By John Felsher
Except for the limited alligator season, which begins in August for people selected for tags, the September dove season traditionally marks the start of another fall and winter afield after months of watching the calendar.
The September dove opener also creates one of the major social events of early fall in many communities. Families and friends gather to hunt and socialize, usually ending the day with a big barbecue or potluck.
Alabama manages two hunting zones for doves. This year, the North Zone will open at noon on Sept. 5, a week earlier than usual. The first split lasts until Oct. 25. In the South Zone, Alabama sportsmen can start hunting doves at noon Sept. 12 through sunset Nov. 1. Sportsmen can again hunt doves statewide from Nov. 21-29 and from Dec. 12 through Jan. 10, 2021.
“As always, we will have prepared dove fields on most of our wildlife management areas across the state,” explains Seth Maddox, the state migratory game bird coordinator. “This information will be added to our website for the first time this year to inform the public of the opportunities. Typically, we have dove fields on Seven-Mile Island WMA, Cahaba River WMA and Lowndes WMA. These areas offer some of the better dove hunting opportunities in the state.”
Each day, sportsmen can bag up to 15 birds in any combination of mourning doves and white-winged doves. Native to the arid deserts and plains of the southwestern states and Mexico, white-winged doves began moving northward and eastward in the past few years. Both Mobile and Baldwin counties now contain populations of white-winged doves.
“The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division will hold 26 youth dove hunts across the state this fall,” Maddox says. “Most of the fields on which these hunts will be held are donated by private landowners. We will also be holding a Special Opportunity Area hunt at Portland Landing SOA on Sept. 12. This is a quota hunt so hunters must register for the drawing.”
As a bonus, sportsmen may also shoot Eurasian collared doves, an exotic species native to south Asia, without limit or season. During dove season, collared doves do not count in the daily bag limit. Much bigger than mourning doves, collared doves grow nearly as large as park pigeons. The distinctive grayish-black collars around their necks and squared tails provide the best identifying features.
For more on youth dove hunting opportunities, go to outdooralabama.com/youth-hunting/youth-dove-hunts.
While dove season traditionally kicked off a new hunting season, the state established an earlier goose season a few years ago to trim the surplus population of non-migratory Canada geese. The early goose season runs from Sept. 1-30, but goose seasons return from Oct. 10-24, Nov. 27-28 and from Dec. 5 through Jan. 31, 2021.
Waterfowlers can also participate in an early teal season, which runs from Sept. 12-27. Blue-winged teal migrate much earlier than most other ducks. They usually hit the Gulf Coast in late August and depart for places farther south by November. To increase the harvest of blue-winged teal, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows designated states to hold September seasons. During teal season, sportsmen may bag up to six ducks in any combination of blue-winged and green-winged teal.
While teal hunting, waterfowlers might also take advantage of rail and gallinule season. These shorebirds like to stay in thick vegetation in marshes, lake shorelines and other wet areas. In Alabama, sportsmen can shoot up to 15 birds in any combination of clapper rails, Virginia rails, sora rails and gallinules. The September season runs concurrent with teal season, but reopens from Nov. 27 through Jan. 19, 2021.
Also opening on Sept. 12, people can hunt squirrels and rabbits statewide. Squirrel and rabbit seasons both run through March 7, 2021, with a limit of eight each per day. Almost any areas with mast-producing hardwood trees or mixed pine and hardwood forests probably hold squirrels. For rabbits, look for thick fields, new clear-cuts and brushy savannas. Any place that might hold doves would likely provide excellent rabbit habitat.
Other seasons will open in coming months. In addition, sportsmen can shoot beavers, bobcats, coyotes, crows, English sparrows, feral hogs, foxes, groundhogs, nutria, opossums, raccoons and starlings all year long without limit.
For more information on season dates, zone boundaries, places to hunt, regulations and other information, call 334-242-3469 or visit outdooralabama.com
John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. Contact him through Facebook.