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Texas Sportsman
Lone Star Dove Forecast
The arrival of Texas' dove season is cause for celebration all across the Lone Star State, but the celebrating might be greater in some places than in others. (September 2007)

Photo by Larry Ditto.

A Texan can always count on a few things: The best barbecue in the universe is still in Llano; construction on I-45 and I-35 will never be finished; and the real first day of fall is Sept. 1.

That first day of fall begins with a flash of whistling gray wings and a blast of No. 7 1/2 shot that likely don't meet. And in Texas, they often miss one another over a field of sun-dried weeds.

So what's this September likely to bring for a Texas dove hunter?

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Predicting dove-hunting prospects ahead of the season opener is almost as tricky as predicting which way that next dove is going to zig when your shotgun zags. But some trends are holding, and should be good indicators.

As with most things wild in Texas, Mother Nature still bats last when it comes to doves. A substantial part of what Lone Star State dove hunters can hope to see this month will have been predetermined by spring weather.

"The fall hunt success will depend to a large degree upon production in June and July which is dependent upon weather," said Jay Roberson, the state's dove program leader. "The cold snap we had over the Easter weekend doesn't bode well for early nesters -- not with snow and ice we've received over the northern half of the central portion of the state."

In May, most of the state was at or above normal precipitation levels. When combined with a normally dry summer with average temperatures, that happy situation usually results in good reproduction and survival of young birds.

As you may recall, just the opposite happened last year, when our most recent and most brutal drought took a toll on breeding pairs. "I believe the severe drought over the central portion of the state will be reflected in last year's harvest statistics and this spring's breeding counts," Roberson said. "I expect a 10 to 20 percent drop in both when the final numbers are posted."

Strong reproduction would be very encouraging, because Texas mourning dove populations are on a 40-year slide that still seems to defy explanation. "I would say that the population index is still declining in Texas at about a half-percent per year with about a 25 percent decline since 1966," Roberson said. "We have no new theories as to why, but we're starting to collect banding data that will allow us to determine if survival and harvest rates have changed significantly from 30 years ago.

"Therefore, it's extremely important that hunters continue to call in bands they find on doves to 1-800-327-BAND. Recent research indicates a correlation in this declining index with decreasing grain production, which may be inversely related to urban and industrial development.

"The decline is most pronounced in South Texas where significant human population growth and urban development has occurred."

Other possible contributing factors could be decreases in wheat and small grain farming, lead shot toxicity, nest failure and lack of nesting habitat, biologist David Sierra added. "I suspect it is a combination of several factors," he said, "but I feel that lack of nesting habitat may be the biggest reason."

Ever feel like every dove hunter in Texas is in the same sunflower field with you? Well, that would take a pretty big field! "We are still estimating about 325,000 hunters annually," Roberson said. "It has declined some over the last 10 years, but dove hunting is still the second most popular hunt behind deer."

So don't panic and trade the old scattergun in for a set of golf clubs just yet. As we're fond of saying, a bad day of dove hunting (or fishing or deer hunting or anything else) in Texas beats a good day almost any place else. And traditional good dove country is still good hunting country.

"The Rolling Plains, Cross Timbers and Prairies, Blackland Prairies, and South Texas Plains are still the best mourning dove production and hunting areas in the state. Brown, Coleman, Comanche, Throckmorton and Shackelford (counties) are still among the best in the north, and Medina, Atascosa, Wilson, Karnes, Live Oak, Frio, Starr, Hidalgo and La Salle are still among the best (counties) in the south," said Roberson.

That's great -- but are specific new hotspots developing? And if so, where? Has the previous year's drought made any changes in Texas dove populations?

Texas mourning doves are really of two kinds -- the local birds hatched and often harvested in the early days of the season, and the migratory birds that move through the state ahead of cool weather. These include the Midwest and Panhandle native birds that move down into Central Texas in mid-September and on into South Texas near the end of the month.

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