In an odd turn of events, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has canceled its nationwide National Dove Hunter Survey.
Well, maybe postponed is a better description because the Service does plan to mail it out next spring.
Initially the survey should have been in the mail about now to random dove hunters in the 40 states with a season. The Service was so ramped up about the rollout that it had states across the country announce it was on the way.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the mailbox.
Even though it promoted the survey, the Service was tightlipped about what was on it. It didn’t want to bias the results was the claim. All that was released was that it would ask such mundane questions like a hunter’s age, annually salary range and how often they hunt.
Could that be the reason for the recall?
A disclaimer: I contacted a Service spokesman for some answers and a copy of the survey, but there was no reply.
So it comes down to speculation. Or just guessing.
Wiser men then I believe nontoxic shot is the future for all migratory hunters in the United States. The same may be true for rifle ammo. The question is did the Service almost tip its hand with the survey questions.
I say they did for this reason. In a request to conduct the survey published in the Federal Register last September, the survey was identified as the National Mourning Dove Hunter Attitude Survey on Nontoxic Shot.
In its description of survey questions were the mundane ones and two others about perceived problems with nontoxic shot and indirect influences with nontoxic shot.
A small difference, but definitely a difference.
Mourning doves are the most popular game bird in the U.S. Each year hunters take about 40 million. As someone with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department once said, Texas hunters are the 600-pound gorilla making up about a third of all dove hunters and taking between 4 and 5 million birds annually.
Hunting isn’t an issue with the short-lived birds. There are an estimated 350 million mourning doves in the country, maybe more. About 40 million are either hatched in Texas or migrate through the state.
The concern is the lead. Each year more than a million pounds of it shot in the air, and ultimately on the ground, in Texas alone. If dove are picking it up as multiple studies indicate, so probably are songbirds.
Studies on ducks in the 1980s showed how ingesting lead can damage livers and causing a silent death. Smaller studies shown the same probably occurs with doves.
For most, however, the increased cost of the ammunition is just the price of doing business. Those hunters have adjusted to the non-lead loads, finding at least one that works well in their gun.
Another disclaimer: I have shot ducks with 12-gauge shotguns, 20-gauge shotguns and 28-gauge shotguns using nontoxic shot. They all put ducks on the water.
In recent years it has been required for dove hunting on some wildlife management areas around the country, including a few in Texas. There are also hunters who have switched on their own. That has caused manufacturers to offer more than duck and goose loads.
But the stuff, at least the small shot loads, still sells like gold. The question most hunters should have going forward is not whether nontoxic shot will kill a dove, but rather if manufactures will produce it at a cost near what premium shells cost today. Forget matching the price of promotional loads.
An upside is that hunters are going to have to learn to pick their shots better. That alone could lead to fewer lost birds, another real issue.
If non-lead shot is going to be in hunters’ future it is time to present the evidence and get on with the transition. A public relations campaign isn’t going to make those grumpy guys any happier.
Have a comment or opinion on this story, contact Outdoor Editor Steve Knight by email at email@example.com.
Follow Steve Knight on Facebook at TylerPaper Outdoors and on Twitter: @tyleroutdoor.