Sonja Sommerfeld | TPWD
Dove Done Right
Your preseason guide to usher in a memorable season.
It’s a date that many Texas hunters dream about 364 days a year: the opening day of dove season. It’s often referred to as “New Year’s Day for the Hunter” or simply “Game Day.”
Either way, Sept. 1 is a time of excitement for the approximately 300,000 Texas hunters (nearly one-third of the national total) who enjoy pursuing the most challenging of birds to shoot on the wing. Texas hunters are more than eager to head afield, following a long period of downtime after the end of turkey season in May.
These avid hunters partake in a Texas tradition that goes back more than 100 years, as evidenced by this San Antonio newspaper clipping from 1895 that describes the impact of dove migration.
“During the fall in Texas, hundreds and thousands of wild doves come flying from all directions of the globe and light in the sunflower and millet fields or the prairie near the farm waterholes or in post oak trees, where they delight the hunter’s heart with their simple but melodious song.”
Back then, game laws allowed dove to be shot in plentitude — on the wing or perched in trees.
Dove hunting didn’t always cause the frenzy we see today. Perhaps the abundance of big game and other huntable species in Texas in years past made hunting doves an afterthought. Over time, however, dove hunting made its way into the cultural and contemporary zeitgeist of hunters across the state.
Today, dove hunting is a social affair. Families and friends gather en masse to hunt the elusive migratory bird. Many begin opening morning with a hunter’s breakfast and end it with a feast to celebrate friends, family and the field.
Dove hunting is a fantastic way to introduce new and young hunters to hunting and the sporting lifestyle. After all, you don’t have to be quiet or stealthy when dove hunting. You can sit next to another hunter and visit about the day’s goings-on while taking a limit of birds. In short, dove shooting is an easy activity to learn, hunting spots are simple to secure, and the food you’ll harvest is mighty tasty.
Follow these steps to get ready for a successful dove season.
Russell A. Graves
Like any hunting activity, some preseason planning is in order. Good preparation always leads to good results, and dove hunting is no different. In essence, the season starts long before Sept. 1 ever arrives.
FINDING A PLACE TO HUNT
It’s the eternal conundrum: where to hunt? Sometimes, it takes old-fashioned legwork to comb through local newspapers and online marketplace ads or call local chambers of commerce searching for land available for lease. An easier option is to book a day hunt with an outfitter in your desired hunting area. If you’re lucky, friends and family can provide good leads.
But that’s not all.
TPWD offers a whopping 1 million acres of land for hunting. That’s as big as the entire state of Rhode Island. With a $48 annual public hunting permit, you can hunt dove (and many other popular game species) at more than 180 hunting areas, including wildlife management areas, state parks and 120 dove/small game areas leased from private landowners.
To learn about mentored hunting workshops, drawn hunts and regular permits, plus use an interactive map, click here.
SCOUTING IT OUT
Once you've figured out the location, it’s time for a preseason scouting trip. You’ll want to get a lay of the land and identify possible feeding and watering locations where doves are likely to congregate or fly past.
Doves hang out on fence lines and in open areas where they can ingest the bits of gravel to aid in their digestion. Being seed-eaters, doves gather in open grain fields or where wild sunflowers grow.
Keep in mind that baiting doves by putting out any feed is strictly prohibited. You’re looking for their natural feeding areas.
Watch for doves overhead to get a sense of their flight pattern.
Look around for possible hazards at your hunting spot. Does livestock roam the property? Are there any homes or buildings nearby? Make a checklist to ensure a safe and smooth hunt.
Shotgunning practice is fun and functional. By practicing, you’ll get a refresher on safe firearm handling and build muscle memory for a leading shot
on a fast-moving dove.
If you already have a place to dove hunt, you may secure permission to shoot clay pigeons there before the season starts. If not, look around in your area for gun clubs or public target ranges. For the modest cost of a few boxes of shells and some clay pigeons, practice will be time well spent. You’ll get superb shooting form and can make sure that your gear is functioning correctly and safely.
If you discover your firearm isn’t functioning correctly, you’ll have time to take it to a qualified gunsmith for an inspection and repair.
