hunting in Arizona
By Mike Rabe, migratory birds program supervisor, Arizona Game
and Fish Department
one of the best places to hunt doves anywhere. We have two
seasons here: an early season from Sept. 1–15, and a later
season in late fall and early winter that varies a little in the
opening and closing dates. There are also two zones with
slightly different regulations: a north zone and a south zone.
This year the late season opens Nov. 18 and closes Jan. 1 in
both zones. In the early season, shooting is restricted to half
an hour before sunrise to noon in the southern zone of the
state. There is no half-day restriction in the north zone.
Hunting takes place all day (half an hour before sunrise to
sunset) in the late season statewide. Bag limits are 10 dove per
day. Up to six of those can be white-winged doves. Complete
information about Arizona’s rules for dove hunting are found in
2005-2006 dove and band-tailed pigeon regulations.
There are five species of doves in Arizona. Hunters have to be
able to identify them all. The five species are mourning doves,
white-winged doves, ground doves, Inca doves, and Eurasian
collared doves. Turtle doves are also occasionally found in
Arizona when they escape captivity. Mourning doves are by far
the most common doves, dominating the skies in most areas.
White-wings can be plentiful in the early season in desert
All doves are classified as migratory birds. White-winged doves
migrate into Arizona from Mexico in May and typically move south
out of Arizona in early September, so white-wings are only
available to the hunter for the early season hunt (Sept. 1–15).
Many mourning doves also migrate through Arizona; some winter in
Mexico and migrate through Arizona to breed in northern states.
Some migrate from Mexico to breed in Arizona, and some live in
Arizona year-round. White-wings are larger than mourning doves,
with a distinct white wing-bar. Inca doves and ground doves are
much smaller than either mourning or white-wings and are
protected. In recent years, Arizonans have encountered
increasing numbers of Eurasian collared doves. These exotics,
introduced from Asia, are increasing in numbers. They are about
the size of a white-winged dove, steely gray in color, with a
black collar around the top of the neck. Currently, you can hunt
Eurasian collared doves during the dove season with no bag
Mourning doves are habitat generalists. They nest just about
anywhere, including urban, agricultural, and desert areas. They
migrate and breed as far north as central Canada. Mourning doves
are rather lackadaisical about nest construction, usually making
a loose nest of sticks where the female lays two eggs. Males and
females share incubation duties. In Arizona, mourning doves may
begin nesting as early as February and continue into September.
Since it takes a little over a month to produce a pair of young
doves (three to seven days for courtship and nest building, 15
days to incubate the eggs, and 10–15 days to brood the hatched
young), a pair of doves can produce five broods in a good year
(allowing for a little rest between broods).
White-winged doves are creatures of the southwest deserts.
White-winged doves are not as prolific as mourning doves and not
nearly as widespread. In a good year, they can pull off two
broods of two doves each, but one brood of two is more common.
Most white-winged doves migrate into Arizona to breed only.
After breeding, they wing their way south, back to Mexico. A
small number remain in Arizona all winter long in urban areas,
visiting bird feeders and nesting in any tree that provides some
cover from the sun. In the open desert, white-wings concentrate
on the saguaro bloom and nest in mesquite or Palo Verde trees
I look forward to opening day of dove season the way some people
look forward to meeting a friend they haven’t seen for a year.
My first hunting experience was a dove hunt with my father when
I was 14. I killed several doves that day, but the doves I
killed (and ate that night) aren’t what I remember most. What I
remember best is my dad standing 30 yards away to my right as
both of us waited by the canal bank near Maricopa and watched
the doves come toward us in the dawn.
Dove hunting is the perfect first hunting experience for a
youngster. A typical dove hunt involves finding a spot where
doves are flying, standing in one place, and shooting as the
doves pass by or overhead. This is perfect for a young hunter.
They can concentrate on where the barrel of the gun is pointing,
make sure the safety is on, and practice turning the safety off
as they swing the gun with the target. Dove hunting is
wingshooting in its purest form. Watch the dove, bring up the
gun, click off the safety, shoot, and follow through.
The best way to have a successful dove hunt is to locate
concentrations of doves before opening day. Doves follow a
predictable routine. In the evening, they fly to roosts. Most
roost in thickets of vegetation, either trees along washes or
(in agricultural areas), windbreaks. At dawn, doves typically
fly to food and water, in that order.
To breast a dove, pinch the skin on top of the breast and make a
small cut or tear in the skin. Then peel the skin with the
feathers away from the breast. Lift the breast away from the
bird by putting your thumb underneath the breast bone. Cooking
shears can make a nice neat job of this, although they are not
really necessary. As with all game meat, the earlier you clean
the bird, and the sooner you can get it cooled, the better it
will taste. Experienced hunters bring a cooler with ice with
them on the hunt to put cleaned birds in. Remember that
regulations stipulate that you have to leave one fully feathered
wing attached until you get the birds home.