Sasser: Everything you wanted to know (and much more) about dove season
Dallas Morning News - Online
Every season is a good season for Texas dove hunters, at least those who find themselves on opening morning in a field buzzing with birds. Resident mourning doves usually number about 40 million, and many of the other 300 million North American mourning doves find their way through Texas as they migrate south.
Mix in millions of resident white-winged doves (5 million as of 2010, according to the last urban whitewing count done by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department) and you've got the ingredients for excellent wing shooting.
TPWD dove program leader Shaun Oldenburger said the unusually wet July probably encouraged doves to continue nesting. The downside may be improved overall range conditions that spread birds over a large area.
Here are some things about dove hunting you may have forgotten since last season:
Dove Season Dates: North Zone and Central Zone — Sept. 1 -Oct. 23 and Dec. 20-Jan. 5 ; South Zone: Sept. 20 –Oct. 27 and Dec. 20-Jan. 20. Special White-Winged Dove Area, Special Season: Sept. 1-2 and Sept. 7-8. Special White-Winged Dove Area Regular Season, Sept. 20 -Oct. 23 and Dec. -20 Jan. 20.
Stay safe. Even the small shot sizes used for dove hunting will pierce skin as far as 130 yards. Know where other hunters are located and try to stay 150 yards apart. Avoid shots at low-flying birds between you and a nearby hunter. Wear shooting glasses to protect your eyes. Unload your gun as soon as you've finished hunting and leave the shotgun action open so everyone can see that the gun is safe. Many dove hunting accidents occur around the vehicle.
Watch how doves enter and leave the area and move into position to intercept them. Doves have distinct flight patterns. Observe how they fly and take advantage of the flight patterns.
Hide from doves. These birds have incredible eyesight and a lofty vantage point. The doves see hunters and recognize them as dangerous, then fly around the danger. Hiding means dressing in clothes that blend with the natural background, but it also means using natural cover and remaining still as doves approach your position. Pick a shady spot to shoot from, if possible. The shade helps you hide and keeps you more comfortable.
Find fallen birds by walking directly to the spot where the bird went down without taking your eye off the spot. Hunters are notoriously bad at marking fallen birds and often lose downed game as a result. When you get to the spot where the bird went down, mark it with your cap or carry a handkerchief as a marker. Walk in an ever widening circle around the marker until you find the bird. Most hunters stop short of where the bird fell. If you're hunting on the edge of a sunflower field or other tall cover, try to position yourself so the birds fall where cover is thin and you have a good chance of finding them.
Most Texas dove hunting occurs the first two weeks of the season. Dove hunting often improves with migrating birds in late September and October. The weather almost certainly becomes cooler and more comfortable later in the season. Be very careful about hunting when the temperature is above 100 degrees. Leave retrieving dogs at home unless you're hunting beside a waterhole where the dog can cool off. Try to hunt from the shade when possible. If you feel weak or light headed, get in your vehicle and start the air conditioner to cool down.
Valid hunting license, with a migratory game bird stamp. The stamp, actually a stamp fee, is required of all dove hunters 17 or older. Make certain your license states that you're HIP certified, meaning you've answered the harvest information program questions required of all migratory bird hunters.
Appropriate shotgun shells (gauge, shot size and quantity). Dove hunters tend to prefer No. 8 shot, with No. 71/2 being the second choice. If you shoot an autoloader, make certain to use shells that work well in your gun. Many autoloaders do not handle light loads well. Poor shotshell selection can turn your autoloader into an expensive single shot.
Favorite shotgun for doves — whatever gun you like to shoot. If you have interchangeable choke tubes for your shotgun, bring them along. Start with skeet or improved-cylinder and change to tighter choke patterns if the situation dictates.
Camouflage or drab-colored clothing to make yourself less conspicuous to doves. Include a camo or drab-colored cap or wide-brimmed hat in your gear. The cap will help hide your face from overhead birds and shield your eyes from the sun. A wide-brimmed hat serves the same function while providing more protection from the sun. Despite the heat, wear long pants and sturdy boots to protect your legs from scratchy vegetation and your ankles from grass burrs.
Insect repellent that protects against mosquitoes, ticks and chiggers. Mosquito repellents must be applied to the skin, but clothing can be treated with tick and chigger repellents.
Sunscreen to guard against sunburn. Early September is usually hot and sometimes brutal.
Lightweight game vest or belt with pockets or pouches for shells and birds.
Shooting glasses to help cut the sun's glare and protect your eyes from errant pellets.
Ear plugs to protect your hearing from the loud shotgun report.
Water bottles that can be carried in the pocket of a hunting vest. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated on a hot day.
Ice chest to keep drinking water cold and birds cool.
Large, resealable plastic bags to keep your birds dry while storing them on ice and to keep them separate from those taken by hunting partners. Use a water-resistant pen to write your name and the date on your bag of birds.
Shotgun cleaning kit for after the hunt or for solving malfunctions.
Game shears to help clean birds.
