By JOE MOSBY
LOG CABIN CORRESPONDENT
A prediction: Somewhere in the future, doves will come to the forefront in Arkansas in upland bird hunting popularity.
Certainly we have dove hunting now, and we have some bona fide dove hunting enthusiasts. But as a whole, dove hunting is two days of the opening weekend then pushed to the sidelines for other activities.
Things have changed in gamebird hunting in our state. A reading of the recently published "A Century of Conservation" book brings some gamebird history to light, then current talk of quail restoration efforts adds more thoughts.
This history tells us that passenger pigeons were so plentiful in early Arkansas that their flocks "darkened the sky" at times. When roosts of these birds were near at hand, a cook perhaps would tell a youngster in the house, "Billy, go out and get us a mess of pigeons for supper." The hunting would be done with a stout stick.
Passenger pigeons were gone from Arkansas by the late 1890s, and the last one died in a Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission was formed, with some difficulty, in 1915 but not directly as a result of the disappearance of passenger pigeons.
On the commission’s first agenda was concern over turkeys, quail and prairie chickens. The commissioners asked the legislature for a five-year closure of prairie chicken hunting but did not receive it. Too late. By 1818 and the end of World War I, the last prairie chicken had vanished in Arkansas. Today, a handful remain in Oklahoma and a smaller handful in Missouri.
Attempts were made in the 1920s to bring pheasants to Arkansas but did not succeed. Another limited effort was made in the early 1980s but did not succeed. Ruffed grouse were stocked in the Arkansas Ozarks in the 1980s, and these did not succeed.
Quail have been with us from the get-go, but their numbers have diminished alarmingly in the last half century. A good many younger people today don’t know quail and have not heard the "bob-white" whistle trademark call of the birds that ranked for a good many years at the top of Arkansas hunting priorities.
All along, from pioneer days to today, we have had doves, mourning doves to be species specific. They were plentiful in the old days and may be just as plentiful today. It’s hard to make a solid statement on this point because doves have been taken for granted for many decades.
The birds do well on their own. Hunting has little if any effect on their numbers, according to wildlife biologists. Dove hunting is under federal guidelines since the birds are classified as migratory. Dove seasons and daily limits in Arkansas are generous 70 days with 15 birds a day.
But numbers of Arkansas dove hunters vary widely from many thousands on opening weekend to a few hundreds later on. Dove hunting is taken for granted in Arkansas although there are some people who choose not to participate. In some other states, mostly to the north and east, dove hunting is either prohibited or highly controversial.
The future of Arkansas upland bird hunting will not include passenger pigeons of course, and chances are slim to none that prairie chickens can be brought back to the state. The turkey situation is back to good after slipping to fair for a few years. Quail? Let’s be honest and rank this hunting as poor.
Doves, though, are good. More hunting of them is in order.
(Outdoor writer Joe Mosby can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)