Sept. 1 marked the opening day of dove hunting season where hunters are permitted to use these creatures as targets to hone their shooting skills. Ironically, these are the same delicate birds historically revered in America as symbols of peace.

This state-sanctioned cruelty of using migratory birds for target practice flies in the face of the self-aggrandizing nonsense hunters often espouse. There is no justification for dove hunting. These birds are not deemed overpopulated nor do they cause damage to commercial farming. In fact, doves are extremely beneficial to the environment and aid farmers by feeding on weed seeds -- an invaluable service that provides a natural alternative to the herbicides that routinely pollute our landscapes.

These birds are rarely hunted for food given the average dove is quite small, weighing approximately 4 ounces. For those hunters who do claim to eat doves, they still must reconcile the point that any edible portion of meat, once all bird shot is removed, is likely smaller than a chicken nugget.

Although doves typically do not flock together in large numbers, they obviously can be enticed to do so through manipulated farming practices employed by our wildlife managers who capitalize on a dove's fondness for sunflower seeds. For example, Kankakee Fish and Wildlife managers plant roughly 75 acres of sunflowers annually for the purpose of attracting these birds to their death. These fields are planted early to expedite the natural life cycle so seeds mature in time for hunting season. In those instances where fields are not planted in a timely manner, the seeds are sprayed so they artificially "ripen." Most worthy of mention is that these extensive efforts are conducted by our wildlife "experts" in spite of the fact that "baiting" migratory birds to hunt them is a federal offense.

If killing for target practice and our wildlife managers' complicity in this suffering is not objectionable enough, consider research conducted that reflects an average wounding rate of 30 percent. Those birds not retrieved are often crippled and continue to suffer until they fall victim to starvation or predation. These unretrieved birds are not included in the hunter's bag limit and consequently, she/he can kill and maim even more animals. Equally troubling is that many doves are still tending to their offspring during September, which leads to additional undocumented deaths. Furthermore, doves mate for life and when one is killed, the breeding pair is lost.

According to Indiana Fish and Game, there were 35,852 doves reportedly killed at Indiana fish and wildlife areas last year. This number conveniently fails to reflect the orphaned youngsters or other species inadvertantly caught in the line of fire.

Given the great lengths our wildlife managers extend themselves to perpetuate the killing of our wild natural resources, together with the callous disregard for suffering exhibited by those who consider the slaughtering of defenseless birds an acceptable recreational pastime, it is no wonder that the public's perception toward hunting continues to sour.

Laura Nirenberg is founding director of the Wildlife Orphanage Inc., LaPorte.

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