If I could only hunt one thing every year for the rest of my life it would be dove. It is what I grew up doing and it’s still my favorite.
It has something to do with dove season opening the hunting year in Texas Sept. 1, but there is more. There are the memories of when I first went with my dad, the years hunting with friends and then my own sons as I introduced them to the outdoors.
Also, dove hunting is more fun because you are not sitting in a blind alone all day and you do not have to pass up shooting anything like you do in deer hunting. You also don’t have to get up hours before sunrise and freeze on a boat ride or while sitting in a duck blind.
Dove hunting is a social hunt where you can walk around and visit with friends. You can have dog work if you have a retriever and at the end of the day you take your kill and add jalapeno peppers, bacon and fire and you have a meal.
Those same things make it a great place to introduce newcomers to hunting. As far as gear it really requires nothing more than a shotgun, shells, game vest and a license. There is a certain amount of skill required in learning to lead a dove and continue to swing through after the shot, but it is not so difficult it cannot be learned either with a little practice at the skeet range or some in-the-field training.
For a lot of the state’s estimated 350,000 dove hunters the season is a one-and-done thing. They go once and then move on to getting ready for deer season or something else. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department more than 80 percent of the total harvest comes in September, and a large portion of that happens the first two weeks even though the fall portion of the season lasts into November this year in all zones.
Texas dove hunters take between 7 and 10 million birds annually. It is estimated about 5 to 7 million of those are mourning doves. The remainder is white-wings.
In the state’s traditional dove hunting region west of Waco from the Panhandle to South Texas the outlook is excellent for this season.
“I’m analyzing our survey data now, but I feel that production this year has been high all over the state, though a little later than usual, and that dove numbers will be up, not just for our local Texas birds, but in the northern states as well. Oklahoma, Kansas and the Dakotas are having good years which points to us getting a strong influx of migrant birds this season,” said Owen Fitzsimmons, TPWD’s dove program leader.
Much of the central portion of the state was cool and wet this spring and early summer. The cool weather is believed to have slowed nesting. But heavy storms with high winds could damage the nest of doves that are notoriously poor nest builders so that may not have been all bad.
“Based on our surveys and banding activities so far, it seems that mourning dove nesting, which typically peaks in late May/early June, may have been pushed back a couple weeks. But, all that spring rain has created an abundance of native forage. Much of the state has also seen good to excellent late ag production so nesting doves have plenty of food this year. We’ve had some excellent later hatches, and I’m very optimistic for the upcoming season,” Fitzsimmons added.
The biologist said during recent drives around through the North and Central zones he has seen late crop plantings coming on and an abundance of native food sources like sunflowers.
“The outlook this year is good to excellent. Again, we are seeing some outstanding late hatches that I don’t know our surveys will adequately capture, but I’m getting current reports from our biologists across the state that are seeing similar trends. And, once again, the states north of us are experiencing great conditions as well. I’m hoping for not just a great couple of weekends in September, but a strong outlook throughout the season,” Fitzsimmons said.
He is equally as optimistic in South Texas because of the native conditions.
“We had a very strong white-wing season early on last year, the highest special white-wing harvest we’ve seen so far at around 450,000 in those four days, and I think we’ll be close to that again this year. We’ve had great white-wing production so far, and birds are still nesting heavily throughout the region,” Fitzsimmons said.
While biologists have seen a gradual shift in the migration pattern within the state over the years, the best dove hunting continues to be in traditional areas like Brown, Coleman, Taylor and Throckmorton counties in the north, Williamson, Bell, Caldwell and Guadalupe counties in the central portion of the state, and San Antonio in Medina, Uvalde, Bexar and Atascosa counties south and west of San Antonio.
Hunters new to the sport or without a place to hunt can find help through TPWD’s Public Hunting program.
“There are draw hunts, walk-in areas and even mentored hunts for beginners. Something for everyone,” Fitzsimmons said.
For more information go online to https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/hunt/public/.
The dove season in the North Zone will run Sept. 1-Nov. 12 and Dec. 20-Jan. 5. The Central Zone will be open Sept. 1-Nov. 3 and Dec. 20-Jan. 5. The Special White-winged Dove Days in the South Zone are Sept. 1-2 and 7-8, while the regular South Zone seasons are Sept. 14-Nov. 3 and Dec. 20-Jan. 23.