September wingshooters can count on one thing in years like this: The probability for a good dove or teal hunt goes sky-high if you’ve got consistent water in your flight path.
The ongoing drought that has affected most of the state hasn’t been as bad in East Texas and North Texas, but it still has put a premium on moisture sources for migrating birds. And hunters looking to fill their 15-dove or six-teal daily limit next month should concentrate on even the smallest amount of steady water, be it a fresh playa or dependable stock tank.
Despite extended drought conditions that continue to linger across much of Texas, wildlife biologists are predicting a good dove hunting season, which this year again offers increased opportunities for white-winged doves in South Texas.
Texas boasts fall dove populations in excess of 40 million birds and its roughly 300,000 dove hunters harvest about 6 million birds annually (5 million mourning doves and a million whitewings) or nearly 30 percent of all doves taken in the United States. Dove hunting also contributes more than $300 million to the state economy.
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.
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.
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.
Dove hunting provides an entry into the sport of hunting because it is relatively economical and accessible. Through its Public Hunting Program, TPWD offers affordable access to quality hunting experiences with the purchase of a $48 Annual Public Hunting Permit.
This year TPWD again has leased tens of thousands of acres of public dove hunting fields, many of which are located near major urban areas. The hunting units are distributed from South Texas to the Panhandle and from Beaumont to West Texas.
Hunters are reminded that in addition to a valid Texas hunting license, certification in the Harvest Information Program is required. HIP certification is offered when you buy your license and involves responding to a few simple questions about your migratory game bird harvest during the previous season. TPWD also is conducting ongoing dove banding research and asks hunters to please report leg bands recovered on harvested birds by calling 1-800-327-BAND. TPWD bands roughly 20,000 dove a year across the state. Hunters also may report banded birds online.
Dove Hunting Outlook
Dove hunting typically is easier in dry years although scouting is more important. If you can find sunflowers or goat weed or cut and harvested grain fields, a good source of water nearby with perching trees and good landing areas for dove to get water, then you have the makings of a great dove hunt.
Survey figures in recent years have been promising and show that the end of the breeding season should have reasonably added to the population despite widespread drought, which should set the stage not just for this season but for those in the future. Wetter springs and summers typically make for better nesting and production numbers for doves ahead of the fall season, but the birds are hearty critters that can adapt to drought and survive much the way other wildlife does.
In many locales there have been birds of a variety of ages spotted, which highlights what should be a summer-long hatch. The Central Texas dove forecast in particular should be good, if not excellent. Hot temperatures and limited surface water usually make for good hunting late in the day around stock ponds and other supplemental watering areas.
While a little bit of moisture is beneficial to all wildlife throughout the state, rains right before a dove hunting season could make things somewhat tougher for hunters as birds get dispersed. The same also can be said for a cool front, though right now there doesn’t seem to be any real threat of scorching temperatures dropping.
In the early season, doves are not as spooky because they haven’t come under fire. The birds tend to fog in early, but especially in the Texas Panhandle, it seems the first cold norther that hits will drive the birds off. Knowing that, hunters should definitely jump on any opportunities that come their way in early September.
Dove hunters must have their shotguns plugged, meaning the firearm can’t hold more than three shells at a time. Lead shot also may be used only for doves. If you’re hunting teal you need non-toxic shot, steel or otherwise.
Hunters also should be aware of others in a field. In the heat of knocking down a dove and walking over to retrieve it, it is easy to forget where others are placed, especially if they’re moving around to pick up birds too. A good rule to follow is never shoot at low-flying birds. Shotgun pellets can do some damage even at long distances. For that reason, hunters should wear some type of eye protection like shooting glasses or plain sunglasses.