October 19, 2022
Driving to a Texas high school football game the other night, I was reminded that Friday Night Lights isn't the only thing currently in season across my home state.
Thankfully, as several plump mourning doves whipped across the rural highway, it was my football radio broadcasting partner Lance San Millan driving and not yours truly. Otherwise, I might have driven us off the road, failed to make the broadcast booth by kickoff, and stopped a long streak of play-by-play broadcasts.
As Lance continued down the road, and the doves departed for a nearby field and a late-afternoon feed, a couple of conversations I've had in recent months with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department dove program leader Owen Fitzsimmons came to mind.
In both instances, Fitzsimmons lamented the fact that while there's never more doves on the landscape than there are around the Sept. 1 season opener in the Lone Star State, the hunting can also be pretty doggone good later on as Halloween approaches.
The problem by then is that almost no one in this hunting crazy state is interested in chasing doves right now, since it's football season, not to mention early archery deer season, and the state's duck, goose, and quail hunting seasons are waiting in the wings.
I suspect that other states where dove hunting seasons are still open in mid-October as this is written—or even in states where hunting continues into November and beyond or in states where additional dove season splits will opening up soon—there are likely similar issues with participation as a potential wingshooting gold mine gets all but ignored and lost in the shuffle.
The reason that wingshooters might want to still consider hunting doves right now if they are still able to, is three-fold, really.
The first reason is that mourning doves are migratory birds, and they continued to push their way south through the various flyways, including the Great Plains migratory corridor that I live at the bottom of. That means that for another few weeks, doves will be pushing southward, riding north winds much like ducks do as they head for the southern states that they'll winter in.
Another reason why dove hunting can still produce in the days leading up to Halloween is food. In some states where dove hunting is still open, a variety of agricultural crops are being harvested right now, including corn, and that can lure big flocks of local and migratory doves in for a stop to vacuum up a few kernels.
But agricultural crops are only part of the mourning dove's food equation right now, especially if your area has experienced some significant late-summer and early fall rains this year. While Texas has been bone dry for much of 2022, there was an old-fashioned Biblical kind of rainstorm in late summer that dumped right at 10 inches of rain in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and beyond.
While that caused plenty of flash-flooding issues, it also set the stage for a mid-autumn surge of native food being on the ground. In fact, as pumpkins and decorative haybales begin to show up on homeowner porches, I'm seeing a local rural landscape dotted with such native food resources right now.
Why is that? Because Fitzsimmons has told me that such late-summer and early autumn rainfall can spur on native vegetation like sunflowers, or maybe even some leftover croton, if you can find it right now.
“These big rain events (like Texas had earlier in 2022 and around the same spot on the calendar in 2021) can affect the landscape," said Fitzsimmons. "One thing it can do really good is to get soil moisture in place to get native forage to pop up more than normal. That can help the dove hunting later on in the year as birds move in from up north."
In fact, Fitzsimmons fondly recalled in our conversation some phenomenal dove hunting later in the season several years ago, thanks to a similar scenario.
”[Several] years ago, we had some late rains like we did this year," he told me. "And if I remember correctly, by December, we had croton growing everywhere."
That resulted in some ridiculously good dove shooting at a time of the year in south Texas where most people were chasing deer, ducks, and quail, and watching football games.
If similar rainfall events have triggered some pretty good native food growth in your region this year, then a mid- to late-autumn food burst is something that the doves are certain to notice.
A third reason that hunters might want to consider chasing doves now, is that later in the season, they tend to be in good sized groups as they sweep into spots to feed. By the way, don't overlook a waterhole at this time of year, particularly if your region has been dry the past few days or weeks.
And since there's almost certainly going to be far less hunting pressure and competition out in the field than you might have found in early September, you can have any wingshooting bonanza you discover all to yourself right now.
How can you take advantage of all of this as the leaves change colors?
For that, I'm reminded of the advice that my late guide friend J.J. Kent gave me a few years ago, prior to his untimely passing from a heart valve problem and surgical complications.
Kent, who ran a highly successful duck, goose, dove, turkey, wild hog, and deer hunting outfitting service in North Texas and southern Oklahoma, had a fondness for dove hunting that we often talked about, including several principles he believed in for late-season success.
Those included not being late since October doves often fly into feeding fields hours before official sunset, focusing on a single bird out of a group and not flock shooting, wearing full camouflage to avoid detection by the spooky mid-autumn birds, employing one or more spinning wing decoys, and getting out in front of birds that move faster than most hunters believe.
And with the approach of wintertime, birds are fully grown and fully feathered now, so like my late friend J.J. believed in, you should probably bump up your shotshell pellet size in the mid- and late-season stretches that we're in. Instead of the #8s and #9s you might have opted for at the beginning of September, the month of October and beyond is the time for #7 1/2s. Also consider after-market chokes and better constructed shotshells now, at least if you want to be the top gun in your dove-hunting field.
The bottom line for both TPWD's Owen Fitzsimmons and my late pal J.J. Kent is that October or not, now is certainly not the time to give up on dove hunting for the year. Instead, it's the perfect opportunity to go back into the field to chase these sporty mourning doves flying south, and with some luck, to find some of the year’s best hunting in many cases.
"I think that the October dove hunting is tough to beat," said my late friend Kent, noting that it’s often the best wingshooting action of the year. "There are less people out there, the weather is cooling off, and there are good numbers of birds around."
And with a little luck, there might even be a local football game on the radio or Smartphone app, as long as a certain play-by-play broadcaster hasn’t driven off the road, that is.