It's been four years since mourning dove hunting was reinstated in Minnesota after a nearly 60-year absence.

An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 hunters have dove hunted each fall, a number that state officials believe will grow as hunters learn how to hunt doves.

Now there's an effort to ban it again.

A bill introduced in the Legislature will be heard Monday in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Chief author is Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, though it has multiple co-authors in the Senate and House.

"Folks feel really strongly that doves really aren't a gamebird, they're more of a songbird,'' Dibble said. "People who hunt them really aren't hunting them for food, there's hardly any meat on them. They're using them....as target practice.''

Dibble, who said he hunted as a kid and isn't against hunting, said hunters "don't retrieve a lot of them, they just leave them out in the fields.'' He said dove hunting is "extremely unpopular all over the state, even in rural areas. I hear from a lot of constituents.''

The Department of Natural Resources is expected to testify against the bill.

"We certainly are opposed to it,'' said Dave Schad, chief of the DNR's fish and wildlife section. "It's the most popular game bird in the U.S. It's hunted in most states. Dove populations are doing very well. Interest is growing. There's no reason to not allow it in Minnesota.''

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it is one of the most abundant and widespread birds in North America. It estimates that about 1 million hunters killed about 19 million doves in 2006. The DNR estimates Minnesota hunters bagged about 86,000 doves in 2006.

Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, chair of the committee, said that he didn't vote to reinstate dove hunting four years ago, but he opposes Dibble's bill.

Meanwhile, Dibble said it's unlikely his bill will be approved by the committee. Chaudhary agreed, but said the bill could resurface later.

Said Dibble: "I don't think this is going away.''

Muskie returned

"We made a mistake,'' DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten said last week.

He was referring to the case of Tom James, the Mound angler who caught a 52-inch muskie in January through the ice of Lake Minnetonka. The regulation book said the muskie season went through Feb. 24.

But unknown to James, the DNR changed its regulations after the book was printed, and the season actually ended Dec. 15. A conservation officer seized his trophy muskie and issued a warning.

Holsten read about the case and decided the agency hadn't given anglers enough notice of the rule-change. "We put Minnesota anglers...in a position where they were going to fail,'' he said. "We can't do that.''

"The problem is, we put our enforcement guys in bad position, too,'' he said. "They didn't do anything wrong (either).''

The DNR returned the frozen fish to James. He declined to comment last week.

The muskie season will end Dec. 1 this year, but the change will be in the 2008 regulations, due out this spring. The change is intended to protect muskies from winter fishing, when they can be vulnerable, officials said.

2008 Deer Classic

The annual Minnesota Deer Classic show runs Friday through Sunday at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds Coliseum Building. More than 250 booths and 600 trophies will be at the show. Seminars, a taxidermy display, a trail camera photo contest, shed antler competition and a 3-D Pop-up archery event are among the attractions. Cost: $10 Friday and $12 Saturday and Sunday for ages 12 and up. Kids 11 and under are free. For more information, see www.deer-expo.com or call 763-746-2656.

Everything muskies

The Minnesota Muskie Expo also runs Friday through Sunday at the National Sport Center in Blaine and is devoted to muskie fanatics. Seminars, gear and more will be at the show. Cost is $10 for ages 12 and up; kids 11 and under are free. For more information, see www.minnesotamuskieexpo.com or call 763-588-9107.

Did you know?

•After discovering several dead ducks and geese in the back of a pickup recently, conservation officer Jeff Johanson of Osakis issued a citation for wanton waste of waterfowl to a hunter who shot the birds during the hunting season but never cleaned them.

•Officer Greg Oldakowski of Wadena got a call from a trapper who caught two bald eagles in traps and needed help removing them. When the officer arrived, he saw a deer carcass in the middle of a field, with an eagle on either side, each caught in a leg-hold trap. Both eagles were caught by the middle toes and were released unharmed. The trapper was cited for trapping over exposed bait.

•Officer Brian Buria of Bigfork reports bobcats are continuing to cause chicken depredation for local farmers. And a farmer observed a cougar stalking and later attacking a horse east of Bigfork. The horse escaped with only claw marks.

•And there was the call conservation officer Nikki Shoutz of Pine River got from an 11-year-old who reported a deer outside his door charged at him and "wouldn't let him out of the house.'' The sick, crippled deer was dispatched, Shoutz reported.

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com