be out on opening weekend. Ear and eye protection, water, hat, sunscreen, bags, coolers for harvested dove and bug spray are a few items you will need. You will be shooting a lot, so it is nice to have extra bags along to pick-up your empty shells. For me to take 15 dove, it will take at least two boxes of shells. That is a lot of empty shell casings to leave on the ground.
Last year on opening morning about 9am, my group of family and friends were cleaning our dove. I was out picking up empty shell casings in areas that I thought we may have overlooked. I already had a couple of sacks full of casings, when a property owner drove up to our group. He looked us over as I walked over to talk with him. He saw that we had cleaned up after ourselves and some others. Although we were on public property on the other side of his fence, he invited us back to hunt any time. He asked that we continue to shoot only in the directions he could see we were shooting from. It goes without saying that when hunting near feed lots or dairies, don’t shoot toward them, the animals or buildings.
Uninhabited desert lands on the periphery of major city limits are open to dove hunting. This is about a million acres of land that is easy to access. Please see the Arizona Game and Fish map for Phoenix-Metro boundaries. Yuma is the self-proclaimed dove capitol of the country and has the dove shooting to support that claim. If you are coming to Arizona from California to dove hunt, you need travel no further than Yuma. Yuma has many events, contests and activities centered around dove hunting in the early season. The dove hunting is great in Yuma and the festivities are fun. Great Mexican food abounds in Arizona and Yuma has some of the best you will ever find. Pass the salsa and another glass of water please!
Along the Interstate Highways in Arizona, look for the green irrigated agrarian areas. These areas hold dove across the state and the I-10 and the I-8 offer lots of great access. Good numbers of White-Winged Dove are usually found south of the I-10, from Metro-Phoenix to past Tonopah. Dove hunting the higher desert country of Arizona is doable, but lacks the action found in the low desert. If you do hunt the high country, look for open parks that have a tank. Hunting around water and fields of sunflowers is best in the high country. Other game birds of the high country are also in season usually around September 1st. Check with Game and Fish to see what might be available in the area(s) you plan on hunting.
Accommodations and Services
Excellent accommodations and services are available. Prices for motels are very reasonable in a wide range because end of summer in Arizona is off-season. Prices are $50.00 and up for one person at the low end, with weekly rates available in some motels. Many up-scale resorts offer staycation specials, with an emphasis on serving the entire family at greatly reduced prices. You should be able to get a place to stay very near your hunting area.
Flying into Phoenix or Tucson puts you in the middle of great dove hunting. Within an hour from either airport, you can be scouting or shooting. Sportsman’s Warehouses are around if you need to pick-up shells or other supplies for the hunt. If you rent a car, a normal two-wheel drive is fine for dove hunting. Again, good Mexican fast food can be had at Filiberto’s. Burgers are always available with several popular “In and Out” burger places around.
Zone of Fire
Once afield, especially on opening weekend, there will be lots of hunters. This crowd of hunters has pluses and minuses. Conventional wisdom would indicate lots of hunters in certain locations means lots of dove and that is true. Now, you know of some places you may wish to hunt sooner or later. Mark these spots as waypoints on your GPS. If it’s too crowded or early to hunt, check the spot tomorrow or later in the day. The question becomes how to safely position the hunters with you in relation to surrounding hunters. There may be several hunters in your party and in other hunting groups. The camaraderie of dove hunting can be distracting when hunting popular spots. Have a great time, but be safe. A little extra travel time can get you away from crowded areas.
At all times, it is important to maintain a zone of fire for each hunter. At 100 yards, birdshot can have impact. It is very important to remember this when hunting over small desert water holes. Desert tanks of 100 yards across or more are very hard to find. When there are several hunters surrounding these small tanks, wear head gear with wide brims, wear safety shooting glasses and wear long sleeve shirts. This advice holds for all dove hunting, but around tanks, it is more of an issue. Your zone of fire is the 45-degree field of view in front of you, between 10- and 2-o’clock. When taking a shot, the birds should have clear sky above and below them before you shoot, so maintain your 45-degree field of view as your zone of fire. There are no exceptions. Dove are plentiful. Remember, there needs to be at least 100 yards of spacing between hunters.
Over sixty years ago, Dizzy Dean was right about the dove flying in Arizona. His low and slow flying dove are harder to find now, but on the other hand, maybe those are the ones that end up in my bag. Great dove hunting, camaraderie and wonderful food account for lots of bang, bang for your buck. Welcome, to Arizona! Please pass the shells, chips, salsa and ice water!