Making the Connection: Dove Hunting and Hunter Retention

            Sept. 1 marks the opening day of dove hunting season. Ironically, the dove is the same delicate bird that has historically been revered in America as a symbol of peace. 

            An Illinois Dove Hunter Assessment[1] estimates that more than 50 million shot shells (largely comprised of lead as 59% of hunters never use the ecologically preferred steel shot) are used to kill 12 to 18 million doves annually.

            How is this justified?

            Unlike the repeated mantras used to excuse the killing of other wildlife species, these birds are not deemed overpopulated nor do they cause damage to commercial farming. Rather, 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 harmful chemical herbicides that routinely pollute our landscapes.

            These slight birds cannot be hunted for food in any practical sense. The average dove only weighs ~ 4.5 ounces and after all the gunshot is removed (highly recommended), any remaining portion is likely smaller than a chicken nugget.

            Doves typically do not flock together. To combat this solitary nature and encourage the congregation of large numbers of these birds at preferred shooting locations, acres of sunflowers are routinely planted, often times by the wildlife agencies. These lure plots serve to deliberately attract these birds to their death.

            For wildlife agencies though, doves represent more than simply live targets for hunters to shoot.

            Since the 1980s, there has been a steady decline in hunting participation.[2] The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported that for every 100 Wisconsin residents who give up hunting, only 53 new ones begin.[3]  In Michigan, the findings are even more dramatic with only 26 people replacing every 100 hunters lost.[4]          

            This significant drop in hunter participation places immense pressure on the agency’s operational budgets that rely heavily on the sale of licenses and matching federal funds. As such, wildlife managers have focused their attention on hunter recruitment, retention and growth, especially in younger markets.

            According to Families Afield, a program launched specifically to combat the decline in youth hunting participation, “the need for aggressive recruitment is urgent.”[5]

            The majority of hunters, 79.6%, start hunting between the ages of 6 and 15; thus, “quality hunting opportunities” such as special youth seasons and hunting at locations such as lure plots, help to incentivize children to start killing.

            Areas stocked with preferred game species (e.g., hand-reared birds lacking their natural aversion to the presence of humans) just prior to the arrival of armed children also serve to facilitate a “successful” kill.

            If senselessly killing sentient beings by the thousands and the complicity of our wildlife managers' in this abject violence is not objectionable enough, consider research that reflects an average wounding rate of 30 percent.[6]

                Downed birds are often crippled and continue to suffer until they starve or fall victim to predation. These birds are not included in a hunter's bag limit which results in even more birds being killed and maimed. Note too that many doves are still tending to their offspring during September, so additional undocumented birds are left to suffer. Since doves mate for life, when one is killed, the breeding pair is lost.

            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 shooting of defenseless birds an acceptable recreational pastime, it is no wonder that the public's perception toward hunting continues to sour.


[1] Craig A. Miller, Assessment of Illinois Dove Hunter Satisfaction, Retention and Attitudes Toward Non-Toxic Shot, Dec. 2013, (Last accessed Aug. 29, 2016).

[2] Jody W. Enck, George F. Mattfeld, and Daniel J. Decker, Retaining Likely Dropouts from Hunting: New York’s Apprentice Hunter Program, Trans. 61st No. Am. Wildl. And Natur. Resour. Conf., 358 (1996).

[3] J. Pritzl, Keeping connected, Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine, April 2007. Retrieved May, 18, 2007, from

[4] Silvertip Productions, Southwick Associates, et al., Revised youth hunting report, Families Afield. (Last accessed Jan. 29, 2016).

[5] Families Afield, “Revised Youth Hunting Report”, (Last accessed Aug. 30, 2016).

[6] Texas Parks and Wildlife, “Migratory Game Bird Wounding Loss,” (Last accessed Aug. 30, 2016).