When the COVID-19 pandemic unleashed its deadly scourge earlier this year, no one really knew what to expect as health officials gave frightening updates, politicians started locking down everything in sight, and future hopes seemed to grow increasingly dim.
As flights were cancelled, shops put out the "Closed for Business" signs, and the world wondered when the deadly plague would end, the potential for a normal dove hunting season seemed a long way off last spring.
But in recent weeks, as the Texas and Oklahoma economies have reopened and life begins to slowly move towards some sort of normalcy, countless hunters in both states began to look forward to the September 1st dove season opener on both sides of the Red River.
And in a year of almost continual bad news, the headlines concerning the 2020-21 dove hunting campaign are generally good, a welcome respite in a sea of doom and gloom.
If anything, dove hunting experts are expecting a busier than normal season ahead, thanks in part to good dove numbers as well as countless hunters tired of being cooped up.
"I know there are definitely some outfitters I’ve talked to who have been impacted with some cancellations and last minute changes," said Owen Fitzsimmons, webless migratory bird program leader with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. "But overall, as far as TPWD is concerned, things aren’t looking too bad for the upcoming season. I know that our draw hunt applications are up, our early August license sells are up, and we’re probably setting the stage this weekend for a huge spike in license sales."
"I’d guess that overall, we’re going to be up on our hunting license sales this year because everyone is stressed out, is tired of being cooped up, and is looking forward to dealing with all of that by getting outdoors," he added.
Jason Maresh, a Denison resident who is involved in a big dove lease hunting weekend each year in the western part of the state, said the demand to get out and about is so strong in 2020 that his group will have two long weekend hunts this season and three next fall.
"Our dove hunts are setting up pretty well," said Maresh a few days ago "We need a couple more fronts to push some northern birds down, though."
With Hurricane Laura threatening southeast Texas as this is written — and with weather mill rumors suggesting that an early season cool front may happen in the next week or two — Maresh may get his wish.
But in Dakota Stowers’ case, the head man for North Texas Outfitters out in the Wichita Falls area, he is hoping that the weatherman doesn’t mess things up. Because right now, a lot of NTO clients are coming and loads of doves are zipping by.
"Business is good and from my perspective, there really hasn’t been a noticeable difference in our number of clients as far as this upcoming dove season is concerned," said Stowers at mid-week. "We’ve got a good crew for opening day, and even more for the first weekend of the season."
Stowers said that despite the coronavirus, the first Saturday of September is booked out as usual. And while they’ll be following all state health protocols to help keep the virus from spreading, dove hunting is an outdoors activity that easily lends itself to social distancing.
As for what those hunters will find as they spread out on several hundred acres, there should be no shortage of doves flying by as they sit on hunting buckets positioned around big empty fields and nearby waterholes.
"There are lots of birds in the areas that we hunt," said Stowers. "One powerline near one of our best fields is sagging a good bit this week under the weight of all of the doves sitting on that powerline."
Stowers said that for hunters looking for a good spot for an opening day dove shoot, milo is tops in his area followed by native dove weed patches.
"The milo fields will be best at the beginning of the season while that dove weed and any remaining sunflowers will become increasingly important as we get deeper into the season," he said.
Stowers biggest concern is any potential impact from rainfall associated with Hurricane Laura, the Category 4 storm making landfall near Beaumont and Port Arthur. As long as heavy rains don’t push into the area, Stowers thinks that the hurricane might even help regional hunting prospects.
"I am kind of hoping that this hurricane might actually help push some birds back up from the south," said Stowers. "I don’t know what this storm is going to do, however, so we’ll see."
One surprise for Stowers is the increasing presence of white-winged doves in the area of southern Oklahoma that he hunts with his clients.
"You might not believe me, but I’m mainly seeing whitewings," said Stowers. "We’ve had a bunch of whitewings out here in the past, but not like this year. I’d guess that in 2020, I’m seeing maybe 70 percent whitewings and 30 percent mourning doves."
Regardless of where a hunter is hunting in North Texas or southern Oklahoma next week, Stowers said that the game plan will be the same.
"If you’re hunting in the morning, hunt a food source," he said. "If you’re hunting in the evening, sit near a waterhole that is near a food source. And no matter what, stay cool and drink a lot of water because it’s going to be hot."
Hopefully, even as Hurricane Laura comes calling and the coronavirus scare continues, that will be true of the wingshooting as well.
With any luck, the dove hunting action next week will be just as hot as the temperature is, and that’s always a good thing in early September, no matter what the news headlines might say.