Thousands of hunters were out in Iowa fields this weekend as the dove season opened Saturday.

Todd Bogenschutz, wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says up to 9,000 hunters took part in the inaugural 2011 season. “I expect that to increase and I wouldn’t be surprised, when we get done with this season, if maybe we’re in the 10,000 to 15,000 range this fall,” Bogenschutz said. “It’s the second year and there was a lot of positive reports last year and a lot of success, so I expect numbers to go up a little bit.”

Last year, more than 57,000 mourning doves were harvested in Iowa during the 70 day long season. Hunters could see even more birds this year. “Anecdotally, doing our roadside counts, staff reported seeing a lot of doves on the roadside. So, it looks like they had a pretty good production year this year,” Bogenschutz said.

The Iowa DNR has dedicated food plots for doves around the state that are open to public hunting. Bogenschutz believes dove hunting is a great way to introduce individuals to hunting because it takes place when the weather is nice, a hunting dog isn’t needed and it mostly involves sitting and waiting for doves to arrive.

“You put all of those factors together, it just makes for a really great sport to bring new people in,” Bogenschutz said. “There’s a lot of opportunities for shooting. Granted, (doves) are difficult to hit, which makes it challenging but there’s lots of opportunity there.”

In addition to doves, the rabbit and squirrel hunting seasons opened in Iowa this weekend.