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CA Guns & Hunting: Dove Season Opener

CA Guns & Hunting: Dove season opens Sept. 1 — get ready!

By BILL KARR/WON Staff WriterPublished: Aug 16, 2017

SACRAMENTO — The most popular bird season of the year is Sept. 1 when the general dove season opens statewide, and tens of thousands of hunters, young and old, take to the field — many of them with a folding chair and ice chest of cold beverages.

Dove season is popular for a number of reasons, but mostly because it’s usually great weather outside, there are lots of doves around and they live almost everywhere in the state, and a liberal limit of 15 birds per day means you’ll take home enough for a few meals.

THE OROVILLE WILDLIFE Area in butte County offers some great free dove hunting opportunities, and the area is large enough so there’s room for a lot of hunters without interfering with each other.

Add to that the attractiveness of no limit on the ever-growing population of Eurasian doves statewide, and the amount of shooting that hunters get can be amazing. It’s also a great day to start out new hunters, since dove shooting can be easily supervised and there’s plenty of opportunity to keep a young hunter from losing interest.

Right up front, lead shot may still be used for dove hunting in California this year except for Department of Fish and Wildlife lands, so make sure you know where you are hunting! If you are using non-lead ammo, it’s best that you not use No. 8 shot and size it up a bit to 7½ or even 7s, so there will be more impact with the lighter shot. You might even want to buy high-base 7½s for doves in non-lead.

Dove season runs Sept. 1 through Sept. 15, and the late season runs Nov. 11 through Dec. 25. The limit is 15 doves per day but no more than 10 may be white­wings, and there is no limit for Eurasian, spotted or ringed turtle doves. Possession limit is three times the daily limit.

Here in the valley around the Galt area, things are looking good for a great dove opener. There were two nestings in many areas this summer due to the mild weather, and the morning and evening flights are great. With the hot weather, there’s not a lot of daytime movement.

dove_decoysarentDECOYS AREN’T NECESSARILY required while dove hunting, but even if you are in a good flyway, they will attract more doves within shooting range than without decoys. And I have found, the more decoys and the more types of decoys, the ­better. WON PHOTO BY BILL KARR

WON Field Reporter Mike Krause of Red Bluff said that all of the public land areas along the Sacramento River from Redding down to Red Bluff would be excellent choices for dove season.

“I went scouting for doves out here in the Paynes Creek Wildlife Area this evening and saw plenty of doves,” Krause said. “I would have shot a limit for sure! The key was finding were they were feeding, as there is plenty of water and roosting areas. The seasonal ponds and wetlands that have dried up had the best feed for the birds. The key to a good hunt would be to find the flyways that are usually edges of tree lines, road ways, fence lines or any navigational routes that lead into the food sources. Put decoys up in strategic areas that attract attention from the doves. The end result of finding the food source, near water and the roosting areas is lots of doves in the bag.”

Here’s some ideas on where to hunt:

The foothills are generally great dove hunting areas, and something to keep in mind is that if there’s a rain before a season a lot of the doves will head up into the foothills, so there be even more birds in the oaks. Hunting is allowed around some of the foothill reservoirs, but make sure you check the map for each lake.

River washes are natural flyways, and if there are waterholes here and there you can just park right there and wait for the doves to come to you.

Black Butte Reservoir has a lot of public land around it that’s open to dove hunting, but some areas are better than others, and there might be a bit of a crowd up there.

There are some big areas in the San Joaquin Valley that offer public land, although much of it is not signed as such, and probably won’t come up on any listed hunting areas. All of it is uncultivated and unfenced, so you can’t mix it up with ­private lands. Remember, you cannot trespass on lands that are fenced, under cultivation of posted with no trespassing signs.

Most any public access area around the Sacramento River or the various bypasses will offer dove hunting — excellent hunting in some cases. Some hunters even take a boat and find a gravel bar in one of the rivers to hunt.

The Oroville Wildlife Area alongside the Feather River is huge, and offers untold areas and opportunities for freelance dove hunters on the gravel roads that wind through the area.

The state of California Dept. of Fish and Wildife offers some dove hunting opportunities at Grizzly Island Wildlife Area, Grey Lodge Wildlife Area and the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. Some areas have specifically been planted for dove areas.

Other DFW hunts are offered through a special application for specific areas and all applications need to be filed through the Automated License Data System (ALDS). Hunt drawings will be held for opportunities at the following locations:

Merced and Stanislaus counties: North Grasslands Wildlife Area (China Island and Salt Slough units), Los Banos Wildlife Area

Sacramento County : Cosumnes River Preserve

Fresno County: Pilibos

San Bernardino County: Camp Cady Wildlife Area

San Diego County: Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve, San Felipe Valley Wildlife Area

San Luis Obispo County: Carrizo Plains Ecological Reserve

The application deadline for all hunts is midnight on Aug. 12. Applications can be filed online, at CDFW license sales offices or through retail license agents.

Applications may also be filed over the telephone at (800) 565-1458. Additional information is available at

All hunters must abide by California’s non-lead requirements. Currently, non-lead ammunition is required for hunting doves on any DFW-managed property, but is not required to hunt doves on private property or public lands not managed by DFW. Starting on July 1, 2019, non-lead ammunition will be required to take all wildlife anywhere in California. 

IF YOU SEE this many doves sitting on fences or wires, you know you’re in the right location for a good dove shoot! Scouting will show you where to go for the opener, or after opening day. WON PHOTO BY BILL KARR

THE PAYNES CREEK Wildlife Area alongside the Sacramento River out of Red Bluff offers a lot of public land with some good to excellent dove hunting opportunities. There are other wildlife areas along the river that are also open to hunting.

dove_youngandoldYOUNG AND OLD alike enjoy the opening day of dove season every year on Sept. 1, and this year many will make it a 3-day hunt, since it opens on a Friday. It’s a great time to get junior hunters out in the field.

dove_dovesflyDOVES FLY ALONG fence rows, train track, water courses and alongside orchards and fields, so junctions of one or more natural flyways will produce well for a savvy dove hunter.

dove_foldingchairsFOLDING CHAIRS ARE usually required, especially after the morning dove flight slows down. Joe and son Lewis Lopes of Wilton enjoyed the shade and ongoing shooting at their property alongside the Cosumnes River last year. WON PHOTO BY BILL KARR


A GOOD DOG will help out a lot while dove hunting, as downed doves can be difficult to find in grass or cover. Plus, if they are crippled and you don’t mark them, the dog will probably find them.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN mourning doves and a Eurasian dove is dramatic, as the Eurasians are larger, lighter in color and fly quite differently than mourning doves. Eurasians also prefer to hang around buildings and habitations.

THE MOJO OUTDOORS company just came out with a brand new dove attractant in time for this season called the “Dove A Flicker”, which is a set of four compact spinning wings for dry field use that you can mix in among your full bodied ground dove decoys. They mimic the flash of wings from feeding doves. WON PHOTO BY BILL KARR

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