Leading up to last weekend’s Sept. 1 dove season opener, many local wingshooters had hedged their bets in late August.
The reason? Despite late summer assurances from biologists that there was a bumper crop of the abundant game bird readily available for harvest this year, plenty of local hunters just weren’t seeing the numbers of doves that they were hoping to see in pre-season scouting missions.
While the opening bell of dove hunting wasn’t great everywhere, there were enough good reports coming from the first several days of the 2018 season to lead me to have two thoughts.
Either those hunters were sandbagging their late August reports, or there really is a good population of the rocketing gray ghosts that can cause wingshooters to burn shotgun shells by the case this year.
Take, for instance, the reports from out west. North Texas Outfitters owner and lead guide Dakota Stowers had confided late last week that where he was seeing birds, there were plenty of mourning doves and white-winged doves to be found.
But he also noted with a bit of concern that there were other places where the birds were few and far between.
So how was opening weekend for Stowers, his guides, and the nearly 100-plus clients that they hosted? Nothing short of epic according to the group’s Facebook page.
“Opening day of dove season went absolutely great here at North Texas Outfitters,” Stowers proclaimed on social media last Sunday morning before Day Two of the season began.
While limits weren’t had by all, there was no shortage of shooting opportunities over the Labor Day holiday weekend. In fact, NTO reported last weekend that more than 1,000-plus doves were harvested on opening day by the dozens of hunters they had out.
While the numbers dwindled on the second day of the season, there was still plenty of shooting to be found in the fields and waterholes our towards Wichita Falls that Stowers and his crew guide on.
As summertime’s final holiday ended and the work week continued, apparently so did the good dove shooting. In fact, Stowers reported via the NTO Facebook page that this past Tuesday, two hunters shot a two man limit in less than an hour.
But that was hardly the only opening weekend dove hunting success story that I heard in recent days.
Longtime Sherman dove hunter Jim Lillis teamed up with his Gainesville pal Phil Bellows and his Whitesboro friend Doug Rodgers to do well out near Frederick, Okla. last weekend.
While there were plenty of mourning doves in their Saturday bag limits, there were also a surprising number of white-winged doves too, as the bigger and blockier bird continues to push northward.
“Yeah, we had some good shooting on Saturday but the high wind made it pretty hard to hit those high-flying whitewings,” laughed Lillis, one of the better wingshooters that you’ll find and an expert on sporting clays.
“Most of us came close to out limit on the first day, although things did get a little slower on Sunday morning,” said Lillis. “I don’t think there were nearly as many limits on Sunday, although I left early.”
While Lillis didn’t have the exact number of doves that his group took on the season’s first two days, he said that there were certainly plenty of shotgun shells fired, ensuring that the makers of dove hunting loads stay in business at least a little while longer.
“Few things can humble you in shotgunning like a dove riding hard on a stiff wind can,” laughed Lillis.
Closer to home, Denison’s Kenny Conyers found mixed results over the opening three days of the 2018 dove season.
“On Saturday morning, it was not all that productive where we were hunting east of Van Alstyne on a plowed corn field,” said Conyers, also an expert wingshooter and a whiz on clay pigeons with his Remington 1100. “But we moved about five miles from there, a little closer to Whitewright in a sunflower patch with some stock ponds, and ended up doing pretty good on opening morning.”
On Monday’s Labor Day holiday, the barber and his hunting pal did even better…until the skies opened up, that is.
“I am hunting behind my house in a pasture between a corn field and a plowed wheat field in the misting rain and the birds are flying like crazy,” Conyers told me via a text. “I’m only four birds shy of a limit and there is still time to limit out.”
When I asked how he was hunting, Conyers said that he had a dozen dove decoys on a barbed wire fence along with two Mojo spinning wing decoys.
“I’m wet, but we’re having a blast,” he said. “Those decoys are working great.”
The next morning, Conyers concluded his report by noting that the talked about limit never came.
“The bottom fell out and we had to run for the truck and get out before we got stuck,” he said. “I hope to get out and try it again later in the week.”
With such reports noted, several observations come to mind about the first few days of the 2018 dove season.
First, there are plenty of birds…if you’re in the right spot. One thing to note is that Conyers and Lillis both take their dove hunting seriously and are both keen on scouting for good spots to hunt. And Stowers makes his living from guiding hunters, so he’s out and about scouting each and every day.
Put simply, getting out to look for spots that show where the birds want to be will certainly boost the odds a bit more in your favor.
Second, have plenty of shotgun shells handy when you do go out. Lillis is one of the best wing shots I’ve ever known and when he talks about dove being hard to hit, especially with a stiff southerly wind blowing, well, I suppose that no one’s average is bulletproof.
Third, if you can, have multiple options available to hunt. Lillis mentioned that he, Bellows, and Rodgers moved around a bit until they found the sweet spot on the farm that they were hunting. And Conyers was willing to adjust his location a few miles, producing better results.
Fourth, as Conyers and his hunting buddy proved earlier in the week, don’t let wet weather deter you from going out on a dove hunt. I found that out years ago hunting with Sherman residents Jackie Moss and his brother Troy on a milo field west of town. Despite a multi-inch rainfall the two days leading up to Sept. 1, we still shot limits of doves despite a sea of mud.
Fifth, it never hurts to use decoys, both the clip on kind and a spinning wing decoy or two.
Finally, even though the first few days of September’s dove hunting action have now come and gone, don’t quit chasing these rocketing gray ghosts. Because the crowds are going to be thinning out, more birds will be arriving from the north, and some of the best wingshooting of the year is still yet to come.