I won't be hunting mourning doves this fall.
Minnesota's first mourning dove season since 1946 opened Wednesday. The season was approved by the Legislature this past spring after being narrowly defeated in recent years.
The season has proved controversial. Many hunters and hunting groups supported it. Many others who appreciate the species opposed the season. My decision not to hunt doves is a personal one, not intended as a statement about the new season.
I am a hunter. I have hunted or continue to hunt ruffed grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, waterfowl, woodcock, pheasants, quail, wild turkeys, moose and deer.
I value the days I spend in pursuit of game, and it means a great deal to me to put on the table game that I have taken, processed and prepared.
But I have no desire to shoot a mourning dove.
The species is hardly endangered. About 400 million live in the United States, and about 25 million are shot by hunters in the 40 states that hold a season. They're the most popular game bird in America. About 10 million pass through Minnesota each fall, according to state wildlife officials.
The number of mourning doves in Minnesota has declined slowly from 1966 to 2002, about 1.3 percent a year. Surveys showed an alarming 46 percent decline from 2002 to 2003, though birders say that could be an anomaly. Time will tell. Certainly, future hunting seasons and limits should be considered in light of population trends.
Woodcock, a reclusive bird of the forest, also have undergone long, steady population declines. Limits have been reduced and seasons shortened as a result.
I've given some thought to why I choose not to shoot doves. Perhaps, having hunted for 40 years, I don't possess the trigger-itch I did when I was younger. Had I been 18, I might have been eager to find a field or pond where I could shoot a few doves. They're a challenging target. I understand they taste good.
I don't think my decision is entirely a function of my age and hunting experience, however. Not all of us who hunt feel the same way about hunting every game animal. I know bird hunters who have no desire to kill a whitetail. One hunter I know pursues waterfowl passionately but can't bring himself to shoot a woodcock. Some hunters I know wouldn't want to shoot a bear at a site baited with food.
Why I consider pheasants game birds but have trouble thinking of doves that way, I cannot explain. When it comes to taking game -- or fish -- we each have to decide what seems right. It's a very personal and complex process.
I'm not opposed to the mourning dove hunt. I make no judgments about hunters who choose to hunt doves. I may well write stories about those hunts.
But I won't be shooting them this fall.