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Dove season: An opportunity to grow the ranks of hunters


I have been hunting dove in California about 50 years, rarely missing the Sept. 1 season opener. When I first started dove hunting as kid in the late 1960s, there were about 850,000 annual hunting licenses sold in the state. Last year, the Department of Fish and Wildlife reported annual license sales of just under 240,000. Over the same time frame, the state’s population has grown from around 20 million to 39 million.

When hunters represented a voting block that was nearly five percent of the state’s population, legislators would pay attention when we called, wrote, and visited their offices. A motivated five percent could have major impacts on elections if we showed up in mass, suddenly representing 20 to 30 percent of the people voting. We were a powerful force then.

Today, we represent just over a half of a percent of the state’s population. We have become a tiny minority that is easy to ignore, or even discriminate against. The statewide lead ammunition ban was passed by the legislature, passed without the supporting science it was necessary to protect any species of wildlife outside of condors, and lead was banned a long time ago in condor range. The Fish and Game Commission has been pandering to the animal rights groups, banning bobcat trapping and competitive coyote hunting even though there was no evidence either activity was harming those predator populations. It could easily have been argued the toll by automobiles was a greater impact. But the reality is that both populations are flourishing.

This is going to get worse before it gets better.

That brings us to dove hunting. Doves numbers are staggering. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there will be about 273 million doves in the country at the beginning of hunting season this year. From that population, hunters will shoot around 11 million doves, or about four percent of the population. Of all the hunting pursuits, dove hunting is the easiest and most collegial. The fact is that most of us don’t hunt doves alone. It’s an event, planned for weeks in advance, an outing with friends and family. We hunt with wives and daughters, sons and nephews, sisters, brothers, fathers and mothers. We hunt doves with grandparents, friends from work, and neighbors. It’s a shared tradition. Shared.

Dove hunting is an entry card to get new hunters into the sport or older hunters back. I look at dove hunting season as our opportunity to have a positive impact on hunter numbers and help tip the political balance back toward science-based management rather than discriminatory, emotional management.

We’d all have to bring three new hunters into our sport just to get to the numbers we had in the 1960s. To again represent nearly 10 percent of the state’s population, we’d need to jump our ranks to nearly two million — almost 10 times what we have now.

If it can be done, it will be done with doves as a starting point. If we each made a point of trying to get one person to take a hunter safety class and get their first hunting license over the next 12 months — and then take them dove hunting next opener, which will make them a hunter for life if you do your mentoring well — we could double our ranks in one year.

Think about that this opener when you are hunting with family and friends, talk about it with them, and think about someone you know would be interested in coming along next year. It’s not a big effort. I’ve mentored my two sons, both who now buy annual hunting licenses, and they took it upon themselves to bring a cousin who had been showing interest in guns and hunting. That cousin is now part of our group. I have a neighbor who hasn’t bought a hunting license in a number of years who has been pestering me, and I have an even older friend who’s just dropped out of hunting because he doesn’t have anyone to push him to go. I bet you can think of people to recruit back into our hunting ranks.

If we all brought just one new hunter or former hunter back into our ranks between now and next dove opener, it would have a positive impact. The Department of Fish and Wildlife’s budget would see a staggering influx of new license money, and that alone would shake up Sacramento.

Imagine if we did this for the next five years....

VETO GUNMAGEDDON: There were seven gun control laws passed by our state legislature and signed by the governor that fundamentally erode our rights of gun ownership in ways that have no impact on crime. They were all about harassing legitimate gun owners. But the vast majority of gun owners in California were not paying attention, or the legislature wasn’t paying attention to their ringing phones and jammed e-mail boxes.

Gun rights advocates called the passage of these bills “Gunmageddon.” The bills outlaw even more semi-automatic rifles; mandate that you pay a fee and register when you buy ammunition; require a background check if you want to loan a firearm to someone other than an immediate family member (so my hunting buddy of 50 years won’t be able to borrow one of my shotguns for the dove opener next season); possess a rifle clip or magazine that holds more than 10 rounds of ammunition (you will get a fine and they will confiscate those 15-round magazines that were you were allowed to keep just a couple of years ago; and other non-sense regulations.

Volunteers across the state have banned together to form Veto Gunmageddon, a group collecting signatures to place an initiative on the November (presidential election) ballot that will repeal all seven of the gun laws passed this year. To qualify for the ballot, Veto Gunmageddon needs 365,880 valid signatures of state citizens by Sept. 29. Want to help? Go to


[Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 909-887-3444.]

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