September marks the start of dove season for more than 300,000 Texas hunters per year. While 2020 surveys of dove populations were canceled due to ongoing public health concerns, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) estimates promising hunting conditions ahead of the start of the season.
With a breeding population of about 25 million mourning doves and up to 15 million white-winged doves in Texas, conditions are ripe for a fruitful season. Dove population numbers swell during the hunting season as doves migrate into Texas from other areas in the flyway. With favorable habitat conditions throughout much of the state leading into September, hunters can look forward to a favorable season.
Above average rainfall statewide throughout the spring season has led to prime habitat conditions during the peak nesting months of May and June. Biologists suggest that dry conditions in the northern and western regions of the state may help concentrate birds around food and water sources during the season. Portions of south Texas and the Rio Grande Valley received significant rainfall during Hurricane Hanna but it’s unclear if, or to what degree, these rains will have an affect on doves come September.
“It’s hard to say exactly how regional dove populations are affected by hurricanes and other extreme weather events,” says Owen Fitzsimmons, TPWD Dove Program Leader. “In this case, I anticipate minimal impacts to September hunting, but the extra rain could lead to better late-season habitat when food is often scarce. South Zone hunters should be ready for some potential late-season action.”
On the other hand, normal seasonal weather events like cold fronts can be instrumental for hunting success by kick-starting fall migration, Fitzsimmons says.
“Doves will concentrate in bigger fall flights ahead of the fronts, making for some excellent hunting opportunities,” said Fitzsimmons. “These groups will often feed heavily in one area for a few days before moving on. Hunters should look to take advantage of any fronts during the season.”
Texas makes up one-third of the overall mourning dove harvest in the United States. In addition, Texas makes up about one-third of the overall dove hunters in the United States. Throughout the state, there are three dove game species-mourning, white-winged and white-tipped doves.
Despite the cancellation of this year’s annual dove surveys, banding efforts were able to continue statewide. TPWD biologists place leg bands on thousands of mourning and white-winged doves to monitor the factors that influence their populations. Information from hunter-reported bands, or “recoveries”, provide estimates of harvest and survival rates. This information is used in conjunction with data from the Harvest Information Program (HIP), Parts Collection Survey and other harvest surveys to help manage populations and set annual hunting regulations. Hunters are encouraged to report any birds they recover that have leg bands.
Dove hunters should purchase their new 2020-21 Texas hunting license prior to hitting the field this fall. Along with their hunting license, those hunting dove must have the migratory game bird endorsement and be HIP-certified. Be sure to accurately answer the HIP questions when getting certified, and, if a vendor does not ask you questions about your hunting activity last season, please ask that they do so. It’s also required by law that hunters have proof of their completion of a hunter education course.
Dove season dates for the North, Central and South Zones, along with regulations, bag limits and more can be found in the all-digital Outdoor Annual. Hunters can also access digital copies of their licenses via the Outdoor Annual and My Texas Hunt Harvest apps.
Anyone hunting on Texas Public Hunting Lands are also required to purchase an Annual Public Hunting Permit. Texas has more than 1 million acres of land that is accessible to the public. More information about these lands and locations can be found on the TPWD website. Hunters using public lands can complete their on-site registration via the My Texas Hunt Harvest app.
TPWD Recognizes National Shooting Sports Month through Educational Programming
August 2020 marks the 4th Annual National Shooting Sports Month, as designated by the National Shooting Sports Foundation. To commemorate the month, which is on the cusp of the fall hunting season, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is highlighting agency programs aimed at providing participants of all ages and skill-levels the opportunity to safely hit the range or the field.
“To be strong in the skills of shooting sports, a shooter must slow down, focus, have practiced, and be able to adapt to changing conditions,” said Rob Owen, Outreach and Recruitment Manager for TPWD. “Each of these behaviors of mindfulness can translate to your normal day-to-day life as well. Participating in shooting sports has great benefits beyond the adventure, fun and competition with family and friends.”
With hunting season quickly approaching, it’s important that Texas hunters pass an approved hunter education course. All hunters, born on or after September 2, 1971, must complete hunter education, including out-of-state hunters. There are multiple online course options, along with an online and field course combination, both of which teach the four 4 C’s that define a responsible Texas hunter: courteous, capable, considerate and careful. The field courses teach participants hands-on principles like overall firearm safety, recognizing safe zones-of-fire, conservation basics and more.
The all-digital Outdoor Annual can help new and seasoned hunters alike find their local regulations, season dates by animal and more. The Outdoor Annual app and the My Texas Hunt Harvest app allow the user to store their hunting and fishing licenses digitally, however hunters are reminded to keep the certification showing they passed their hunter education course with them while hunting as required by law. Proof of hunter education may be found on a hunting license, by a printed certification card or by a photo saved on a mobile device.
TPWDs Community Archery Program serves to connect after-school programs, parks and recreation departments and other clubs and activity leagues across the state with archery and the outdoors. Community Archery Specialists will train an organization on how to teach beginning archery to all ages and abilities. The curriculum consists of range safety and setup, the steps of shooting, archery equipment and repair, and programming and lesson plans. Community Archery Specialists also facilitate bowhunting and bowfishing programming that helps program leaders and educators teach students the basic skills of bowhunting, bowfishing and conservation.
The Texas – National Archery in Schools Program (TX — NASP) is supported through TPWD and since 2004, TPWD staff and volunteers have certified thousands of National Archery in Schools Program (NASP®) Basic Archery Instructors and Trainers. The program provides international-style target archery training to 4th-12th Grade Educators who may then incorporate NASP® within a subject such as Physical Education, Science, Math or many others. Currently, over 1,500 schools actively participate in TX — NASP.
All TPWD programs are currently being conducted in accordance with advice from state and local leaders and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s recommended that those interested in participating in any of these in-person programs and shooting sports contact either the program lead or location first to ensure that they are still being conducted and to learn of any class size restrictions. Visit the TPWD website to learn more about shooting sports opportunities in Texas.