As you might have noticed, Texas is a big state.
Meaning that what's happening in one part of the Lone Star State isn't always happening in another part. Heck, in the wintertime, it’s not uncommon for a blizzard to be raging in the Panhandle near Amarillo and for temperatures to be pushing into the 90s down in the Rio Grande Valley near Brownsville.
That same sentiment seems to apply this year for another dove season. Incidentally, dove hunting runs from Sept. 1-Nov. 12 and Dec. 20-Jan.5 in the state’s North Zone. In the Central Zone, the season is Sept. 1-Nov. 3 and Dec. 20-Jan. 14. And in the South Zone, hunters will see a Sept. 14-Nov. 3 and Dec. 20-Jan. 23 season.
What can hunters expect as they grab the shotgun and head afield? In general, at a statewide level, another good dove season is expected.
But that forecast gets supersized – or is that Texas sized? - to very good hunting prospects the further south you live according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department dove program leader Owen Fitzsimmons.
Unfortunately, for hunters in portions of North Texas, the news isn’t quite as optimistic.
“With the abundant highly-preferred dove foods available on the landscape this year, we’re seeing excellent production,” said Fitzsimmons in a recent TPWD news release. “White-winged dove production, in particular, has been very high in the southern half of the state.
“Plus, many of the states to the north had similar spring habitat conditions, which should result in a strong influx of migrant birds for Texas later in the season. I’m excited about the prospects this season, it should be fantastic.”
That’s not a surprising forecast since dove hunting is such a big, grand affair in the Lone Star State. In fact, TPWD noted in their recent news release that more than 300,000 Texas hunters take to the field each year during dove season. And when they head out, they are generally successful, taking an estimated 10 million birds annually, a full one-third of the yearly national harvest.
Such dove harvest totals are more than any other state in the U.S. but that isn’t surprising either. Why is that? TPWD points out that Texas’ vast landscape has breeding populations of more than 34 million mourning doves and more than 10 million white-winged doves. And as northern doves push south on each autumn cool front, already big numbers of doves in Texas get even bigger.
But when I caught up with Fitzsimmons the other day as he wrapped up his participation in Central Flyway meetings in Wyoming, he admitted that he isn't quite as optimistic about 2019 dove season prospects closer to the Red River.
“There are still some good numbers up there, but like I've been hearing from people over the last few years, once you get north of the DFW area, doves are a bit more scarce," he said. "I'm not entirely sure why that is just yet and I'm starting to look at that a bit more closely.”
As for working theories about why such observations are happening in the state’s North Zone for dove hunting, Fitzsimmons said changing land use practices are likely one culprit.
Generally speaking, mourning doves don't do as well in areas filled with concrete, metal, and asphalt. And any recent visitor to the Dallas/Fort Worth area – which is growing very rapidly, even in areas that were rural a few years ago – can easily see the construction boom.
But the answer might not be as simple as pointing to recent development in the counties just south of the Red River since the burgeoning areas near Austin and San Antonio are still filled with good numbers of doves, particularly whitewings.
Fitzsimmons also noted that some of the decline in DFW regional dove numbers the last several years may have something to do with topsy-turvy weather conditions. Since 2015, conditions have ranged from extremely wet to extremely dry, sometimes in spans separated by only a few weeks’ worth of calendar time.
All in all, the TPWD biologist reiterates that he's still trying to figure out why dove sightings aren't as common up north as they once were. Hopefully, there's more to report on that sometime soon.
But none of this means that 2019 dove numbers have collapsed in this part of Texas since Fitzsimmons says that good numbers of nesters are still being reported in some areas of North Texas.
Add in expanding white-winged dove numbers from the south and the continued strong presence of invasive Eurasian collared doves and hunters who work at their wingshooting craft this fall should still find some decent shooting, even around the DFW area.
“And in addition to doves produced locally, once we get into September, migrant doves should start coming down from northern states and that should change things up a little bit," predicted Fitzsimmons.
Down south in the mesquite and cactus rich parts of the state, the TPWD biologist says that things should be red hot from the opening bell of dove hunting this fall, likely remaining that way to the season's end.
“Yeah, the southern half of Texas will likely see a boom year of dove hunting this fall," said Fitzsimmons. "From Waco to the south, we're loaded with doves in many places. I'm just hoping that it will pick up a little bit more as you get further north.”
As a dove hunter who lives in North Texas – and is ready for a fresh batch of dove breasts skewered with bacon and jalapeno slices and cooked to smoky perfection on my Traeger grill – here’s hoping that Fitzsimmons ends up being right.
But for those living in the southern half of the state, no such question hovers over the outlook for the upcoming dove season. In a part of the state usually filled with good wingshooting for doves buzzing about, this year could be great.
And with a little luck and some cooperation from the weather, maybe even epic. And that’s no Texas tall tale either.