By MAGGIE MCMURRAY
Moapa Valley Progress
Instead of the sound of shotguns at the crack of dawn, this year’s opening day of dove season, Friday Sept. 1, was mostly characterized by something different: silence.
The Overton Wildlife Management Area (OWMA) is a favorite hunting spot for hunters from Vegas and other areas, and this year was no different. The OWMA allows a total of 60 hunters for the dove hunt and all 60 spots were reserved in advance on Friday for opening day.
“I drove up at 4:00 am and there were at least fifteen guys at the gate already waiting to get in even though the official hunt didn’t start until 5:42 am,” OWMA employee Cameron Jensen said.
Hunters with reservations were supposed to check in by 4:42 to secure their spots. But by 4:42, only 16 of the reserved spots were taken. So OWMA Supervisor Bennie Vann opened the remaining spots up to the other hunters in line.
“This year was good because we were able to allow everyone who showed up out into the fields,” Vann said. “At our max we had 49 hunters out there.”
Despite getting into the fields, most hunters didn’t have much luck. By 8:00 am, Vann and Jensen had zero doves counted through the check station; and they only had two come through in the next hour or so.
“This morning has been extremely quiet,” Vann said. “There have been very few shots that have even been fired. Hunters have said there aren’t even many doves flying out there.”
Vann and his coworkers do regular counts for the refuge. Surveys from 2-3 weeks ago showed dove numbers at about four times what they were for opening week, he said.
Vann attributes this to the migratory patterns of the birds. “Mourning doves migrate to Mexico and southern Arizona for the winter,” he said. “As soon as the fall storms come in, they pretty much take off and head south. We’ve been talking to the game warden in Moapa all morning and he is reporting the same low numbers over there.”
The OWMA covers about 18,000 acres, of which 600 are actively managed. Hunters are allowed to go wherever they want throughout the area as long as they obey the hunting rules. Vann said that the official opening time for the season was 5:42 am and the closing time for the day was 7:09 pm. Shooting is allowed beginning 30 minutes before official sunrise and ends at sunset, he said.
“The most common violation we see is people hunting too late,” Vann said. “The close of the hunting day is not when the sun goes down or you can’t see anymore, it is sunset.”
The time rules apply whether you are shooting at the OWMA or anywhere else. Hunters at the OWMA are also required to carry shotguns that are plugged to allow an overall shell capacity of 3 rounds, and they must use non-toxic shot, which for doves usually means steel shot. They must also follow the set limit for doves, which is 15 per day, with no more than 3 times the limit in your possession at any time.
The good news is that the limit is for mourning doves only. The more commonly seen Collared Eurasian doves are not a protected game bird and are considered an invasive species. So they do not contribute toward limits and can be hunted year-round. Hunters who go through the check station usually have some of each kind and are happy to know they can keep hunting because the Eurasian doves don’t count, Vann said.
The two birds are easy to distinguish, however. “The mourning doves are only about 1/3 the size of the Collared Eurasian doves,” Vann said. “The collared doves are easy to spot because of the prominent collar marking around their neck and the fact that they are a lot bigger and more like a fat pigeon.”
Regardless of the slow, very hot morning, most hunters were still having a great time. Ed Castro and Frank Hooper showed up from Vegas at about 3 am but had no luck.
“It’s been really slow,” Castro said. “We only saw one fly-by bird and didn’t even get off a shot, but we’re not done.”
Cory Weaver came from Las Vegas with his daughter Erica Weaver and Conner Nicholson, 13. “We’ve been coming here for several years,” he said. “Last year we limited out in 45 minutes, but this year has been super slow.”
Dove season continues throughout the next two months, ending on October 30.