Mississippi’s most liberal and opportunistic dove season ever is scheduled to open Saturday statewide.

This year, under expanded federal guidelines, dove hunters still get 90 days of hunting with a 15-bird daily bag limit. The big change is that the season can run all the way through to Jan. 31, which may not seem like a big deal to many but …

“You just don’t know how big that is for us true dove hunters in the Delta region,” Gene Thompson of Grenada said. “That’s big. Really big.”

This year, the feds pushed the back of the frameworks from Jan. 15 to the end of that month, which gives hunters in the Delta a longer window for migrating birds to arrive from the grain fields of the Midwest.

“We’ve got a lot of native birds in the Delta and in other parts of the state, but we thin those out pretty good and what we don’t kill we educate,” Thompson said. “By the third season, when the weather is more kind, we need more birds and we get them as they migrate south. A lot of people overlook the fact that doves are migratory. Yeah, we got a resident population that stays here all year. They are born here and grow up here.

“But the Delta also lures a lot of the birds from the grain fields of the Upper Midwest. Once the Midwest freezes up, doves have nothing left to eat. They have to fly south to find edible grain or seed or they will die.”

Harsh winters can push the migratory doves into the Delta in December, but, like it is with ducks, the average winter doesn’t see the peak of migration until January. 

“Some years we get them in December and sometimes it’s not until early or mid January,” Thompson said. “By moving us back 16 days, we get a bigger window and that’s the best news I could hear.”

Mississippi will split into two zones, north and south (only the southeast corner bordered by U.S. Highway 84 to the north and Mississippi Highway 35 to the west). The season starts on the very first day available under the federal frameworks, Saturday, Sept. 1, in both zones.

In the North, the first season runs through Oct. 7 (37 days). The second season is Oct. 27-Nov. 7 (12 days), and then the long 41-day third season opens on Dec. 22 and ends on Jan. 31.

South Zone hunters will hunt Sept. 1-9 (9 days), Oct. 6-Nov. 7 (33 days), and Dec. 15-Jan. 31 (48 days). Shooters there are also excited.

“We don’t get that great of hunting in September, but it gets better the later it gets,” said Roger Wilson of Hattiesburg. “We get some of the migratory birds, too, but really I think what helps us is that the September and October shooting in the Delta and Black Prairie (Northeast Mississippi) pushes a lot of resident birds south to us. With 48 days in December and January, I think we will have better hunting.”

The daily bag limit is 15 in both zones, with a possession limit of 45.

“A lot of hunters don’t realize the importance of that higher possession limit of 45,” said Jacob Sartain of Madison, who manages or advises several dove properties for clients throughout the Delta. “This first weekend, it’s the Labor Day holiday. That’s three days of hunting, and we are legally able to possess three daily limits of 15 in the 45 possession limit.”

The early Canada goose season also opens Saturday statewide, and it, too, has been expanded. Before this year, federal frameworks allowed only a 15-day season — Sept. 1-Sept. 15. This year hunters have the entire month of September to hunt with a limit of 5 daily and 15 in possession.

Saturday is also opening day for some under-utilized shorebird shooting for moorhens, gallinules and rails, all of which are migratory birds with frameworks set by federal officials. Those seasons:

Moorhens and gallinules: Sept 1-30, and Nov. 23-Jan. 1; daily limit 15 singly or in aggregate, possession limit 45.

Rails: Sept. 1-Sept 30, and Nov. 23-Jan. 1. Limits on clapper and king rails are 15 singly or in aggregate, and 45 in possession. Limits on sora and Virginia rails are 15 singly or in aggregate, and 45 in possession.