If recent drives through rural areas of Grayson County are any indication — for me, at least — this is shaping up to be one rough dove season for local hunters.
Why? Record summer rainfall has the birds scattered and then some, not in the big groups that normally wing their way into dry feeding fields and dwindling waterholes as the calendar prepares to turn from August to September.
In short, as this was being written yesterday morning, yet another rainstorm had descended upon the area, burying the western reaches of Grayson County in more high water.
With rain still falling, noontime measurements at the Austin College Weather Station in the center of the county showed that another 1.98 inches of H2O had fallen, bringing the August 2017 total there to a stunning 16.93 inches.
What’s more, with a potentially destructive hurricane named Harvey looming off the Texas Gulf Coast today, all bets are off as to how much additional rain is going to fall over the state in the next five to seven days.
In other words, this is shaping up to be a soggy, muddy mess for scores of dove hunters next Friday morning as the Sept. 1 season opener takes place for the 2017 dove hunting campaign.
Ok, that’s the bad news. But there is some good news and that’s this, that once again, there are plenty of mourning doves, white-winged doves and Eurasian collared doves in the Lone Star State this year.
“Texas had above average mourning dove production early in the spring with continued good production where precipitation occurred through the (late) spring and summer,” said Shaun Oldenburger, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department dove program leader, in a news release.
“Good croton, sunflower, ragweed, and other highly-selected dove foods were found statewide this year,” he added. “Where good water conditions and timing of seeding in these plants coincide, hunters should find good hunting in September for mourning doves.”
On the northern side of the Red River in Oklahoma, it’s much the same as copious rainfall in many portions of the Sooner State have left the Sept. 1 dove season opener somewhat in doubt.
“Overall, the population is in good shape, but given recent rainfall, hunting conditions are going to be iffy,” said Josh Richardson, the migratory bird biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“It’s going to be pretty hard to find a good waterhole when there’s a 1,000 puddles on every section of land,” he continued. “I think for us, feeding fields are going to be the key to success, particularly if you can find one that has been shredded or diced down (in the final days leading up to the season).
“The problem is whether or not we get any more rain over the next week. Once a lot of waste agricultural seed gets exposed, another inch of rain on it is going to cause it to either sprout or sour.”
If that happens, it’s going to be tough to find any concentrations of doves feeding in such areas.
Richardson suggests that hunters spend these last few days before the season begins by driving rural roads, using their binoculars to look for birds sitting on power lines, flying up off of gravel roads, and flying into and out of feeding areas.
He also suggests that hunters knock on a few doors because this is likely to be an early dove season where hunters will want to have a Plan A, a Plan B, a Plan C, and well, you get the picture.
“It’s likely to be tough for many hunters,” he said. “Somewhere, there will certainly be some hunters who get into some really good shoots, especially in the southwestern and northern areas of our state where our premium dove hunting areas are.
“But pretty much everywhere, you’re going to have to get out and scout right before the season opens up to have a good chance of success.”
Like his counterpart in Texas, Richardson says that native food resources are going to be a big key for Oklahoma dove hunters this year.
“I have been telling folks for a few weeks now, find a croton patch, find some snow-on-the-mountain, find some native sunflowers, find something in addition to any agricultural fields you might hunt in a normal year,” he said.
“One thing about native plants that produce seeds at this time of the year, they are putting out that seed over an extended period of time,” Richardson added. “It’s not like a corn field or milo field that gets cut and waste grain suddenly becomes available to the dove all at once.
“For native seeds, these plants will be putting out seed for an extended period this fall. They’ll put some out now, some again in another week, some again in another two or three weeks.”
How does a hunter go about finding such native food resources? Richardson said that magic phrase again — by scouting.
“It’s a little bit harder to find a native patch of seed producing plants in an area with a lot of native grass pastureland,” he said. “From the road, especially with all of this rain this year, all you’re likely to see is grass. To find a corner of a field that has got some native sunflowers, some croton, some snow-on-the-mountain, you’re going to have to put some boots on the ground and walk until you find a patch that doves are utilizing.”
If all of this seems like an advertisement that you don’t need to go dove hunting next weekend as the season opens up, it’s not. Because even though the recent rainy weather has the birds scattered on both sides of the Red River, they are still there and then some.
Especially since approximately 15 percent of the nation’s 300 million mourning doves reside in Texas alone. And native white-winged doves continue their amazing expansion northward through the Lone Star State, offering up several million whitewings once again to 2017 wingshooters.
In fact, TPWD’s Oldenburger reports that whitewings were already being observed flocking up in late July in urban areas across the state with good numbers starting to move into more rural areas of Texas earlier this month.
Add in the invasive Eurasian collared doves that are in most towns and urban areas across the state and there will be no shortage of birds for the state’s 300,000 dove hunters to shoot at during the upcoming 2017 season.
In Oklahoma, Richardson said that above average production this year should cause the same thing in his state - plenty of doves for the state’s 20,000 or so wingshooters to target this fall. With any luck, perhaps they can come close to the 240,000 to 250,000 doves that he said hunters are estimated to have harvested last year.
“There are going to be plenty of birds around this year even if they are a little harder to see since they aren’t grouped up and feeding on a lot of bare ground,” said Richardson. “Still, there should be a little bit of shooting most anywhere on opening weekend even if the overall statewide hunt turns out to be a little tougher than usual this year.”
The bottom line is that rainy weather and scrambled populations or not, come Sept. 1st, it’s dove season on both sides of the Red River.
Meaning that it’s time to quit watching the rainy radar screen and time to go dove hunting, mud boots and all.