September is a month of hope. Football teams, good and bad, are all in contention for a championship season, students are all on track for honor roll, the first true cold fronts are on the way to snap the heat of summer and dove hunters are hoping to bag a limit of birds without blowing through three boxes of shells.

I haven’t bought my license yet, so I went out Saturday morning as an observer, and I counted more dragonflies than doves; but on Friday, opening-day dove hunters found themselves with a lot of tasty targets darting through the Central Texas sky.

Most of the hunters I heard from said that birds were more active during morning hunts than in the afternoon, and recent rains probably provided enough puddles for birds to stay close to grain and sunflower fields where they feed, meaning if you were set up at a stock tank waiting for thirsty birds to arrive, you probably didn’t have much to shoot at.

Chris Dulock had a solid trip on Friday morning while hunting near West, and even after getting a late start, he almost got his limit. “It sounded like everyone around the area was having a good morning,” he said, adding, “but yesterday evening was a different story. I was hunting with about five other guys on an 80-acre field, and between us, we only got one bird.” He said others who hunted in the area had about the same experience.

Outdoorsman and KWTX anchor Gordon Collier hunted a friend’s property between Waco and Robinson, saying he didn’t limit out but had a good time.“I think I shot eight birds and that was about the average for the people I talked to,” he said. All the birds he and his companions shot were whitewings, he said.

“Usually, they start out flying low and slow on opening morning, but that wasn’t the case this year,” Collier said. They started out high and fast, and I had to switch to a tighter choke and still had problems reaching them.”

Out near Mt. Calm, Jason Bartlett joined Brian Dunlap, Jack Hawkins, Shane Hawkins, and Josh Hawkins ended up cleaning 65 birds total. Bartlett said the shooting was challenging, with lots of birds being just out of reach.

Robinson residents and avid outdoorsmen Jeff McNew and Bryan Carter both said they missed out on opening day hunts, but from the amount of gunfire they reported hearing, there must have been plenty of birds flying. Carter said he saw lots of doves taking refuge in his back yard trees.

McNew’s older son Andy took a Friday evening trip with Riley Allen in the Speegleville area, and they saw good numbers flying. “The shooting where we were wasn’t incredible, but it was enough to keep us interested,” he said.

McNew’s younger son, Matt, also a lifelong outdoorsman who has graced the pages of the Tribune-Herald not only for his fishing and hunting accomplishments, but also for football accolades, said his opening day hunt was bumped in favor of preparing, along with his teammates at SMU, to play their first football game of the season in Dallas on Saturday.

But he is sure to get afield soon and knock down birds like he knocks down quarterbacks.

Several hunters said their plans were delayed by the recent hurricane, whether because of taking part in relief efforts or waiting for fuel trucks to show up so they could make it to their hunting grounds.

Of course, sometimes the hope of September fades quickly, as it did Saturday afternoon for fans of a particular Texas college football team that I won’t name (but it rhymes with “pronghorns”) – but like Central Texas sports legend Butch Henry always reminds us, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

Balancing wildlife with water fowl

Life is all about balance, and even though it’s the dawn of a new hunting season, there are still a lot of folks focused on filling their live wells. Keith Rodriguez is emerging as a legend as a white bass angler on Lake Waco, and getting a limit seems as easy for him as picking up a loaf of bread at the store.

“I’m catching them in the evenings after 7 p.m. in 5 -15 feet of water using slabs and spoons with a little added weight to get longer casts into the schools and a faster drop into the middle of them,” he said.

He said the whites are chasing shad like crazy in the mornings and evenings, and says if you come across a boiling school of surface-feeding sandies, you’re in for some amazing action. “I usually go where I know the whites are going to feed and drift for catfish until I see a school come up,” said Rodriguez.

He says to move toward the school slowly to avoid spooking the fish and scattering them deep. Make long casts and a stealthy approach, and once they submerge, keep an eye out because they won’t go far before coming back up for more.

Once the water temperature cools, he says, the fish will go deeper, so fishing off the bottom with ghost minnows or shad will be the best bet for catching them.

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