For decades US dove hunting was a sport largely enjoyed by Southern practitioners. But with greater understanding of population trends and seasons now established in 42 states, dove hunting has come to match waterfowling for hunter participation and harvest.
For a long time Northern voters considered doves “songbirds” and argued that hunting would expose them to excess mortality—though they had no data or proof. Since the US Fish & Wildlife Service implemented its Harvest Information Program (HIP) in the mid-1990s, HIP surveys have indicated that dove populations have been stable or increasing. These data have supported state wildlife agencies and hunters in successfully opening dove seasons where none existed before. Currently, the only states without dove seasons are Michigan and a block of seven Northeast states.
Based on 2014 numbers (the most recent HIP information available), USF&WS biologists say there are some 275 million mourning doves in the US pursued by almost 900,000 hunters annually. HIP reports show that almost 14 million mourning doves were bagged in 2014. This is hardly a slaughter, as it represents an annual harvest of only about 5%. Adding the participation and harvest figures for white-winged and Eurasian collared doves, dove hunting in the US yields an annual harvest of 15 million birds by 1 million hunters. This makes dove hunting the equal of waterfowling in participation and harvest, with both out in front of upland hunting.
Most doves are taken in Central Management Unit (CMU) states, followed closely by Eastern Management Unit (EMU) states—with Western Management Unit (WMU) states a distant third. Given that all eight of the current non-dove-hunting states are located in the EMU, if any of those states succeed in securing a season, dove hunting likely would become the most popular wingshooting activity in the US.