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Rod Thornburg/ Special to The Californian

In the light of the early morning, Brad Peters take sight at his target on the first day of dove hunting season.

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Rod Thornburg/ Special to The Californian

Hunters fill their stomachs with an early breakfast, before they fill their game bags with dove.

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Rod Thornburg/ Special to The Californian

Hunters gather up the downed birds on the first day of dove hunting season.

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Rod Thornburg/ Special to The Californian

Getting their limit, hunters return back to their vehicles on the first day of dove hunting season.

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Rod Thornburg/ Special to The Californian

Jake Sill takes time to clear his gun after getting his limit on dove hunting season opening day.

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Rod Thornburg/ Special to The Californian

Duffy Sill cleans, or does what they call picking the dove, after the shoot.

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Rod Thornburg/ Special to The Californian

Duffy Sill cleans, or does what they call picking the dove, after the shoot.

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Rod Thornburg/ Special to The Californian

Doves after they have been picked.

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Rod Thornburg/ Special to The Californian

Hunters return to their vehicles after getting their limit of 10 doves each.

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Rod Thornburg/ Special to The Californian

Brad Peters gathers his first dove of the season.

For most dove hunters venturing out on Sunday's opening day, the gods of hunting smiled broadly across the county.

Hot, balmy weather and the long-term absence of colder temperatures kept thousands of birds from migrating out of the valley, and local shotgun enthusiasts made the most of this unusual opportunity.

A large percentage of hunters were in and out of the fields a little past sun-up with their harvested limits, and veterans of the sport are calling their hunts the best in memory.

Despite the presence of so many hunters on the rare Sunday opener, plenty of friends and acquaintances had plenty of shooting at the so-called bird of peace.

Known for its dipping, darting and speedy flight patterns which can bamboozle even the best of shots, the excellent eating birds nonetheless took it on the chin. With the national average of hits versus shots fired normally set at 7-to-1, the ammunition companies executives had to be every bit as ecstatic as the shooters.

But dove hunting is not just about killing birds, as evidenced by the number of out-of-town guests that make the trek into our valley each year to spend quality time with their friends.

The opening day of dove season means a chance to reunite with old friends and share in a time honored camaraderie and companionship. It's also a special time for the younger generations to get out with their elders and learn what the great sport of hunting is all about. Whether they start out as retrievers or first year shooters, the event will always be remembered as one of their favorite activities.

Even those shooters who had less than stellar results were not altogether disappointed, because the sport is not just about killing.

Most hunters will agree that, while the bag limit is a barometer of overall success for the sport, the kill remains merely a simple validation of the overall adventure that numbers alone can never achieve.

The first part of dove season runs through Sept. 15, then reopens on the second Saturday of November for an additional 45 days. The limit on mourning doves is 10 per day, with 30 in possession after the third day of the season.

Eurasian collared doves may be taken only during the regular seasons and there is no bag or possession limit on the invasive bird.

A current California hunting license and upland bird validation is required to hunt doves.