Dove Season takes wing in Iowa

This September the state of Iowa will see something it hasn’t seen since the Spanish Flu—a dove season.

In a 30 to18 vote, the Iowa State Senate passed legislation last Tuesday authorizing the state Natural Resources Commission to put together an open season on mourning doves.  Yesterday its companion bill received a bode of confidence in the House and the Governor’s signature (which Governor Terry Branstad has already pledged) will make Iowa the 40th state in the union to host a dove hunting season.

Dick Dearden, the Democratic Senator from Des Moines who has made instituting a dove season in the Hawkeye state his mission for the past 14-years, gushed to reporters about his labor of love passing the Senate.  He said,  “It’s historic.  It is for Iowa at least. This is something I’ve been very passionate about over the years and I’m glad that this day has finally come. This September will be the first time since 1918 that we can legally hunt mourning doves in Iowa.”

On Tuesday Dearden was optimistic the 60-member caucus in House  would ratify the initiative stating representatives had confided in him that  “the votes are there to pass it.”  A dove hunting season has been proposed in the state every year since 1993.  Iowa is the only state west of the Mississippi that does not have a dove season.

The five-minute “floor debate” in the Senate, during which nobody spoke but Dearden, the bill’s sponsor, actually came as a big surprise for Iowans following the legislation’s progress.  The relative tranquility on the Senate floor represents a huge departure from previous Senate appearances.  During the 90s and 2000s, raised voices and harsh words characterized the “Dove Debate” in the infamously mild-mannered Midwestern state of Iowa with unlikely critics of the season coming out of the woodwork from all angles.

Evangelical Christians, a demographic commonly associated with traditional family values (hunting presumably among them), were easily the most visible and Christian protest groups besieged the state Capitol in Des Moines whenever the dove season issue reared its head.  An emblem of peace in the Christian religion, religious groups are still not happy about the Senate’s decision. “God made you and he made me, and he made the doves and all the animals, and I feel we all have a right to be here,” the Sioux City Journal recorded one of the flock saying after the dove bill passed.

Animal rights groups also have made their displeasure known in the press. Iowa’s director for the Humane Society of the United States, Carol Griglione, told reporters, “Iowans have always really valued and appreciated doves. You feed these birds at your backyard feeder. You love to listen to them as they coo. They have a special sound. And they’re a symbol of peace.”

Over the years though, possibly the most unanticipated collection of opponents held no common political, religious or cultural affiliation whatsoever: folks that just don’t see much point in shooting doves.

Republican Senator Tim Kapucian told the Sioux City Journal, “I just think we’ve got enough things to shoot. My mom and my wife, they said you’d better not vote for it. They’re my constituents.”  Democratic Senator and pheasant hunter Jeff Danielson divulged to the press that, regardless of his hunting background he voted no on the bill.  “I think there’s plenty of other things to hunt right now. In the grand scheme of thing, is this something that we necessarily need to do, I don’t think so.”

While considered a delicacy in some cultures, some argue mourning doves are too small to be regarded as a practical food source.  Others grew up with the old adage that it’s a “sin to kill a mockingbird” drilled into their heads or, like modern day augurs, feel it’s an otherwise bad omen to kill mourning doves.  Indeed many cited the birds’ pleasing namesake “coo” as the reason they opposed the measure.

Republican Senator Sandy Greiner reported:  “My mail was overwhelmingly opposed to it. I had never voted in favor of it before and I didn’t see any sense to start now,” Greiner said. “We’ve got big stuff that’s pending here and I find it kind of disturbing that so much of my time was spent dealing with emails on that when we really have critical issues to deal with.”

Proponents, who are quick to point out that all of Iowa’s neighboring states allow hunters to shoot doves, believe hunting doves in a “plains state” that has acted as a veritable sanctuary for the birds for nearly the past 100 years, could immensely lucrative and benefit the state economy as well as provide a new recreational activity for Iowa’s youth.

Dearden, an all around hunting enthusiast, said he moved to Iowa when he was 16 years and wondered then why the state didn’t allow dove hunting.  He said Tuesday, after the bill passed the Senate and all signs pointed to smooth sailing in the House, “I never thought 57 years ago that I’d be standing here today and floor managing a bill that would allow that.  I’m happy and excited. It’s something I’ve worked on for 14 years now and I finally got it done.  I’m ready to move on to something else now, but tonight I’m going down to the Izaak Walton League and we will celebrate.”

(Photos courtesy of Alex E. Proimos, Engelking, bugeater, luketallguy, zen,