By John Jefferson
You’ll likely hear that a lot during dove season this year. As if the Texas weather isn’t hot enough, shotgun barrels could be blisteringly hot after the first few shots and aren’t likely to cool until the sun goes down!
And if TPWD dove estimates are correct, and rain doesn’t interfere, there should be plenty of birds to heat up barrels. Texas has had a lot of rain, and except for last September, it fell at the right times. It started raining right after opening day last year, washing out a lot of September hunting, which usually accounts for most of the season’s harvest. Leases got swamped and roads were impassable. Consequently, the harvest was low, allowing many doves to survive and carry over into 2019.
Rain kept falling intermittently into the spring creating a bountiful habitat for doves and setting the stage for a productive breeding season. Couple that with the large carryover of native birds and conditions appear ideal. But rain is always a threat.
Currently, there isn’t much in sight. But history is against us. The late T.D. Carroll, a respected TPWD supervisor, once checked past years’ late summer rainfall records and told me it rained in late August on over half of them. If it didn’t rain then, seasons are changing and rain could come. Doves are concentrated near food and water right now, but rain fills potholes and ponds, scattering doves and inhibiting their flying. They don’t like getting their feet wet!
But enough negative talk! Dove season kicks off the fall hunting seasons and is anticipated by hunters more than that later New Years Day. More than 300,000 Texas and non-resident hunters will be in the fields. And they’ll bag more than 10 million doves – more than any other state and nearly a third of all doves downed in America!
Doubt those figures? Then realize that official estimates of dove breeding populations in Texas total 34 million mourning doves and 10 million white-winged doves! And that doesn’t count northern doves that migrate through Texas when cold weather hits.
Hunters overlook a few regulations every year, and fines increase the cost of hunting. First and foremost is a hunting license. Gotta have one! Dove hunters also must have the Texas Migratory Game Bird endorsement ($7) and the HIP certification (free) regarding last year’s harvest. DOVE hunters can use lead shot, but if you shoot a pump or semi-automatic shotgun, it must be plugged to hold no more than three shells. The bag limit is 15 doves per day (including the TOTAL of all species, but only two white-tipped doves). Eurasian ringnecked doves are exotic and don’t count toward your bag limit. Leaving a feathered wing on each dove proves it was legal. During the regular season, shooting is permitted 30-minutes before sunrise to sunset. Hunting over bait is illegal.
Fall Dove Zone seasons are North: 9/1-11/12; Central: 9/1-11/3; South: 9/14-11/3.
The darting doves provide a New Year’s challenge. Are you up to it?