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Habitat quality, bird numbers bode well for dove season

published: September 1st 2021
by: Paul Schattenberg
source: Texas AgriLife Today

Habitat conditions and bird numbers appear promising for Texas dove hunters who can use food and water sources to their advantage, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Serviceexpert.

John Tomecek, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension wildlife specialist, Thrall, said interest in outdoor activities like hunting continues to trend upward due to COVID-19, and the opening of dove season on Sept. 1 will be most hunters’ first time afield for 2021. 

Tomecek said Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, TPWD, biologists reported hunters should expect a good dove season, according to dove surveys and habitat conditions. But like most dove seasons, hunters who can take advantage of food and water sources will find the most success.

TPWD’s annual dove survey reported Winter Storm Uri had very little effect on overwintering birds, and rains that followed around the state improved habitat browse and cover that could translate into season-long success.

“Our spring dove surveys suggest that there may have been some impacts from the winter storm, particularly in the northern half of the state, but it’s difficult to know the extent since dove populations naturally fluctuate from year to year,” said Owen Fitzsimmons, TPWD Dove Program leader. 

He said the most evident impact seems to be in the North Zone, where white-wing estimates are below average overall. 

“I don’t anticipate any long-term impacts,” Fitzsimmons said. “The good rainfall this spring and summer has resulted in good production, which will help offset any losses and allow a quick recovery.” 

He said statewide breeding populations are about average this year, with about 25 million mourning doves and about 12 million white-winged doves.

Dove season success depends on food, water

In a typical year, Tomecek said he recommends prospective hunters look at regional crop and rainfall reports and watch for weather fronts to pinpoint good opportunities to find dove.

Harvests of crops like sorghum, corn and oilseed crops such as sesame and sunflowers can be attractive to migrating dove and positively impact nearby hunters, he said.

Tomecek said widespread and continuous rains in many parts of the state have provided pockets of water typically unavailable to migrating dove. He said this could mean hunter success in those areas may depend more heavily on food sources than in years past.

“More rain than normal may mean more water availability than normal, so dove may not be concentrated around water sources in an average year,” he said. “So, it may come down to how hunters can manipulate crops or native plants to provide an attraction for dove in their area.”

Provide food legally, effectively

It is important to know the rules for manipulating seed and grain crops to put food on the ground as a way to attract migrating dove, Tomacek said. Mourning dove are ground feeders because, unlike white-winged dove, they cannot perch and eat simultaneously.

Basically, baiting is illegal, but manipulating standing crops is legal, Tomecek said.

Tomecek recommends managing any available food source by stringing smaller amounts of the crop for a longer duration to keep birds in the area. He suggests mowing two to three strips per week rather than felling an entire field at once.

“There is always the temptation to shred the whole thing and create a large amount of food at one time,” he said. “But it’s important to manage those resources to your advantage.”

Tomecek said it is too late for this season but that hunters who plant food plots or portions of croplands for dove should consider mixing a variety of seed-producing plants like sorghum, millet and sunflowers. The diversity of food on the ground will make the location a preferred destination for dove.

“Dove are not super-picky eaters, but if you can mix it up, it can make your location stand out,” he said.

If the crop mix is planted in distinct rows, Tomecek recommends cutting the food plot across the grain to improve the diversity of food.

Aside from food and water, Tomecek said hunters should watch for cold fronts that might push birds into the area from further north in the flyway. Watch the weather in states to the north and how it is moving days in advance. Temperature drops can be good indicators that northern birds could be arriving in your area ahead of cooler weather.

“It’s good to know who is planting what and where, but watching the weather in northern states and paying attention to changes is a good idea,” he said. “If you can be in the field just ahead of a cool front and have those other conditions in your favor, it can be a good hunt.”

Safety for new, experienced hunters

Safety should be at the forefront of every hunt, he said. Hunters should always be mindful of the area they can shoot safely, when crossing fences with firearms, or potential hazards in their surroundings such as rattlesnakes, rocky terrain or stepping into another hunter’s line of fire.

Tomecek said it is always a good idea to practice by shooting skeet before the hunt. It gives a chance for experienced shooters to activate their muscle memory and new hunters to receive instruction about tracking birds, leading their shots and avoiding peppering their neighboring hunter.

“Dove hunting is usually a group activity, so always be aware of the people around you,” he said. “It is a good opportunity for experienced hunters to impart some knowledge and for new hunters to experience the outdoors.”

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