It’s a safe assumption the majority of hunters are fully aware of the regulations associated with dove hunting, but there remain common violations that game wardens continue to see each September. Most of them are easily avoidable, and in all reality, these issues rest at the heart of conservation: It’s up to responsible hunters to show youths and those who’ve never hunted how to conduct themselves legally and safely.
Citation figures compiled by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department highlight six areas that account for the majority of mourning dove and white-winged dove violations annually. Here’s a breakdown of those and some things to think about as fall wingshooting seasons begin this month:
Hunting without a license: My guess is some hunters feel the risk of being caught without the proper documentation isn’t that high. However, the cost of a license sure beats the alternative citation, and if you’re introducing someone to the pursuit, you certainly want to do it the legal and ethical way. I would bet some hunters likely have waited until the last minute to purchase a license only to find retailers swamped right before the opener and decided to chance it. You can avoid lines if you buy online through the TPWD website, and a confirmation number will work in lieu of a license if you meet a game warden.
Using an unplugged shotgun: On all migratory game bird hunts your shotgun must be plugged to a three-shell capacity. Some bird hunters likely forget to put a plug, which simply can be a wooden dowel, back into their firearms after hunting turkey, quail or pheasants, and this is something you can be sure all game wardens will check. It also should be noted that if you set up a combo hunt during the early teal season, you may not use lead shot for the fluttering fliers. Make sure your lead loads that are legal for doves don’t get mixed in with non-toxic shot, which is the only legal method for harvesting waterfowl.
Exceeding bag/possession limit: Double dipping, shooting a limit of doves in the morning and then again in the afternoon, falls into this category. In previous years, regulations prohibited dove hunting in the morning to avoid this problem altogether. The possession limit for migratory game birds was changed a couple of years ago to three times the daily bag. You obviously wouldn’t want to be found with multiple limits until after at least the second day of the season. In past years, the daily bag limit was 15 in the north zone and 12 in the central and south zones. This year again, the statewide daily bag is 15.
Hunting without migratory game bird stamp: There isn’t actually a stamp that comes on your license but rather an endorsement that reads “Migratory GmBrd” if you purchase it. You must have this endorsement, which isn’t included on a standard hunting license and costs $7, to legally hunt doves. However, the endorsement is included in the price of a $68 super combo license. You also must be Harvest Information Program certified, which means answering questions about the number of birds taken on hunts from last season. The certification should appear on a license below your personal information.
Hunting/possessing doves in closed season: Dove season in the north zone runs from Sept. 1 to Nov. 13 and Dec. 17 to Jan. 1 while the central zone season is from Sept. 1 to Nov. 6 and Dec. 17 to Jan. 8. The south zone season is Sept. 23 to Nov. 13 and Dec. 17 to Jan. 23. The special white-winged dove area in South Texas also has a regular season that runs Sept. 23 to Nov. 9 and Dec. 17 to Jan. 23. The early special season in that area is Sept. 3, 4, 10, and 11, with legal shooting hours of noon to sunset. Know the correct hunting dates is a must, and if game wardens hear shotguns booming, you know they’ll be inspecting the area for violations.
Hunting over a baited area: If there is a large concentration of birds in a particular area or if you spot grain on the ground you should ask questions of a landowner or outfitter before hunting. As an old dove hunting saying goes, “Look down before you look up.” A hunter may be cited for hunting over bait, which can include salt, grain or other feed, even if they didn’t know it was there. However, a hunter may hunt migratory game birds over standing crops, at any time over natural vegetation that has been manipulated and where seeds or grains have been scattered as a result of normal agricultural planting, harvesting or post-harvest manipulation, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Consult the Outdoor Annual, which is available where licenses are sold, for more details on all game bird regulations.