Why We Don't Have a Dove Hunting Season in New York
Currently, there is no hunting season for mourning doves in New York State; however, mourning doves are one of the most popular game birds in North America, with close to one million hunters taking approximately 20 million birds annually in the U.S. They are one of the most widespread and abundant birds on the continent, and various survey data from New York show a significant increase in abundance of mourning doves over the last 40 years.
Thirty-nine of the lower 48 states have mourning dove hunting seasons, and federal regulations allow states in the eastern U.S. to select seasons up to 70 days in length, between September 1 and January 15, with a daily bag limit of 15 doves. However, New York does not currently have a mourning dove hunting season, and many hunters have wondered why. The simple reason is that State law does not classify mourning doves as either a migratory game bird or an upland game bird (ECL 11-0103); therefore, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) does not have the authority to establish hunting regulations for doves under the current law.
From time to time, hunters and organizations such as the New York State Conservation Council (NYSCC) have advocated or voiced support for legislative action to allow dove hunting in New York. Several bills were introduced in the early 1980s but none were ever voted on by the State Assembly or Senate, and no significant legislative action has occurred on the issue since that time. Nonetheless, limited hunter interest and inquiries continue and NYSCC passed a resolution in 2008 requesting that DEC survey small game hunters to determine the level of support for a law change to allow dove hunting in New York.
In response to the NYSCC request, we included the following question in our 2009 small game hunter survey: "Would you support a law change to designate mourning doves as a game bird in New York State?" Potential responses were: "Strongly Oppose", "Oppose", "Don't Care", "Support", and "Strongly Support". Surveys were mailed to approximately 5,000 randomly selected small game hunting license holders, and responses were received from about 2,400 people. About 23% indicated that they would support such a law change (see chart below). Most respondents (64%) said they "don't care" or did not answer the question at all. Approximately 12% indicated that they were opposed to a law change to designate mourning doves as a game bird in New York.
We did not ask or attempt to identify reasons why hunters would support or oppose a law change; however, a related question that we included in the 2006 small game hunter survey was "Have you ever hunted mourning doves in any state other than New York?" Only about 11% of respondents indicated that they had hunted doves somewhere else, which suggests that few hunters in New York have any experience or tradition to foster support for a dove season.
There is no biological reason why doves could not be hunted in New York. However, until political support increases to the point that a bill to amend the Environmental Conservation Law is introduced, passes both the Senate and Assembly, and is signed into law by the Governor, we encourage small game hunting enthusiasts to continue to enjoy New York's other game bird hunting opportunities for turkey, grouse, woodcock and waterfowl, available in a variety of habitats across the state.