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Dove Season Outlook Fair as Drought Conditions Prevail
AUSTIN, Texas — Come August, dove hunters become creatures of habit; intently aware of silhouettes on power lines and pastures with bright yellow sunflowers. They track the bird’s swift, erratic flight with imaginary shotguns.
Pre-game warmup exercises.
This year, hunters have had a fairly light preseason workout and can anticipate an average dove season, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department dove program leader Jay Roberson.
This year’s dove call count index, which measures dove breeding population changes, shows a decline statewide from last year’s surveys. Roberson cites continued dry conditions throughout the core dove range in Texas for the second consecutive year as the main reason for the drop in doves calling during the surveys, with the southern region of the state seeming to have been hit the hardest.
Biologists have been conducting roadside call counts each spring since 1966, driving along the same 133 transect routes and stopping routinely to listen for the bird’s distinctive call, and this year’s estimates are 18 percent below the long term average. Roberson said drought isn’t completely to blame for decreased mourning dove populations.
“It’s something that seems to have been going on for a long time at a rate of just under one percent a year and a lot of biologists believe it’s habitat loss,” Roberson said. “This said, doves are still an extremely abundant species and numerous flights of 12 to 40 doves have been seen around Austin late in the afternoon, going to and from feeding areas. Also, whitewings are increasing in numbers across the state.
“Whitewings are not impacted as much as mourning dove because of their adaptation to urban areas,” Roberson said. “They rely more on supplemental food sources from backyard feeders and although the fields adjacent to urban areas will be just as dry as those in rural areas, whitewings should continue to provide good hunting opportunities this year.” In 2005, the whitewing population in Texas was estimated to be 2.8 million
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. 22-Nov. 12, reopening Dec. 26-Jan. 12 with a 12 bird bag but not more than two white-tipped doves. Possession limit is twice the daily bag.
The Special South Texas Whitewing Zone, which now encompasses land west of I-35 and south of U. S. Highway 90, is open to white-winged dove afternoon-only (noon to sunset) hunting the first two Saturdays and Sundays in September. The daily bag limit is 12 birds, not more than four (4) mourning doves and two (2) white-tipped doves.
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
“If the drought intensifies and birds are concentrated around water, some hunters may not perceive a drop in dove densities,” noted Roberson. “I would recommend hunters scout for birds using sunflower fields near permanent open water.”
However, some areas have large amounts of failed grain crops standing in the fields. When landowners till these crops into the soil will help determine dove distribution and concentration. Most dove hunters know that dry conditions can produce some of the best hunting situations for those who do their scouting.
The reduction in mourning doves could be offset in some areas by the expansion of the Eurasian collared dove, an exotic non-game species that resembles a whitewing except for a distinctive black marking on its neck. There is no bag limit or season restriction on collared dove, but Roberson recommends hunters retain a wing for identification purposes.
“Collared dove have expanded faster in 10 years than whitewings did in 25,” Roberson noted. “A lot of hunters enjoy hunting them; they are a larger bird and good to eat. I equate them to rock pigeons; a good way for a kid to learn to shoot in the off season, but you have to be careful because they do co exist with mourning dove and Inca dove.”
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 (http://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.
“We’ve banded about 1,000 mourning doves per year for last three years,” said Roberson. “The return rates in Texas have been disappointing, less than 100 bands last year and only half of those were from Texas banded birds. The information we gain from band returns is valuable and we’re urging hunters to call when they take a banded dove.”
Hunters are also cautioned that a valid Texas hunting license and this is the second year that a state migratory game bird stamp is also required for doves, waterfowl and sandhill cranes.
When buying licenses and stamps, hunters are also reminded to tell the license agent to provide the “HIP” (Harvest Information Program, a federally mandated survey of migratory bird hunters) certification 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 TPWD, hunters can access more than a million acres of public hunting lands, including 147 units ranging in size from 50 to 2,000 acres and covering more than 55,000 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 http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/ starting Aug. 31.
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