LABELLE, FL. -- When Florida's first phase of the mourning dove season opens Saturday, Oct. 4, hunters will find an unexpected bonus -- an increase in the bag limit from 12 to 15 birds.
The daily bag limit is a combined bag limit and applies to both mourning doves and white-winged doves.
Prior to the 2008 hunting season, states had the option of going with a higher bag limit but fewer days of hunting. This year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said states could increase bag limits without giving up hunting days.
Florida's three-phase dove season runs 72 days. This year it's Oct. 4-27; Nov. 15-30; and Dec. 13 Jan. 11, 2009. Hunting during the first phase is legal from noon to sunset. Hunting is allowed during the latter two phases from 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset.
Kurt Hodges, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) assistant small game coordinator, said states within the service's Dove Eastern Management Unit are collecting many types of data to ensure dove populations remain unhindered by the bag limit increase.
"Some states are doing things a little differently, but here in Florida, we've been banding doves since 2003. We've banded approximately 6,000 birds during the summer months," Hodges said. "If hunters kill a banded bird, there's information on the band that tells them where to report the band information.
"Also, we're continuing with our 'call count surveys,' and the service will be asking randomly selected hunters to provide wings so they can be aged. The other significant source of data comes from the Harvest Information Program survey, which is a no-cost program, required for all migratory bird hunters."
Hodges said if trends show that dove numbers decline significantly in the future for any reason, there are built-in triggers in the data-collection system that will signal both state and federal wildlife managers that changes are needed.
The 2008-2009 migratory bird regulations for dove, snipe, woodcock, rail, moorhen, crow and early waterfowl seasons may be obtained by contacting the FWC's regional offices, or may be viewed online at MyFWC.com/hunting/pdf/2008-2009MigratoryBrochure.pdf.