Battery-powered spinning-wing dove decoy. It's the best $40 insurance policy you can buy against a slow hunt. Bring extra AA batteries; the decoys are not effective unless the wings are moving. In a good spot, set up a combination of spinning wing decoys and stationary decoys that can be clipped to a dead tree limb or a fence. A couple of stationary decoys positioned like feeding birds on the ground are also effective.
Hand cleaner with high alcohol content for washing hands after bird cleaning.
Here are six common legal mistakes made by dove hunters:
Failure to plug the magazine of a pump or autoloading shotgun. For all migratory bird hunting, the gun must be plugged to a three-shot capacity. Hunters who remove their plugs for other hunting may forget to replace the plug for dove hunting. That's one thing you can be sure the game wardens will check. Some 12-gauge shotguns that handle 31/2-inch shells may accept more that two 23/4-inch shells in the magazine, even if the magazine has a plug. If you're using one of those guns, check it to make certain.
Failure to keep your doves separate from birds shot by other hunters. This violation is called “co-mingling game,” and it simply means that a warden cannot look in an ice chest where several bags of birds are deposited and tell which hunter shot which birds. Whether birds are cleaned or not, keep each hunter's daily bag segregated in a plastic storage bag with the hunter's name and the date the birds were shot written on the bag. If you hunt three days, label a new bag to hold each day's harvest.
Violation of “possession limit.” For migratory birds, the possession limit has changed this year and is defined as three times the daily bag limit rather than two. You cannot make an extended dove-hunting trip, hunt four days, shoot four limits and have them all in your possession. It is legal to eat birds or give them away and continue to hunt as long as you do not exceed the daily bag limit on a given day or the possession limit for the duration of your hunt.
Double-dipping. This means shooting a daily bag limit of doves in the morning and more birds in the afternoon. Regulations once prohibited morning hunting of doves, just to avoid the potential for double-dipping. It is legal to hunt mornings, afternoons or both, but it is not legal to exceed the bag limit on any given hunting day.
Shooting from the tailgate of a parked pickup truck or from the seat or bed of an ATV. This is a federal rule adapted by TP&W. As stated in the regulations booklet: “It is unlawful to hunt from or by means of motor-driven vehicles and land conveyances or aircraft of any kind.” While the law is obviously concerned with the use of moving vehicles to get within shooting range of migratory birds, it is worded in such a fashion that you cannot legally shoot while sitting on or in a parked vehicle. It is important to pass this message along, as sitting on the tailgate of a truck parked in the shade while dove hunting is a tradition with some hunters.
Shooting too early or too late. Legal shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise until sunset. Doves don't begin to fly much earlier than legal shooting time, but they're notorious for flying late, particularly to a waterhole. To determine legal shooting hours where you hunt, check out sunrisesunset.com/usa/texas.asp.
Check for bands
Check closely for metal leg bands on the birds you harvest. The bands are small and not easily seen. Hunters are probably underreporting the harvest of banded doves because they never notice the band.
The dove bands include an identification number and also a phone number, 1-800-327-2263, to report the band. Hunters will be asked their name and address, the date of band recovery, method of band recovery (was the bird found dead or shot while hunting?) and location of recovery. Hunters may keep the bands. Reporting banded doves creates important information that's used in managing these game birds.
Pick up your litter
Dove hunters have the potential of depositing 35 million or so pieces of litter in the form of brightly colored shotgun shells. Made of plastic and brass, shells take many years to deteriorate. Hunters should make it second nature, upon firing a shot and retrieving the bird, to immediately retrieve the spent shotshell and place it in their game bag. After the hunt, shells should be deposited in an appropriate garbage can or garbage bag.
White-winged doves expanding their range
Before 1983, white-winged doves were seldom spotted more than 50 miles north of the Rio Grande. The severe winter of '83 killed citrus crops in the Rio Grande Valley and destroyed whitewing nesting habitat. The birds began exploratory flights north and never looked back.
Nowadays you're liable to shoot a blocky whitewing just about anywhere in Texas. The birds are larger than mourning doves and named for the white chevron on their wings. The 15-bird bag limit may consist of whitewings, mourning doves or both in the aggregate. The white-tipped dove is a third species of Texas dove that may be taken by hunters. but it's not seen except in South Texas.
Eurasian doves are a bonus
Eurasian collared doves occur in sporadic numbers throughout the state. The good news for dove hunters is that collared doves are considered an exotic species and are not protected by state or federal laws. A collared dove shot during dove season does not count against the daily bag limit.
Eurasian collared doves are nearly twice the size of mourning doves and are larger even than white-winged doves. Eurasian doves are a light-colored bird with darker flight feathers on their wing tips. The most distinctive characteristic is a dark ring on the back of the bird's neck. That's where the collared dove gets its name, but the neck ring may not be visible in flight.
While Texas law permits hunters to clean doves in the field, it's a good idea to keep Eurasian doves intact, in case you are checked by a game warden. Most hunters retain only the dove's breast for eating. A warden cannot reliably tell the difference between the cleaned breast of a collared dove, a white-winged dove or a mourning dove. To avoid a potential legal hassle, keep Eurasian collared doves intact until you arrive at your residence.