Labor Day in Central Texas means different things to different people. Back when I was growing up, it meant the last weekend of summer before school started. For some, it’s the early stages of football season when a fan’s hopes or fears start to take shape. A lot of folks look forward to heading up north to West to eat sausage and drink pivo. And for many, it means opening day of dove season.
Dove hunting is not only a long-standing tradition, but increasingly, it’s becoming a big business in Texas. Hundreds of thousands of hunters will head afield this fall to try and limit out on these aerobatic birds, and if history holds true, Texas wing-shooters will take home about 30% of all doves shot in the U.S.
Central Texas has the geographic features that make for excellent dove hunting – plenty of fields full of grain, sunflowers, and other dove favorites, water sources, and roosting areas that attract these birds by the millions.
Dove hunts are as much focused on the social as the hunting aspects, and doesn’t require the level of concealment and stealth that a deer hunt does. Some dove hunters put on a camo shirt and cap, blue jeans, boots, and sit on the tailgate waiting for birds to fly within range. However, dove have keen eyesight and will avoid flying too close if they can see you – especially after a few days of hunting pressure.
I prefer morning hunts over afternoon ones, mainly because of the hot afternoon temperatures typically associated with September, but some of my best trips have come just before sunset.
Best bets for seeing plenty of birds include setting up your stool near a stock tank, especially if it’s been a while since a rain. Dove need water like everything else, and if you’re near a reliable water supply, they’ll surely come swooping in for a drink.
After a long stretch without hunting, it’s easy to jump the gun, so to speak, but patience with your shots will pay off. Make sure the birds are within range before you stand and shoot, and once you’ve knocked a bird down, keep an eye on where it fell so you can more easily locate it. Doves can be hard to see, and too many get lost to fire ants by hunters who don’t pay attention.
Area wildlife biologist Josh Sears says conditions should be right for an excellent dove season. “The beneficial spring rains provided excellent soil moisture for sunflower seed germination, and also provided great nesting habitat for resident birds,” he said. “The timely rains through late spring and early summer made for good stands of sunflower, corn, croton, sorghum and other palatable species for dove. Good standing crops contribute to lots of seed on the ground in September and the dove will be there to cash in.”
He added that he’s seeing big numbers of white-winged dove this year. “Although this species is highly unpredictable and difficult to pattern, a hunter can shoot a quick limit if you get on their groceries. In my experience, the larger white-winged dove usually show up late morning and go to roost early,” said Sears. “The resident mourning dove population is also strong this year,” he added. “There are good numbers up north that will migrate through, occasionally providing heavy flocks. The abundance of available food resources should stop and hold these birds.”
He not only expects a strong opener, but sees a solid season through mid-October with conditions the way they are.
Avid hunter and KWTX news anchor Gordon Collier agrees, saying conditions are set up right for a great season. “I’ve seen lots of local birds while scouting,” he said, “and if the weather stays like it is, they should stick to their patterns. The majority of crops did well this year, too.”
Collier recommends finding sunflower field or recently-harvested grain field near water and taking lots of shells!
Another thing to remember is that 100-plus degree temperatures will beat on you like a heavyweight boxer, so keep plenty of hydrating fluids on hand and use sun protection for your skin.
Licenses go on sale this week (Thursday) at retail stores, by phone, and online.
Raffle for a worthy cause
Tony Montoya has made his mark on the Central Texas fishing world with a number of records (including breaking the same water body record for catfish twice on the same day) – and also through his generosity with information on techniques, baits, locations, and other things to help more people catch fish.
He has been featured in the Tribune-Herald outdoors more times than I can remember, but this week’s mention is the first time I wished I wasn’t writing about him.
Last week, Montoya announced that his wife Angela has been diagnosed with cancer, and the upcoming expenses related to treatment and care are significant.
The outdoor community is pulling together to help defray costs, and a raffle featuring some amazing guided trips is being put together as part of the effort. For $10 per ticket, you’ll be entered into a drawing for guided fishing and hunting trips donated by pros from around Central Texas.
Currently, the number of trips is 7, but more support is welcome. If you’d like to donate a service or some merchandise, your generosity will be appreciated and noted. As of press time, Houston Guide Service, Tru-Guide Service, Garbillyz Guide Service, Reel Fishing Guide Service, TMA Outdoors, Lake Whitney Striper Fishing, and a trip with angler Charles Sanders are on the list.
To make a donation, call Omel Reyes at 254-366-1510. Raffle tickets are available at https://www.paypal.me/OmelReyes.