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Dove Hunters Get Expanded Whitewing Zone, Required Stamp
AUSTIN, Texas — Depending upon where you plan to hunt, the upcoming Texas dove season could be hit or miss, but it won’t be for a lack of birds. Those areas of the state that got hit with recent rain showers could pose a challenge, while drier environs should be promising, according to wildlife biologists with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Field reports in mid-August suggest above-average dove populations and continued dry conditions throughout much of South Texas, and despite recent rains, in the Panhandle and West Texas as well. If current range conditions persist, say biologists, hunters should expect to find doves concentrating near watering holes and preferred food sources such as annual weeds and agricultural seed crops.
“The majority of the area has been in a state of drought throughout spring and summer except for only a recent flurry of rainfall events,” says biologist Joe Herrera, TPWD’s wildlife district leader for South Texas. “Weather conditions in South Texas had been excellent with above-average rainfall for nearly three straight years until about early March of 2005. Dry conditions have persisted since with little or no rainfall.”
Despite dry range conditions, Herrera and his staff of biologists report excellent stands of annual weeds like croton, sunflower, and ragweed and some farm crops left standing due to drought, which are providing crucial food sources for doves.
“These food sources along with available watering holes or stock tanks will concentrate the birds and might allow hunters to more accurately predict where to hunt doves this coming hunting season,” he notes.
Conversely, the Hill Country and many counties to the north have received abundant rainfall in recent weeks, which likely will disperse doves and make locating large flights of birds more difficult for hunters, biologists suggest.
“Much of north-central Texas was pounded with torrential rains recently, making surface water plentiful and potentially scattering doves that would otherwise be more concentrated,” reports Kevin Mote, TPWD district biologist in Brownwood. “Reports from across the district seem to indicate that there are good numbers of doves currently present. Extremely dry conditions during early summer may have reduced wild food availability (native sunflower) so a good feed patch may be a hunter’s best bet to a successful hunt this year in our area of the state.”
Dove season in the North Zone is set for Sept. 1–Oct. 30, with a 15-bird bag and not more than two white-tipped doves; the Central Zone runs Sept. 1–Oct. 30 and reopens Dec. 26–Jan. 4, with a 12-bird bag and not more than two white-tipped doves; and the South Zone is set for Sept. 23–Nov. 10, reopening Dec. 26–Jan. 15 with a 12 bird bag but not more than two white-tipped doves. Possession limit is twice the daily bag.
Dove hunters in South Texas will have more opportunities in early September, thanks to an expanded Special South Texas Whitewing Zone, which now encompasses land west of I-35 and south of U. S. Highway 90. This means a 20 percent increase in the size of the special zone that is open to white-winged dove afternoon-only (noon to sunset) hunting the first two Saturdays and Sundays in September. Also new is a bag limit increase from 10 to12 birds, allowing not more than four (4) mourning doves and two (2) white-tipped doves.
Although the change drops the mourning dove bag limit from five birds to four during the special season, it does mean more hunting opportunity along the Highway 90 corridor.
“The good news is people who’ve traditionally hunted between I 35 and Highway 87 south of 90 now have the option of hunting the first two weekends,” says Jay Roberson, TPWD dove program coordinator. “Those folks in the Special Whitewing Zone also have a 12 bird limit compared to 10 last year; the only downside is the mourning dove limit had to be dropped from five to four so hunters have to be more vigilant about shot selection particularly in more rural areas where more of the birds are mourning doves.”
Sportsmen are reminded that a new Migratory Game Bird Stamp to help fund mourning dove conservation is now required of all Texas dove hunters. Senate Bill 1192 this year consolidated the state’s game bird stamps. The white-winged dove stamp and the waterfowl stamp are now combined into a single Migratory Game Bird Stamp ($7), which will be required to hunt all migratory game birds, including ducks, geese, white-winged doves, mourning doves, white-tipped doves, sandhill cranes, woodcock, snipe, rails, and gallinules.
Hunters are also reminded to be on the lookout for banded birds. As part of a research effort to monitor movements of mourning doves, some birds have been marked with metal leg bands containing a unique number and a toll free telephone number (800-327-BAND or 2263) that hunters can call to report the band. Bands may also be reported on the Internet at (www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl). Hunters may keep the bands. It only takes a minute and doesn’t cost a cent and hunters receive a certificate of appreciation that identifies when and where the dove was banded.
Hunters are cautioned that a valid Texas hunting license and HIP (Harvest Information Program, a federally mandated survey of migratory bird hunters) certification are required to hunt doves. Hunter education certification is also required, depending on your age; check the Outdoor Annual of hunting and fishing regulations booklet for details.
Dove hunters should take note they may only use “plugged” shotguns capable of holding no more than three shotshells.
For $48, the price of an Annual Public Hunting Permit from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, hunters can access more than a million acres of public hunting lands, including 143 units ranging in size from 23 to 5,860 acres and covering more than 59,000 acres leased primarily for hunting dove and other small game. TPWD’s public hunting program leased the land using money generated by permit sales.
While public hunting lands can be found throughout the state, most of the dove and small game leases occur along the I-35 and I-10 corridors within easy driving distance of the major metropolitan areas. Some areas offer special hunting opportunity for youth.
For the latest dove hunting conditions across Texas, check out TPWD’s Weekly Migratory Game Bird Report on the Web at www.tpwd.state.tx.us starting Sept. 1.
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