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St. Cloud, Minn. — J.D. Lundgren first hunted mourning doves in North Dakota when he was 12 years old. In North Dakota and many other states, mourning dove hunts have been legal for many years.
This year, Lundgren plans to hunt mourning doves in his backyard, a small acreage a few miles outside of St. Cloud.
"There's many times -- if you watch across the road from my house where the cornfield is -- you'll see them come up out of the corn and head across to the water," says Lundgren, as he stands near a small stream that winds through his property.
Lundgren says ducks, geese and deer are his favorite quarry, but mourning doves offer a different, more relaxed hunting experience.
"The best part is, I guess, that you can talk. It's not like you have to crawl into a blind, and be quiet and keep concealed, and, 'Oh, my gosh. Here come some ducks, get down.' It's not anything like that," says Lundgren. "The weather's usually very nice, it's pleasant. It's more of a user-friendly hunting. It's a nice polish-up for duck season, too. If you can hit those (mourning doves), you should be able to hit a duck pretty easily."
Mourning doves are not an easy target for hunters. They're about the size of a pigeon. They fly at 35 to 40 mph, and zigzag randomly through the air.
Hunters will be lucky if half their shots kill a bird, according to Lundgren.
"They can drop fast, and go up high fast and turn to the sides really quickly. It seems like they can hear the shot when you pull the trigger, and they're able to dodge it at times," says Lundgren.
Is it a songbird or isn't it? Who knows. That's everybody's personal definition. To me it's a sporting bird, a game bird, and they're fun to hunt.
As Lundgren talks, his chocolate lab, Mollie, romps nearby. Mollie will join J.D. Lungren in his quest for a meal of doves. The daily bag limit in Minnesota is 15 doves.
"I've had them several times, they're very tasty. They eat small grains normally, or seeds, so they're not gamey-tasting like a lot of other wild birds can be," says Lundgren. "You can prepare them many different ways. I've asked for recipes off the Internet, and everybody comes back and says, 'Make them in kabobs, they're great.'"
Many people are unhappy about hunting what they see as a beautiful songbird. Lundgren says he understands why people might be upset.
"Because they do sound nice, and some people have them in their backyards and feed them on purpose, and so to them they are -- so to speak -- their pets. Is it a songbird or isn't it? Who knows. That's everybody's personal definition. To me it's a sporting bird, a game bird, and they're fun to hunt," says Lundgren.
Bill Penning, who heads the Minnesota DNR's Farmland Wildlife Program, says the mourning dove is classified as a game bird. In fact, Penning says it's the most popular game bird in the country. About 23 million mourning doves are killed by hunters every year, more than all other migratory game birds combined.
Penning says many people in urban areas are concerned about the mourning doves that frequent their bird feeders. He says the behavior of those birds should not change, because there will be no hunting in urban or suburban areas. He says birds in rural areas will quickly become wary of humans when hunters start shooting at them.
Penning says DNR officials aren't sure how many doves will be killed this year in Minnesota. He says there are an estimated 12 million mourning doves in the state, and hunters may kill 200,000.
Weather conditions may be the deciding factor. Mourning doves are known to head south at the first sign of frost. So the fall migration may be well underway this year before hunters even take to the fields.