No matter how you slice up the massive state of Texas and its 254 counties on the map, the Lone Star State is a big place.
Meaning that what’s happening in one part of the state isn’t always happening in another. From weather reports to the price of gasoline to prognostications of upcoming fall hunting seasons, variability is a common theme across the vast Lone Star State landscape.
That’s certainly true when it comes to the 2019 dove hunting outlook, one that contains mixed reports depending on where you live and hunt here in Texas.
In general, at a statewide level, another good dove season is forthcoming. But that forecast gets super sized to very good hunting prospects the further south you live. Unfortunately, that trend reverses a bit the further north you travel up I-35, I-45 and U.S. 75.
So says Texas Parks and Wildlife Department dove program leader Owen Fitzsimmons.
“With the abundant highly-preferred dove foods available on the landscape this year, we’re seeing excellent production,” said Fitzsimmons in a TPWD news release a few days ago. “White-winged dove production, in particular, has been very high in the southern half of the state.
“Plus, many of the states to the north had similar spring habitat conditions, which should result in a strong influx of migrant birds for Texas later in the season. I’m excited about the prospects this season, it should be fantastic.”
But as I caught up with Fitzsimmons yesterday as he wrapped up his participation in Central Flyway meetings in Wyoming, he admitted that he isn’t quite as optimistic about 2019 dove season prospects closer to the Red River where a Sept. 1-Nov. 12 first split and a Dec. 20-Jan. 5 second split await North Zone dove hunters.
“There are still some good numbers up there, but like I’ve been hearing from people over the last few years, once you get north of the DFW area, doves are a bit more scarce,” he said. “I’m not entirely sure why that is just yet and I’m starting to look at that a bit more closely.”
Dakota Stowers, head man at North Texas Outfitters (www.northtexasoutfitters.com; 903-815-9842), is one of those who is scratching his head and wondering where the usual number of birds are around the properties he and his guides hunt on both sides of the Red River out towards Wichita Falls.
“The season opener, it’s kind of looking tough right now,” said Stowers in a text message he sent yesterday. “Truthfully, there are not a lot of birds yet in North Texas. It’s way less than normal.”
As for theories as to why such observations are happening here in portions of the Red River Valle right now, Fitzsimmons said changing land use practices are likely one culprit.
Case in point from where I sit is how things have changed in the Prosper/Celina area of Collin County. A dove hunting hotspot a decade ago in a region that used to be awash in milo fields and wheat fields, all of that has changed as suburbia encroaches and agricultural fields continue to turn into houses, businesses, and growing communities.
Put simply, mourning doves don’t do as well in areas filled with concrete, metal and asphalt. But the answer might not be as simple as pointing to recent development in our area since the burgeoning areas near Austin and San Antonio are still filled with good numbers of doves, particularly whitewings.
Fitzsimmons also noted that some of the decline in DFW regional dove numbers the last several years may have something to do with topsy-turvy weather conditions. Since 2015, conditions have ranged from extremely wet to extremely dry, sometimes in spans separated by only a few weeks worth of calendar time.
All in all, the TPWD biologist reiterates that he’s still trying to figure out why dove sightings aren’t as common here as they once were. Hopefully, there’s more to report on that sometime soon.
None of this means that 2019 dove numbers have collapsed in this part of Texas since Fitzsimmons says that good numbers of nesters are still being reported in some areas.
Add in expanding white-winged dove numbers from the south and the continued strong presence of invasive Eurasian collared doves and hunters who work at their wingshooting craft this fall should still find some decent shooting.
“And in addition to doves produced locally, once we get into September, migrant doves should start coming down from northern states and that should change things up a little bit,” predicted Fitzsimmons.
Down south, the TPWD biologist says that things should be red hot from the opening bell of dove hunting this fall, likely remaining that way to the season’s end.
“Yeah, the southern half of Texas will likely see a boom year of dove hunting this fall,” said Fitzsimmons. “From Waco to the south, we’re loaded with doves in many places. I’m just hoping that it will pick up a little bit more as you get further north.”
As a dove hunter ready for a fresh batch of dove breasts skewered with bacon and jalapeno slices — and cooked to smoky perfection on my Traeger grill — yours truly and thousands of my North Texas wingshooting brethren are hoping that Fitzsimmons ends up being right.
Unfortunately, only time will tell as the 2019-20 dove season runs it course.
The good news is that if things don’t pan out as hoped for here in local dove fields, it won’t take long to get on the asphalt highways that make their way south across Texas in serpentine fashion.
Because as usually is the case somewhere in this vast state we call home, finding a good dove shoot shouldn’t be too hard to do this fall. Especially in a year where the hunting is predicted to be nothing short of fantastic, even if you have to travel a few miles south to find it.