Athens Review, Athens, Texas

August 24, 2013

MATT WILLIAMS: Experts say dove hunters in for above average season

The Athens Review

ATHENS — Like college football junkies anticipating that first Saturday game day, Texas dove hunters are anxiously awaiting the opening day of dove season. While a few may stick around home to watch their favorite team square off on the last weekend of August, most dove hunters will likely be on the road, hopefully en route to a good dove field somewhere.

As always, dove season opens on Sept. 1, which falls on a Sunday this year. The only thing that would make it better would be if opening day fell on a Friday or Saturday.

That would allow hunters to spend multiple days in the field before heading back to work after a long Labor Day weekend.

Opening day of dove season is a celebratory time for Texas hunters regardless of the day of the week. That's because it marks the beginning of a long line of hunting seasons ahead and provides a special challenge not found anywhere else in wing shooting circles.

The mourning dove is a sleek little game bird built for speed. It weighs only 4-6 ounces but can fly at speeds around 50 m.p.h., possibly even faster when riding a stiff tailwind.

Those factors, combined with its ability to dart, dive and perform other trick maneuvers in flight make it an extremely difficult target to hit at times.

I've seen it written that on average dove hunters will spend about seven shot shells for every dove they bag.

One of the main reasons dove hunters waste so much lead shooting at doves is because they probably take a lot of shots they shouldn't.

A shotgun will kill a dove beyond 50 yards. The problem when shooting at such a small target that far away is the pattern tends to spread out so much the chances of multiple pellets finding the target are significantly reduced.

When shooting at a dove, try to pick your shots inside 30 yards and avoid the inclination to keep on shooting when the bird is obviously out of range or flying so high that it looks more like a speck in the sky than a dove.

It is also a good idea to use premium shotshells in combination with an interchangeable choke that throws a good-but-forgiving pattern. Improved cylinder, skeet or modified are the best chokes for dove; full is the absolute worst.

Some shots are naturally more difficult to make on doves than others.

Some hunters have trouble with birds that approach from the left or right and cross directly in front. I have the most trouble hitting doves that make a surprise appearance from the rear and fly directly overhead.

Regardless of what your weaknesses are, this should be a good season to tune your shooting skills. Texas Parks and Wildlife is forecasting an above average season thanks largely to improved habitat conditions that have bode well for resident populations of mourning doves and whitewings.

“It appears that breeding dove numbers have increased from last year in many regions of the state,” said Shaun Oldenburger, TPWD dove program leader. “Increased precipitation helped improve dove production and generate ample food supplies. It should be a good season.”

I recently caught up with wildlife biologists from the several of the state's top dove hunting regions and asked them to weigh-in on the upcoming season. Here's what they had to say:

Edwards Plateau

“Mourning and white-winged dove numbers look good across the Plateau as the forbs produced by spring rains set plenty of seed, said wildlife biologist Rufus Stephens of Kerrville.  “In areas with mid-summer rains fallow fields with annual sunflowers or croton (dove weed) should be productive. Where conditions are drier tanks that are still holding water should concentrate birds.”

Things are looking especially good in Bell, Coryell and Williamson counties, according to wildlife biologist Derrick Wolter of Georgetown.

“We caught a lot of hatch year white-winged and mourning doves during our summer dove banding project, signaling good reproduction for both species,” said Wolter. “Hunters located on the eastern edge of the Edward’s Plateau should find these birds in ag fields just outside urban areas come September. Mourning doves, a more rural species, were more difficult to band this summer, but not because they were in short supply; production was good.

South Texas

“Dove numbers appear strong, but as habitat conditions continue to improve across the region doves will be less concentrated, said David Veale of Pleasanton. “The rainfall produced a late flush of forbs that will spread out food sources for birds. Traditional agricultural areas that are under center pivot or that have managed to produce a crop in spite of the drought will be good areas for hunters to concentrate on. The drought has caused a lot of coastal bend farmers to switch from cotton to sesame, and these areas should see an abundance of mourning doves.”

West Texas

“It could be a great dove season in west Texas, said Jason Wagner of Ft. Stockton “Recent rainfalls should allow for annual forbs to produce mature seeds around the beginning of dove season.

This should hold the doves in the area and help attract migrating birds. Hunting over water holes is the most popular method for hunting doves in the Trans-Pecos, but more rainfall is needed to fill up water holes for dove hunting.”

Post Oak Savannah

“Good dove hunting opportunities in the district will probably be scattered with the best hunts located where food, water and cover are located in close proximity,” said David Sierra of Tyler. “This year’s crops are varied but there are a lot of scattered milo fields.  Again with the good rains there should be excellent amounts of juvenile and hatching-year birds but in scattered numbers.

“A little pre-season scouting will provide the best chances for good dove hunting opportunities early in the season.”

Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail,