On the virtual eve of the start of fall hunting in Kansas, a new survey shows just how many people actively hunt mourning doves.

But this first-of-its kind survey also shows just how tenuous the activity might be.

While the margin of error in the survey is exceptionally low, some of the questions are suggestive, detailing some of the common complaints against non-lead shotshell alternatives, for example.

The survey actually spends a lot of time focusing on lead shot, a controversial issue.

On average, dove hunters are white males, typically 45 years old and older, living in relatively small towns, according to the survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the National Flyway Council found.

Most dove hunters have been active for a long time, hunting for 20 years or more. The majority kill fewer than 30 birds a season, even though 6 percent kill more than 100 each year.

Near half of the dove hunters surveyed said the season is "one of my most important recreational activities."

No surprise, considering where the birds can be found, but most hunting takes place on private land, and a majority of hunters travel more than 50 miles to get to their hunting spot.

"The majority indicated they hunt 'occasionally throughout the dove season' and spend $50 or less on shotshells," the survey report said, "but about a quarter hunt as many days as they can throughout the entire season, some expending 'cases' of ammunition."

The majority of hunters responding to the survey said they use lead shot, and think lead shot substitutes are too expensive, don't perform as well or will be hard to find. However, 40 percent of those surveyed said they don't know.

Still, there was a lot of uncertainty about the effects of lead on the health of doves and other wildlife. Twenty percent of the hunters said they had concerns about consumption of lead by wildlife, while the rest were mixed.

But nearly half said they worry non-lead shot cripples more doves than lead.

And 40 percent said doves have such a short lifespan that exposure to lead makes little difference.

Requiring non-lead shot would limit hunting, the survey found.

Nearly a third of the hunters said they'd quit hunting if required to use non-lead shot, although a slightly higher number wouldn't.

"Almost 50 percent thought requiring non-lead shot would reduce the number of young people recruited to hunting," the report states. "Nearly half said they would probably reduce the number of trips they take to go dove hunting if required to use non-lead shot."

That's likely why two-thirds of the dove hunters said they were opposed to a requirement calling for the use of non-lead shot.

About half of those surveyed think the lead-shot issue is driven by animal rights groups whose goal it is to eliminate hunting or a tactic by gun control advocates.

They can be convinced otherwise, however.

Slightly more than half said they'd switch if there was scientific evidence showing the dove population was being harmed by eating lead pellets.

"Doves can be poisoned by consuming spent lead shot, but despite anecdotal evidence, researchers do not yet know if there is a population-level effect," the surveys own authors noted.

Overall, the hunters said in the past five years, the price of gas, the cost of shotshells and the cost of hunting permits was becoming burdensome.

As well, dove hunters take part in other hunting activities, pursuing upland game birds, big and small game, waterfowl and sporting clays.