The Lone Star State is blessed with an abundance of hunting opportunities for both small game and big game, and with a little help from Mother Nature, the overall hunting forecast has shaped up to be good for most Texas wildlife in 2017-18.
Here is The Texas Outdoor Digest’s annual dove hunting preview, including new regulation changes, an interview with the state’s dove program leader, and a host of tips and tactics to make you a better dove hunter.
Don’t forget to take a youngster along on your dove hunts. It’s the best way to introduce a new hunter to the pursuit!
Texas dove hunting outlook
Texas ranks No. 1 in the entire country for dove hunting, including the overall harvest for both mourning doves and white-winged doves. In fact, Texas typically has boasted fall populations in excess of 40 million doves, with a long-term estimate of about 300,000 hunters taking part in the annual hunting pastime. All those hunters usually bag about a third of all the doves harvested in the country annually. Did you know that TPWD has estimated that dove hunting has at least a $300 million economic impact in Texas each year?
Shaun Oldenburger, dove program leader for TPWD, noted that dove hunting conditions often ebb and flow with weather and range conditions and some areas of the state simply have better hunting than others – for a variety of reasons.
“Some folks said it was their worst year ever while some said it was their best year ever last year,” he said. “I do think we’ll probably see a bump up this year in mourning dove harvest and we’ll see a whitewing harvest on par with what it has been the past few years – 1.8 million or 1.9 million. At some point we’re going to break the 2 million barrier on white-winged dove hunting, which we haven’t done yet in the state of Texas. When you put that in context, they said there were only 150,000 whitewings in Texas 40 years ago, so that’s pretty amazing.”
All those birds have opened up many new hunting options for hunters, which means another big change in the regulations and zone maps, Oldenburger said.
“We’re going to expand our Special White-Winged Dove Area to the whole South Zone,” he said. “That means hunters won’t see a whitewing area broken out from the other areas of the state in the Outdoor Annual and the online regulations. That’s going to offer some additional opportunity for hunters in local areas where there has been abundant whitewing populations that are increasing. You think of places like El Campo, Columbus and Sealy, and other areas that have more whitewings flying in, which traditionally haven’t been huntable based on how the seasons fell.
“We always seem to have those rains and storms in early to mid-September, which would blow those whitewings out and hunters in those areas would miss out. Now those hunters will be able to take advantage of those increasing whitewing numbers the first two full weekends in September with those white-winged dove hunting days expanding. We worked with U.S. Fish & Wildlife to set those whitewing frameworks, which really should simplify the regulations, and that should be a win-win for everyone in Texas when it comes to dove hunting.”
Oldenburger noted that much like feral hogs, whitewings have greatly expanded their range across the state in the past couple of decades.
“With the overall population expanding, we’re getting pretty close to having every county in Texas on the white-winged dove map. We’re seeing whitewings in places in the Pineywoods where we traditionally never thought we’d see them,” Oldenburger said. “You go back 30 and 40 years and they were almost solely found in the Rio Grande Valley, then you had them moving into San Antonio in the 1980s. Then about 20 years ago there was a boom and now you see them in the Rolling Plains and Panhandle and everywhere in between. Now, at least 90 percent of our breeding population occurs in urban areas.”
Based on preliminary harvest estimates in early summer, as well as man-in-the-field accounts, this should be another good dove season.
“Everyone I’ve talked to is seeing more mourning doves and whitewings than they traditionally have, and we should have plenty of good habitat. We at TPWD are always trying to expand private lands access for hunting, too. For mourning doves it looks to be a very positive year and as of June we’ve already seen a lot of young birds flighted around the state. We should have a very good crop of young mourning doves out there, which we traditionally harvest more proportionally than adult birds, especially earlier in the season,” Oldenburger said.
One welcome addition to dove hunting in recent years has been the rise of Eurasian collared doves, which aren’t regulated as a game bird by TPWD. They’re also larger than the other dove species, too.
“We estimated that there were about 600,000 Eurasian collared doves taken by hunters last year,” Oldenburger said. “Those doves represent another opportunity for hunters to get out and hunt what’s near them. Obviously there’s no bag limit and no established hunting season. We do recommend that folks leave a wing on so that they’re identifiable. We’re estimating a breeding population of about 3.5 million around the state now, most of them occurring in the Panhandle and South Texas.”