Fields around Mississippi will erupt in gunfire Saturday for the first time this season as doves become legal statewide, for many the official start to the long 2016-17 hunting season.

“Dove in the morning, football in the afternoon at our place,” said Dan Smith of Ridgeland, who has a club in the Delta. “Our sunflowers were perfect and the doves are in them. If they stay through Saturday, we ought to be through in plenty of time to return home for the Dogs.”

The Dogs are the Mississippi State football team, which is host to South Alabama at 11 a.m. That makes Smith sound overly optimistic, doesn’t it?

“Not if you’ve seen the birds I’ve seen,” he said.

It is a statewide opening, but the first segment of dove season differs in length between the extremely large North Zone and the much smaller South Zone, which is outlined by U.S. Highway 84 to the north and Mississippi Highway 35 to the west.

The North Zone is open through Oct. 9. The South closes on Sept 11. If that seems unfair, you should know that the South Zone has a longer second and third season later in the fall and winter. Both areas are open a total of 90 days and each has a 15-bird daily bag limit, and a 45-bird possession limit.

Legal hours begin 30 minutes before sunrise on private lands, and vary for different public areas.

“The morning hunt is important to us,” said Riley Thomas of Grenada. “For one thing, it’s not nearly as hot. They’re calling for lows around 69 or 70 on Saturday and highs of 90. While the 90 is lower than what we’ve been having, it’s still pretty dad-gum hot. I know my dog appreciates it.

“Second, there’s the football factor. Whether we watch on TV or go to the game, we still have a chance to hunt early and get where we need to be. That’s true for the entire first two seasons.”

Smith agrees with those two reasons but also adds that while the weather and timing are better in the morning, the afternoon hunts are usually more productive.

“A lot of people think there shouldn’t be a morning hunt for dove, that it should not open to either noon or 2 p.m., and I’ve never understood that,” Smith said. “As I’ve gotten older, believe me, I understand it even less. It might be true that doves are more predictable and shooting most consistent in the afternoon when they are coming in to feed.

“However, I’d rather have good shooting when I can stand to be out there than great shooting when I can’t.”

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks said Thursday that it still had permits available at two of the sites included in its Private Land Dove Field program.

The Kemper County field is a 57-acre browntop millet and goat weed field located east of Scooba. The Webster County field is a 45-acre browntop millet field near the community of Alva. Hunting is by permit only for persons 16 years of age and older. Hunters who purchase permits will be granted access to the field on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday afternoons during the first two dove seasons.

Up to two youth, 15 years of age or younger, can attend with each permitted adult hunter 21 years of age or older at no additional cost. A limited number of permits are still available at $115 for Kemper County and $100 for Webster County. 

Permit fees are used to pay for field preparation. To purchase a permit or to obtain more information on these fields, including an aerial photo of the field and complete hunting regulations, visit www.mdwfp.com/dove.

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Dove seasons, limits

Mourning and white-winged dove

North Zone: Opens Saturday, Sept. 3 and closes Oct. 9. Reopens Oct. 22 and closes Nov. 6. Reopens Dec. 10 and ends Jan. 15.

South Zone: Opens Saturday, Sept. 3 and closes Sept. 11. Reopens Oct. 6 and closes Nov. 13. Reopens Dec. 3 and ends Jan. 15.

Limit: 15 daily, 45 in possession.