COLEMAN — After a hot, slow start Sunday in Travis County, the Waltz Across Texas Dove Hunt 2013 picked up steam Labor Day.
The hunting, as one friend describes such a day, was chili red hot.
But it was not without its obstacles, primarily rain and lightning that blew through the eastern edge of Texas’ Big Country in front of a cold front Monday. The rumbling of thunder preceded the alarm clock going off, but as often is the case in Central Texas, just because one pasture got rain doesn’t mean they all got rain.
But the cooler temperatures were certainly welcomed. Hunting southeast of Austin Sunday was brutal. Even though it was a morning hunt the day’s temperature was headed toward 100-plus degrees and had a good start at sunrise.
The heat may or may not have impacted a hunt that started slow, but ended with a limit before 8:30. For those on the edge of the field it was an earlier ending. Mourning dove streamed to the outer edges and while a bunch ran the gauntlet, they showed little interest in decoys or whatever feed was available in the middle of the field. It wasn’t until the later arriving whitewings woke up and came to feed that birds really began lighting in the field.
It is hard to complain about a morning like that until you experience one like Monday. Sunday night outfitter Dusty Graeves gave us the option of a 45-minute drive to Abilene for whitewings or a 10 minute trip for mourning doves. We picked the short route, but the morning started with pre-dawn phone calls to determine if there was going to be any hunting at all. Fortunately for the hunters, but not for the rancher still struggling with dry conditions, the rain split most of Graeves country. Watching the lightning strikes it is pretty certain not everyone else was as lucky. Brownwood, for example got almost an inch of rain and Goldwaithe had more than an inch.
The 75-acre field Graeves sent us to had a small plowed area at the north and then turned into sunflowers.
“Those sunflowers are just right,” Graeves said. “They have been coming into that field for three weeks.”
A strong south wind was blowing back toward the approaching cold front. Austin’s Mike Leggett and I set up a single spinning wing decoy just about where the weeds met the open space. Because of the clouds shooting light was late, but as the birds started to filter into the field from the north the decoy worked like a magnet. Groups of two to eight birds turned as soon as they saw it, cupped their wings and started down.
It was a fast and furious shoot. You couldn’t reload fast enough for the next wave of doves and even standing in the decoys retrieving a bird was not a deterrent. After maybe 20 minutes of actually shooting we walked out of the field with a limit each, all mourning doves.
In any previous year that would be the end of the trip, but because of a change in regulations allowing three day’s possession limits, there would be another morning.
This time Graeves sent a small group to a field east of Coleman. A full tank of gas is one thing that is important when dove hunting in Central Texas. After a 30 mile drive to the field, it didn’t take long to realize the previous day’s rain had changed the conditions. The caravan of trucks loaded up and headed back to the previous days’ field.
By the time we got there the earliest morning flight had come and gone. I rushed back to the corner and set out the decoy, but it wasn’t as good as the day before. Watching the flight lines of the birds, I slowly eased up a tree line alongside the plowed ground and took a limit of passing birds. It wasn’t quite as quick as the day before, but a 30 minute shoot isn’t bad.
Opening day reports seemed to be mixed around much of the state. While most of the birds taken early in the season are local birds, they will begin their migration soon but will be replaced by birds from northern states that stay much of the winter in Texas.
For more information on hunting the Coleman area, contact Graeves at 325-280-2809.
Have a comment or opinion on this story? Contact outdoor writer Steve Knight by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Steve Knight on Facebook at TylerPaper Outdoors and on Twitter @tyleroutdoor.