Dove hunting in Texas is inexpensive, accessible and inclusive of every species of hunter in the Lone Star State, catering to anyone and everyone willing to brave a steamy September afternoon from the Red River to the Rio Grande.
And thanks to the longest dove season in eight decades, maybe you’ll be the lucky fellow or lady who figures out that those birds that come down from Kansas in October or November are just as easy to hit during weekends when temperatures are hovering in the mid-50s.
When it comes right down to the core of the pursuit, it doesn’t matter if you’re a wealthy oil and gas magnate swinging a handcrafted Italian over-and-under that cost as much as an arm or a leg off one of your roughneck fieldhands, or if you’re an average Joe toting your budget-friendly Mossberg that you bought on sale at Academy with the money from that extra shift you took instead of attending your third kid’s birthday party.
The key to success in a simmering dove field when heat indices are downright dangerous is simple: the true aim is not just about coming home with a limit of birds. Don’t get me wrong, dove breasts wrapped in bacon and jalapeno with a heaping dose of cream cheese and grilled over mesquite should be their own food group, but that’s not what dove hunting is all about.
It seems like a paradox in this day and age when time is among the most precious of commodities, but those hours spent enjoying the sights and sounds of a September afternoon and evening in Texas are among those you can’t assign a true value.
They’re the best hours of the year — ones brimming with natural elements.
The sweet aroma of long-stalked sunflowers baking in a warm breeze.
The symphony of grasshoppers composing melodious tunes as if playing off one another in a grand finale.
The distinctive polished texture of new shells sliding smoothly into a trusty shotgun.
The wide-eyed eagerness of Labradors feverish with gusto at the thought of being in the field.
The satisfaction that arises after completing a difficult shot when you’ve got someone nearby on a fence line, along with the accompanying complimentary shout.
The related needs of swatting away mosquitoes, shimmying away from fire ant beds, dusting off sticker burrs, wiping away sweat and squinting to zero in on incoming birds.
The amazing awe that comes from seeing wildlife spring up from every nook and cranny, whether it’s a hefty jack rabbit, a diminutive horny toad or even a docile rattlesnake.
The camaraderie of friends once strangers on a previous hunt who share the affinity for passing time here as much as the next hunter.
Then savoring sitting on a tailgate when impressive lines of doves wing it to their roost perches dripping with an orange hue signaling another sunset.
Dove hunting simply is the excuse to revel in these aspects of our world that for many may only be observed for a couple of days or weekends once a year, if at all. Even waiting in line at the sporting goods store before the opening of the season is tolerable knowing that you soon will have that most precious of annual documents, a season pass to a world overflowing with Easter eggs.
The best part is that whether the doves are flying or not, those treasures that typically remain hidden ultimately will lead to a successful outing. I find even more delight when I’m able to share those flashes of life with family or perhaps someone who never has had the same privilege.
Those are truly the magic hours and pulling the trigger is secondary to simply enjoy the great outdoors.
Texas dove hunting forecast
Texas dove hunting already is tops in the nation, but thanks to added days, it’s only going to get better for wingshooters who pursue mourning doves and whitewings. Dove hunters received an additional 20 days this fall and winter after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a 90-day Texas dove season, the longest in 80 years.
Not only does Texas have the highest dove populations in the country, it also boasts the largest number of hunters, roughly a third of the nationwide tally of 1.1 million in a normal year, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service figures. In an average season, roughly 250,000 people put time in the field hunting mourning doves, while 125,000 target whitewings. Those hunters typically harvest about 5 million mourning doves and a million whitewings, and pump a huge amount of revenue into the state economy — more than $300 million, according to recent state and federal surveys.
Shaun Oldenburger, TPWD’s dove program leader, noted that white-winged doves are continuing to expand and increase in abundance and the mourning dove population has been increasing after lingering drought in recent years. Like last year when heavy rainfall in late spring and early summer was detrimental to nesting, there should have been plenty of time for renesting efforts. And, just like in 2015, lots of moisture should bring lots of groceries, meaning hunters may have to put in more time scouting to find large numbers of doves, Oldenburger said.
In addition to added days this year, dove hunters in recent seasons also received increased possession limits and expanded opportunities in some of the best habitat in the state. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service approved an expanded special whitewing area in South Texas from San Antonio to Corpus Christi, effectively doubling its size from previous dove frameworks. Under the most recent rules adopted by the Service, the possession limit for migratory game birds is three times the daily bag, which allows hunters to take part in a full weekend hunt from Friday through Sunday and still return home legally with a full complement of limits from each day.
If you had to pick a select number of counties that consistently provide quality shoots, you’d have to zero in on hot spots in Central Texas and South Texas. The top counties in the north and central dove zones typically are Brown, Coleman, Comanche, Throckmorton, Haskell and Shackelford, while Karnes, Live Oak, Frio, Starr, Hidalgo and La Salle are among the best in the south zone.
Dove season in the North Zone runs Sept. 1 to Nov. 13 and Dec. 17 to Jan. 1; in the Central Zone from Sept. 1 to Nov. 6 and Dec. 17 to Jan. 8; and in the South Zone from Sept. 23 to Nov. 13 and Dec. 17 to Jan. 23. The daily bag limit for doves statewide is 15 and the possession limit 45.
In the special whitewing area, the season runs Sept. 3-4, 10-11, Sept. 23 to Nov. 9 and Dec. 17 to Jan. 23. During the early two weekends there, hunting is allowed only in the afternoon and the daily bag limit is 15 birds, to include not more than two mourning doves and two white-tipped doves. When the general hunting season opens, the aggregate bag limit is 15 with no more than two white-tipped doves.