A dove is perched nervously on a pine tree branch outside the home of Tribune-Herald outdoor columnist Todd Nafe.

The cards are still out on whether my football teams will have a good season or not, but the ingredients are all in place for Texas hunters to have an exceptionally good dove season beginning Sept. 1.

“Texas had above average mourning dove production early in the spring with continued good production where precipitation occurred through the spring and summer,” said Shaun Oldenburger, TPWD Dove Program Leader. “Good croton, sunflower, ragweed, and other highly-selected dove foods were found statewide this year. Where good water conditions and timing of seeding in these plants coincide, hunters should find good hunting in September for mourning doves.”

Roughly 15 percent of the nation’s 300 million mourning dove reside in Texas, along with about 15 million white-winged dove. Each fall, over 300,000 Texas dove hunters take to the field in pursuit of these acrobatic, fast-flying game birds.

Based on my own field observations over the past couple of weeks, both mourning and white-wing doves are in Central Texas in big numbers. I’ve seen flocks of up to 20-30 flying in tight groupings from around 5:45-7:00 in the evenings, and on most days, there’s at least a handful of dove visible all the time if you’ve got a view with broad horizons.

Of course, once the guns start blasting on opening day, the birds will start flying faster and higher, but as cold fronts push new birds down from the heartland, the targets will get easier to hit again.

Wildlife biologist Josh Sears concurs, saying the upcoming season in our area should be good to excellent overall. “Early surveys suggest that this hunting season will be good statewide but may be challenging for hunters due to the ample surface water and abundant food resources which spread the birds out,” he said. “Average temperatures, above normal precipitation, vast food resources and excellent nesting conditions all suggest a great outlook this year.”

Sears says to optimize your chances of finding good numbers of birds, focus on their food. “Although there are many variables that factor in to having a good dove hunting experience, the habitat is critical. Find the sunflowers. When the sunflowers head out, the dove will be there to feed.”

KWTX news anchor and lifelong outdoorsman Gordon Collier is also on board with a positive outlook. Collier says everything looks to be in place for a great dove season, including the key ingredient of summer precipitation, a fact verified by his co-worker Rusty Garrett, who notes that Central Texas is still above the average annual rainfall total.

“By the looks of the vegetation,” Collier said, “the rain came at the right time. An abundance of food and water is critical to a good hatch survival, and this year is really promising. I was out on a friend’s ranch near Rogers last weekend and the sunflowers and ragweed looked healthy.”

Collier echoed the downside that goes along with the upside, saying there should be plenty of birds, but they’ll likely be spread out with all the food and water sources, adding that scouting trips are vital to knowing where birds will likely be.

If you don’t have a place to hunt, there are public hunting lands available through licensing options, and there are also some outfitters offering day trips and other packages. One of the most highly-touted of those is Ben Taylor’s Executive Outfitters near Brownwood. He reports good numbers of mourning dove early with white-wings moving in later, and says the forage on his ranch is healthy and should hold birds throughout the season.

Taylor says that no matter where you hunt, if you scout fields early in the day and find birds there, you’re likely to find triple the number that afternoon.

The season for the North and Central Zones opens on Sept. 1, and the first split of the season closes Nov. 12 in the North and Nov. 5 in the Central Zone. Second splits open in both zones on Dec. 15.

In addition to a hunting license, a Migratory Game Bird endorsement and Harvest Information Program (HIP) certification are also required to hunt dove. HIP certification involves a brief survey of previous year’s migratory bird hunting success and is conducted at the time licenses are purchased. The daily bag limit for doves statewide is 15 with a possession limit of 45.

Surplus of gear

There are a lot of places around Central Texas to buy your hunting gear, thanks to the growing number of sporting goods stores targeting the outdoor sports.

But my first choice for outdoor gear shopping is Waco’s Army Navy Surplus, located at 2601 Dutton. This venerable Waco store has been my source for clothing, camping, tactical, hunting, cooking, and other gear since I was a kid. The quality is solid – if it’s sturdy enough for the military, it’s probably gonna survive the stress of a hunting, camping, or fishing trip.

Ron Ramos is a smart, knowledgeable, and capable man who will guide you to what you need, and once you’re through the doors of Army Navy, you’ll find more than you ever expected.

The big retail chains have excellent products for sale, too, but I prefer the down-home feel of a local landmark for most of my outdoor needs.

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