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TMCNet:  Tips for better dove hunting

[August 27, 2008]

Tips for better dove hunting

(Dallas Morning News, The (KRT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge)

Hunting seasons kick off Sept. 1 with the beginning of dove season in most of Texas. Don't expect to find dove seasons listed in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual this year. A late request for a South Zone season change led to delayed finalization of hunting dates. Dove seasons were not approved until after the hunting and fishing regulations booklet was printed.

TP&W printed a special supplement for doves, teal and other early season migrant gamebirds that should be available where licenses are sold. You may have to ask for the supplement. In the meantime, here's the scoop on dove hunting regulations, tactics and tips:



Stay safe. Even the small shot sizes used for dove hunting will pierce skin as far as 130 yards. Stay aware of where other hunters are located in the field and try to keep 150 yards apart. Avoid shots at birds flying between you and a nearby hunter. Unload your gun as soon as you've finished hunting and leave the shotgun's action open so everyone can see that the gun is safe.


Stay mobile. Watch how doves enter and leave the area you are hunting and get into position to intercept them. Doves have distinct flight patterns. Take advantage of the flight patterns.


Hide from doves. These birds have incredible eyesight and a lofty vantage point. Hundreds of times I've watched them fly directly toward me in a path that seemed as if it would offer a perfect shot, only to have the dove slide subtly to one side and pass just out of range. That's not an accident. It means the doves see hunters and recognize them as dangerous, then fly around the danger. Hiding means dressing in clothes that blend with the natural background. It also means using natural cover and remaining still as doves approach your position.


Find fallen birds by walking directly to the spot where the bird went down without taking your eye off the spot. Hunters are notoriously bad at marking fallen birds and often lose downed game as a result. When you get to the spot where the bird went down, mark it with your cap or carry a handkerchief as a marker.


Walk in an ever widening circle around the marker until you find the bird. Most hunters stop short of where the bird fell. If you're hunting on the edge of a sunflower field or other tall cover, try to position yourself so the birds fall in a place where you have a good chance of finding them.


Use quality shotgun shells. Cheap shells do not work well with most autloading shotguns. Loaded with less than an ounce of shot and without the proper buffers or shot cups, cheap shells do not pattern consistently. The added cost of quality shotgun shells is inconsequential compared with the expense of traveling from an urban area to a dove hunting hot spot.


Scout fields or waterholes by using binoculars to look for birds feeding in the far end of the field. Study trees, power lines and fences for perching birds. If you have a couple of hunting partners, split up the scouting chores to increase the odds of finding a huntable concentration of doves.


Take special note of where birds fly in and out of fields and what direction they come from. Getting to the best hunting spot early is particularly important in a public hunting field. Finding the best hunting spot in any field requires pre-season homework.


Most Texas dove hunting occurs the first two weeks of the season. Dove hunting often improves with migrating birds in late September and October. The weather almost certainly becomes cooler and more comfortable late in the season.


Valid hunting license, with a migratory game bird stamp. The stamp, actually a stamp fee, is now required of all dove hunters, 17 or older. Make certain your license states that you're HIP certified, meaning you've answered the mandatory harvest information program questions required of all migratory bird hunters.

Appropriate shotgun shells (gauge, shot size, quantity).

Dove hunters tend to prefer No. 8 shot with No. 7{ being the second choice. If you shoot an autoloader, make certain to use shells that work well in your gun. Many autoloaders do not handle light loads well. Poor shotshell selection can turn your autoloader into an expensive single shot.

Favorite shotgun for doves. Any shotgun you shoot well is fine. If the gun is an autoloader or a pump, make certain it is plugged to a three-shot capacity. If you have interchangeable choke tubes for your shotgun, bring them along. Start with skeet or improved-cylinder and change to tighter choke patterns as the situation dictates.

Camouflage or drab-colored clothing. Doves have very good eyesight. Include a camo or drab-colored cap or wide-brimmed hat in your gear. The cap will help hide your face from overhead birds and shield your eyes from the sun. A wide-brimmed hat serves the same function while providing more protection from the sun. Despite the heat, wear long pants and sturdy boots to protect your legs from scratchy vegetation and your ankles from grass burrs.

Insect repellent.

Mosquito repellents must be applied to the skin, but clothing can be treated with tick and chigger repellents before going afield.

Sunscreen to guard against sunburn. Early September is usually hot and sometimes brutal.

Lightweight game vest or belt with pockets or pouches for shells and birds.

Shooting glasses to help cut the sun's glare and to protect your eyes from errant pellets.

Ear plugs to protect your hearing from the loud shotgun report.

Water bottles that can be carried in the pocket of a hunting vest. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. A camelback or other hydration pack that's worn on your back serves double duty if you fill the water bladder with crushed ice. It keeps you cool in hot weather and provides cold water as the ice melts.

Ice chest to keep drinking water cold and birds cool.

