Dove season opens Monday and many hunters will take to the open country for a hefty catch of mourning and white-winged doves.
For the second year in a row, statewide possession limits for waterfowl and upland game birds have increased.
This year, the California Fish and Game Commission upped the daily bag limit from 10 to 15 mourning and white-winged doves, though no more than 10 may be white-winged doves.
Add that to last year's increase in the possession limit from double to triple the daily bag limit and that means hunters can now have 45 birds in their possession instead of 30 (no more than 30 may be white-winged doves).
"The dove population has been very strong and it was decided to take up the bag limit to 15 birds," said Ben Lewis, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. "We monitor populations each year and how they respond to hunting. So far, we've experienced a good hatch."
Though possession limits are triple the daily bag limit, that does not mean hunters can take 45 birds in a single day. It is suggested to separate birds by day. The limits are for people on multiple-day hunts who don't have an opportunity to go home.
Hunters have unlimited take on non-native species, specifically the Eurasian-collared dove.
Nearly identical to the mourning dove, the Eurasian-collared dove has two key differences, Lewis said.
The bird is about double the size of an average mourning dove and has a distinct black band on its neck. That's one of the easiest ways to tell the difference between the two birds, Lewis said.
In an effort to reduce the numbers of the Eurasian-collared doves, the CDFW has also opened them to be legally hunted year-round starting Monday.
The other birds with unlimited takes -- the spotted and ringed turtle doves -- can be legally hunted only during the split hunting seasons.
The most popular hunt in the central San Joaquin Valley, dove season is split into two seasons -- Monday through Sept. 15 and Nov. 8 through Dec. 22 -- though the Labor Day opener is significantly busier.
The one concern that may drive birds away is the weather.
"The biggest affect on the opener is weather change," Lewis said. "We're in that transition period waiting for the first cold or big wind storm to come along."
Once temperatures cool, Lewis said, the birds will migrate south.
"We'll find one day there were doves everywhere and the following day they've already headed south on their migration. It should be a good shoot as long as the weather holds up."
A no-shoot zone extends around the Fresno-Clovis border. Dove hunting is common in rural areas and often close to homes. Hunters must be at least 150 yards from homes or barns.
Legal hunting starts 30 minutes before sunrise (6:30 a.m. Monday) and must stop at sunset (7:27 p.m.). Hunters cannot enter property that is fenced, being cultivated or posted with "no trespassing" signs.
At the Mendota Wildlife Area, 100 hunters will be allowed until 9 a.m. Of those, 30 are reservations holders with a hunting partner and 40 are nonreservation holders. Those with reservations will be on the west side, while the rest will hunt the east side.
At the Los Banos North Grasslands Wildlife Complex, draws will be held 6-9 p.m. Sunday at the Salt Slough and Los Banos check stations for hunters who did not win a spot in the previous lottery on a first-come, first-serve basis. At 4 a.m. Monday, permits will be issued to those with reservations. At noon, the area will open to the public.
LICENSES • Resident hunting license, ages 16 and older: $46.44
• Junior hunting license, ages 15 and under: $12.14
• Nonresident hunting license: $161.49
• Upland Game Bird stamp, required for anyone taking upland game bird species: $9.46