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Mourning dove legislation might fly

Fred Neff typifies hunting expert Bill Hollister's mandate for successful turkey hunts: "You must use patience and persistence."

That is what Neff has been doing for more than two decades with legislators and hunters statewide in an effort to classify the mourning dove as a hunting/game bird species in New York.

Neff has devoted countless hours pointing out fact-based reasons for listing doves as birds. Currently, the Department of Environmental Conservation classifies the mourning dove as a songbird. That status does not exist in 40 of the 48 contiguous states, where these birds are assigned a hunting season and bag limits of varying numbers.

Anti-hunting groups are a big factor in not only establishing a season, but also in retaining the right to hunt. Neff points out that Michigan, one of the eight states that disallows dove hunting, once established a season with a two-year sunset clause.

The anti-dove-hunt lobbyists organized opposition strong enough to have the hunting season discontinued, and that status remains today.

Ironically, Neff points out the legal, well-managed hunts in Michigan and all other states where hunts are open have shown no ill effects on bird populations. Weather, habitat change and predation factors have been the major causes of mourning dove dynamics -- not hunters' kills.

Neff has put together a PDF file on reclassifying mourning doves that includes support from federation groups statewide and even has a section in which the Audubon Society established a neutral position (not opposition) on dove hunting.

Much of the pro support is based on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classification of the mourning dove as a migratory bird species. As with waterfowl, crows and some upland game birds, states have the option to open seasons and bag limits for these birds.

Statistically, dove numbers remain higher and more consistent than pheasant and ruffed grouse populations statewide. Neff stresses an open season would encourage more hunters afield, recruit young and disheartened older hunters and generate more income from state license sales and hunting-trip expenses.

Senator John DeFrancisco (R-C-I, Syracuse) has sponsored Senate bill S6968, which directs the DEC commissioner to include the mourning dove as a migratory game bird.

"The next tasks are to campaign for an Assembly companion bill to urge legislators and sportsmen (for) successful passage of the legislation," Neff writes. He urges interested hunters to appeal to local sportsmen's clubs, federations and their area Assembly representatives.