Large, resealable plastic bags to keep your birds dry while storing them on ice and to keep your birds separate from those taken by hunting partners. Use a water resistant writing pen to write your name and the date on your bird bag.

Rain gear, on the chance that it might rain. Shotgun cleaning kit for after the hunt or for solving shotgun malfunctions.

Game shears to help while cleaning birds.

Battery-powered spinning-wing dove decoy.

It's the best $50 insurance policy you can buy against a slow hunt.


Here are five common legal mistakes made by dove hunters:


Failure to plug the magazine of a pump or autoloading shotgun. The gun must be plugged to a three-shot capacity. That means one shell in the firing chamber, no more than two in the magazine.


Failure to keep your doves separate from birds shot by other hunters. This violation is called "co-mingling game" and it simply means that a warden cannot look in an ice chest where several bags of birds are deposited and tell which hunter shot which birds. Keep each hunter's daily bag segregated in a plastic storage bag with the hunter's name and the date the birds were shot written on the bag.


Violation of "possession limit." For migratory birds, the possession limit is defined as twice the daily bag limit. You cannot make an extended dove-hunting trip, hunt three days, shoot three limits and have them all in your possession. It is legal to eat birds or give them away and continue to hunt as long as you do not exceed the daily bag limit. Once the birds are transported to their final destination (usually a home freezer), they no longer count in your possession limit.


Double dipping. This means shooting a daily bag limit of doves in the morning and another limit in the afternoon. Regulations once prohibited morning hunting of doves, just to avoid the potential for double dipping. It is now legal to hunt mornings and/or afternoons but it is not legal to exceed the daily bag limit in any given day.


Shooting from the tailgate of a parked pickup truck or from the seat or bed of an ATV. This is a federal rule adapted by TP&W. It states, on Page 70 of the regulations booklet "It is unlawful to hunt from or by means of motor-driven vehicles and land conveyances or aircraft of any kind." While the law is obviously concerned with the use of moving vehicles to get within shooting range of migratory birds, it is worded in such a fashion that you cannot legally shoot while sitting on or in a parked vehicle.


Check closely for metal leg bands on the birds you harvest. The bands are small and not easily seen. Hunters are probably under reporting the harvest of banded doves, because they never notice the band.

The dove bands include an identification number and a toll-free phone number to report the band. Hunters will be asked their name and address, the date of band recovery, method of band recovery (was the bird found dead or shot while hunting) and location of recovery. Hunters may keep the bands.

More than 15,000 banded doves are likely to pass through Texas during the fall migration. Texas biologists are banding both mourning doves and white-winged doves. Band reports provide valuable information about dove mortality and movements. Last year, for example, the farthest distance from a banding site that a Texas-banded mourning dove was reported killed was 608 miles. A whitewing was reported shot 688 miles from the banding site. Seventy-seven percent of the band reports from whitewings came within 60 miles of the banding location.

Last year, Texas hunters reported recovering 79 bands from mourning doves, 284 from white-winged doves. All the whitewings were banded in Texas. Mourning doves reported from Texas were also banded in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Alabama, Illinois, Minnesota and North Carolina.



Dallas is on the boundary line between two of the three Texas dove zones. Interstate highways form the boundary between the north zone and the central zone. Beginning at Texarkana and heading west, the zone boundary is I-30 to its intersection with I-20, then I-20 to its intersection with I-10 at Kent, then I-10 to Fort Hancock on the Rio Grande.

It's important to know the zone boundary because of varying season dates from the north side of the highways to the south side and also because of the difference in bag limits. North Zone dove hunters have a 15-dove daily limit to compensate for fewer hunting days. In the Central and South Zones, there are more hunting days but the daily limit is 12 birds.


Rob Hailey Abilene area 325-548-2383Jerry Woods Abilene area 903-564-4565Lanny Vinson Albany 325-668-7297Stasney's Cook Ranch Albany area, Tom Walker Benjamin area 817-658-4728David Davis Brownwood area 325-643-4182Mike Pritchard Brownwood area 325-348-8234Tom Stephenson Brownwood, Brady area 214-823-7171Mike Short Coleman area 325-483-5555Trinity Outfitters Ennis area 214-728-1238

972-989-3188Cory Anderson Fort Worth and north 682-552-0001 Terry Lee George West area 361-449-2279Texas Best Outfitters Haskell area 325-773-2457Sammy Nooner Hondo area 830-741-5029Stanfield Hunting Outfitters Knox City area 940-658-3172Miller Creek Ranch Seymour area 940-422-4817Joe Read Sweetwater, Robey 903-896-1380


North America has an estimated 500 million mourning doves.

About 50 million doves migrate through Texas each fall, heading for Mexico and Central America.

In a good season, Texas hunters bag about 5 million doves.

Texas hunters will spend $7 million to $15 million this year on shotshells used for dove hunting.


(c) 2008, The Dallas Morning News.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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Copyright ? 2008 The Dallas Morning News

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