If there ever was a year for dove season to start on a Saturday, this is it.
September 1 is a Sunday and it comes on Labor Day weekend. Throw in the fact that hunters can now keep three day’s limits and backing up opening day would be a perfect start.
There is only one problem. It not only won’t happen, it can’t happen.
Like ducks, geese and all other migratory species, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department sets the actually hunting dates for doves, but it has to be within guidelines dictated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
It all goes back to 1916 and the signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act between the United States and Great Britain representing Canada, and expanded in 1936 to include Mexico.
The treaty came about because in the early days few states had migratory game bird regulations and there were often interstate conflicts. The federal government attempted to gain some sort of control, but was unsuccessful until the treaty. With an international agreement in hand the first federal guidelines were handed down for waterfowl in 1918, and called for a liberal 107-day season with a 25-duck daily bag limit.
While there are exemptions (Mexico didn’t agree to dates for dove) the agreement states no migratory season can begin before Sept. 1 and all must conclude no later than March 10.
“I think there is biology tied to it,” said Dave Morrison, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s small game program director. “I think the biology is on the breeding grounds. By Sept. 1 they are done for the most part and the young can fly. There are probably still some flappers, but there has to be a date.”
Morrison said the reverse thinking explains the March 10 ending.
“With the backside that is when they start arriving back on the breeding grounds,” he said.
Within that framework the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has created U.S. guidelines and regulations for migratory seasons, and states are allowed to set their own dates, which are again guided by season lengths determined by the Feds. The states could actually set dates and limits less than what is allowed by the Service, but not more.
One example of a federal regulation is the opening of dove season in South Texas. Because of extended breeding activity, the Service delayed the start of the regular season in the region. In recent years the opening has been the Friday closest to Sept. 17.
State involvement didn’t really begin until the mid-1940s following a severe drought in the 1930s that resulted in very restrictive seasons and limits, and reduced hunter numbers. The states got involved in flyway councils so their needs could be heard and included in decisions.
Today an example of a state regulation would be the length of the duck season splits in Texas’ North and South zones. The state has a 74-day window under federal guidelines that must fall between Sept. 21 and the last Sunday in January. Because of hunter requests, TPWD pushes the season to the last possible date. The remainder of the days is based on migration and to a degree holidays.
The state could go to the last Sunday and back up 74 days, but there has always been an interesting in hunting the early ducks, bringing about the split season.
Dove season and the Eastern spring turkey season, which isn’t guided by federal guidelines or the treaty, are the only hunting seasons in Texas without a weekend start. Morrison said typically about every seven years, when the season opens on Sunday, there are some calls for a change.
To do so, however, the only option would be to wait until Sept. 7 to open the season because revisiting the treaty in this era may not produce the results hunters seek.
“The treaty is something you never want to mess with,” Morrison said. “In order for the treaty to be amended it has to go through the State Department. I for one don’t want those people messing with my hunting seasons.”
Morrison added that if the treaty was open for one thing, that means the entire treaty could be amended and to be honest hunting migratory birds is not as important with a lot of people in North America as it was in 1916. Hunters could be the odd-man out in modern discussions.
As for the Sept. 1 dove season opener, Morrison said it has become so ingrained in Texas hunters it would be hard to muster up in-state support. He said if nothing else hunters know today when the season will open in 2014 or 2019.
The later closing for duck season and an expanded Special White-Winged Dove Area in South Texas that will have most of the state open for hunting Sept. 1 show that within the treaty, within the federal framework and within the state’s regulation there is room for adjustment.
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