State of mind: Attitudes of mourning dove hunters probed in new national survey


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He's a white guy about 45 years old and lives in a small town. He went to college, has a professional career and earns more than $75,000 a year. He practices on sporting clays, loves hunting mourning doves and swears by traditional lead shot.

He may sound familiar, but you've never met him. He's a statistical average, the typical hunter of mourning doves according to a comprehensive new survey conducted by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Unusually deep in detail and hunter participation, the survey asked more than 12,000 mourning dove hunters nationwide, including in Pennsylvania, about their hunting experiences, constraints to dove hunting and opinions about lead shot. Produced jointly by AFWA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Flyway Council, the National Cooperative Dove Hunter Survey augments information gathered piecemeal in smaller, uncoordinated state-financed dove hunting studies, and provides state and federal wildlife managers with hard data about dove hunter behaviors and attitudes.

"I know from talking to people who grew up dove hunting, they're very passionate about it. There's a lot of social dimension to it," said Ron Regan, executive director of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advances science-based wildlife management and conservation strategies on behalf of North America's fish and wildlife agencies.

"I was kind of surprised by some of the demographics of dove hunters -- the higher than average incomes, college degrees," he said. "This report is like Part 1: an effort to get raw data out there, because it's taken so long to do this survey. Now that it's out, Part 2 will be greater analytical rigor applied to it as wildlife agencies use it in their own areas."

For instance, in Eastern United States 79 percent of dove hunters hunt "mostly" or "only" on private land, information that will be valuable to public park managers and state agencies setting dove hunting regulations. Another point of interest: In the East, 95 percent are not members of an environmental organization, but nearly 50 percent are members of a hunting or wildlife conservation group.

Much of the survey -- 22 of 82 questions -- probed attitudes about the use of lead shot. While wildlife managers generally support curbing or banning lead shot for mourning doves, the report found hunters were torn. When asked if dove lifespan is too short to be impacted by lead exposure, and if non-lead shot is more likely than lead to cripple doves, the greatest percentage responded "neutral" or "don't know." Yet more than 54 percent said they'd be willing to use non-lead shot if scientific evidence conclusively showed the dove population was being harmed by eating lead shot.

According to the AFWA, despite anecdotal evidence that doves can be poisoned by consuming spent lead shot, researchers do not yet know if there is a population-level impact.

"There's a huge information deficit. Four out of five respondents felt they didn't have enough information to better understand the impact of lead on doves and other wildlife," said Regan.

Like small game hunting, shooting mourning doves was once considered a rite of passage among junior hunters. Safety, ethics, marksmanship and basic hunting techniques were learned at the side of a mentor, usually an adult family member, while pursuing easily available and plentiful quarry with shotguns or .22s before the young hunter graduated to big game and high-powered guns.

These days, many new hunters first and almost exclusively hunt for deer. Dove hunting participation has dropped in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, although the mourning dove is one of America's most abundant and widely distributed game species, with hunting seasons established in 40 of the lower 48 states.

Survey participants said hindrances to dove hunting included the cost and availability of ammunition, cost of gasoline and finding the time.

About 39 percent nationally said they relied on family and friends for hunting information, 22 percent trusted the Internet, 20 percent believed state wildlife agencies and 4.3 percent got their hunting information from newspapers.

Mourning doves are managed by the states under federal guidelines coordinated through an international migratory bird treaty. Pennsylvania's three-part season runs Sept. 1-Nov. 15, Nov. 22-Nov. 29 and Dec. 27-Jan. 1, 2015. The daily bag limit is 15, and hunting hours are noon to sunset for Sept. 1-25 and a half hour before sunrise to sunset Sept. 26-Nov. 15, as well as during the second and third segments. Mourning dove hunters need a state hunting license and state migratory bird license. They do not need the federal duck stamp required for waterfowl hunting.

Read the entire National Cooperative Dove Hunter Survey at www.fishwildlife.org.


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