Standing in a local business last Friday afternoon, a bolt of lightning, the crack of thunder and the roar of heavy rainfall on the roof brought a bit of a smile, if not a half-hearted chuckle.
While the football broadcaster side of me fretted about the effect of the sudden downpour on last week’s 121st Battle of the Ax game between Denison and Sherman, the outdoor writer and dove hunter side of me shrugged and thought, “Right on time.”
If you’ve lived in these parts for any length of time, you’re probably well aware of the tendency for a summertime filled with hot weather and drought conditions to suddenly go AWOL as the September 1 dove season opener approaches.
Such sudden monsoons don’t happen every year, but they happen frequently enough to scramble the best laid plans of thousands of North Texas wingshooters chomping at the bit as they anticipate the beginning of another fall hunting season.
That includes the most recent one, which was about as slow as molasses thanks to fewer local ag crops, more development and yes, the weather. But before you grumble too much, keep in mind that the first days of the season earlier this week are only the beginning to a long campaign with many weeks of prime dove hunting left to come.
With any luck, as the season wears on and the first cool fronts of autumn begin to show up on the weather charts, hunting success is likely to be bolstered as the doves begin to migrate southward into and through the southern Great Plains.
“The urge to migrate is hormonal and is controlled by day length,” said former Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist Jay Roberson in a conversation we had on this topic a number of years ago. “But the birds also respond to other stimuli, such as weather and fronts. And on a local scale, I do think that hunting pressure does move birds. While the weather does too, I couldn’t say whether one is more powerful than another (in terms of influencing early season dove movement.)”
Ironically enough, once the shooting pressure of this week’s September 1 opening day barrage subsides, fall weather and shortening days are about the only thing that will continue to trigger widespread autumn dove movement.
That’s true since most of the hunting pressure wanes considerably following the first few days of the September season, causing many wingshooters to miss out on some of the best dove hunting action that the autumn season has to offer.
“Despite our (lengthy) seasons, the average number of days spent (dove) hunting is three or four,” agreed Roberson. “I think dove hunting is an underutilized resource. There can be some great dove hunts later on, particularly in October as the northern birds are filtering in, although there are more adult birds and they can be a little smarter and harder to hit.”
Roberson’s former counterpart on the north side of the Red River — retired Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation migratory bird biologist Mike O’Meilia — agreed with that assessment.
“After the first half of September, there are some die-hard dove hunters out there — I’m one of them,” O’Meilia said in a similar line of thought a few years back. “But after first two weekends have come and gone, you can have some of these places pretty much to yourself and you can have some fabulous shooting.”
As long as you’re willing to get out of the easy chair, that is.
What can you do to increase your odds as the season goes along and migrating doves begin to arrive on the local landscape?
First, whether you believe it or not, scouting will become even more important as the season progresses. Why is that? Because without the masses of wingshooters that the opening bell brings — crowds that can help stir up localized dove movement — it will be that much more important to be in the right field for a mid to late-season hunt.
Next, focus on the right food source, particularly agricultural fields that might receive a late cutting this year due to inclement spring weather that delayed planting. But more likely, be highly observant of where late maturing stands of native vegetation are — think sunflowers, croton, etc. here — because the doves will be keying on them.
Third, when you arrive at a hunting location, spend a few moments watching and figuring out flight patterns. Earlier this week, I didn’t take my own advice and paid the price since the limited dove flights through the area all went through a particular opening…about 100 yards from where I was hunting.
Fourth, be willing to adapt to changing flight patterns quickly. The other day, I didn’t do that — a case of wingshooting “Do as I say, not as I do!” — and failed to get into some prime shooting opportunities for the half-hour it existed.
Fifth, if the autumn heat continues and abundant rainfall doesn’t return soon, don’t overlook the importance of waterholes as surface water supplies begin to dwindle. If this is a warm and dry fall, late hunts could be spectacular for hunters situated around water sources.
Sixth, adjust your shotshell selection as the season progresses since young of the year birds will be fattening up and mature birds will be getting thicker too with the approach of winter. All that simply means that while #8 or even #9 shot is preferred by many — myself included — early on in the season, don’t be afraid to switch to #7 1/2’s later on.
And finally, get up and go dove hunting, making sure that you don’t only hunt these fine game birds when the crowds show up for the carnival like atmosphere of early season. If you’ll continue to work at it and stay after the birds, some incredible wingshooting opportunities can often be had as September runs its course and October arrives on the calendar.
By then, the thoughts of many hunters will be turning to ducks and deer. But for the dove hunter willing to soldier on, the latter part of the season can often be as good as — or even better — than the first part.
All without another wingshooter anywhere in sight.