Sonja Sommerfeld | TPWD
Wearing and carrying the proper gear is an essential part of dove hunting. Never fear, the gear used in dove hunting isn’t all that intimidating.
If you are a first-time hunter, you need only a few items to help get you started.
Russell A. Graves
Do you need camouflage? Probably not. It is a good idea to stay as unobtrusive as possible, though. Dark pants like blue jeans or khaki field pants are a good option; a neutral-colored lightweight shirt and cap top off a perfect dove hunting ensemble.
If you do wear camouflage, try to pick a pattern that best matches your surroundings.
Add a field chair or a bucket for seating while you wait, good sunglasses and ear protection, and you are ready to head out to the field. Blaze orange isn’t required to hunt doves, but it’s probably not a bad item to employ in your field wardrobe for safety’s sake. Wear it when entering or exiting a field location to let others know where you are posting up, especially on public lands.
As you become a more advanced hunter, you’ll want to add decoys to bring birds in closer. This helps you avoid taking shots that are out of your effective shooting range (more than 40 yards).
In Texas, dove hunting is a general term. There are many dove species in Texas — both hunted and protected. The most common include:
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department establishes geographic zones that dictate the dates you can hunt and the bag limits on each legal game dove species. Before you head out on opening day, make sure you look at the current Outdoor Annual and understand the hunting regulations thoroughly.
Pick up a printed copy at sporting goods retailers or download the app at outdoorannual.com.
LICENSE, PERMITS AND REGULATIONS
Texas requires a hunting license for any person who hunts; the price depends on age, license type and other factors. They’re easy to find in-person at sporting goods retailers or TPWD field offices, as well as online at tpwd.texas.gov/business/licenses/online_sales. All migratory game bird hunters also are required to register with the Harvest Information Program, which estimates hunters and harvest.
Taking a hunter safety course is an excellent idea for anyone who hunts. The valuable information and skills taught in this course help make every outdoor excursion safe. It’s required if you were born on or after Sept. 2, 1971. For hunters under 17 years old, hunter safety education consists of in-person classroom training or field courses. Online-only versions also are available, but only for those 17 and older.
Before you go afield, take time to understand all game laws and firearm restrictions for any area you hunt. It’s always better to know beforehand.
Sonja Sommerfeld | TPWD
GUNS AND AMMO
Dove hunting firearms don’t need to be expensive or exotic. The most popular firearms for dove hunting are over-and-under, pump or semi-automatic shotguns.
If you are a seasoned hunter, take some time to check the firearm and ensure everything works correctly. Give your gun a proper cleaning.
If you are new to shotgunning, take a Hunting 101 course (advanced hunter education courses are also available) or seek out instruction from a qualified trainer in real-world scenarios like a hunter safety field course.
Of course, the ammo you choose should match your firearm. In addition, selecting the proper shot size is also essential. Typically, there’s information about appropriate species on boxes of ammunition. The most common shot sizes used for doves are 7 1/2 or 8.
Russell A. Graves
With groups of people close together shooting at birds that fly erratically, attentiveness to safety is paramount in dove hunting.
Have a safety briefing with your hunting party. Share the location of all hunters, identify possible hazards such as buildings or vehicles, and discuss other issues that could impact a safe outing. Once you and your hunting party have crafted a plan, stick to that plan and don’t move locations unless everyone in your hunting party knows of the changes.
Put in a little time to think before you shoot. Once you’ve reviewed your hunting safety plan, sit in your hunting spot and run through various scenarios. How will I react if doves fly in from multiple directions? How far can I swing on a passing bird until I’m too close to a hazard or another hunter? Go over these various scenarios in earnest and rehearse them repeatedly before picking up your shotgun as the first bird flies past.
In general, be prepared, but don’t worry needlessly. Hunting, in general, is a safe activity. The National Shooting Sports Foundation reports that you are 11 times more likely to be injured playing volleyball than hunting. That same study shows that hunting with firearms has an injury rate of 0.05 percent — or about one injury per 2,000 participants — a safety level bested only by camping (0.01 percent) and billiards (0.02 percent).
Get out in the field, be safe, shoot some doves and have fun.
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