A funny thing happened on the way to a duck hunt.
It turned into a dove hunt.
Having trouble finding ducks that have become scattered with so much water in the area, my youngest son, Thomas, was making rounds scouting ponds he has access to. Sitting on the hill glassing the water below at one stop, he noticed something between his location and the lake.
Actually he noticed a lot of somethings. Dove by the hundreds were flying into the grazed-down pasture apparently feeding off croton left over from the fall.
The winter dove season, which closed Sunday, is basically an afterthought if not a forgotten season altogether. It opens just before Christmas when most hunters are finishing their deer hunting with their family.
It really is the forgotten season in East Texas where dove and pine trees just don’t seem to mix.
According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, less than 5 percent of the annual dove harvest comes during the late season. Most of that occurs in South Texas where more of the birds spend the winter months.
There is a little shooting in the Central Zone and almost no winter harvest in the North Zone, which typically produces some of the best September hunting.
The problem with the winter season is that the birds are bunched waiting for any reason to migrate — whether it is a coming cold front, rain or the blast of a shotgun. The upside is that they are all big, mature birds.
I have had a few good winter hunts in the past. One of the best was in the snow in Georgetown just across the fence from Southwestern University. In those days the school was bordered by a cow pasture filled with mesquite. A friend was a student there and hopefully we had permission to be on the land because we had a great hunt there.
What is so enticing about winter dove hunting is the flock size. In September hunters are more accustomed to seeing a pair or the occasional flock. In the winter the birds are almost always grouped.
Thomas never found any ducks so we decided to go back Saturday and hunt the dove. The concern was a blustery south wind and an approaching cold front. We didn’t know if the birds would still be there. In fact when we arrived at 3 p.m. that afternoon, there was nothing but meadow larks skimming the field.
After about an hour we thought about moving fields, but just as we got in the truck one dove landed on the power line and another flew past. It was sign enough.
Thomas took his spinning wing decoy and moved halfway down a fence row. I sat at a corner, surrounded by five fixed-wing decoys, and in short order the action began.
Not to say I ever doubted my son, but when the first flock of 25 or so birds flew in I was a little surprised. They flew from the south over us and then turned and coasted in back toward our decoys. Armed with an over/under 20 gauge, I felt like I had walked into a knife fight with nothing but a stick.
I got off my two shots, and except for the birds on the ground, the remainder were gone.
The wind didn’t help either. With gusts near 20 miles per hour those flying with the wind at their back zipped past like jet fighters.
The action was steady but not constant. It was a flock here and a flock there. Some wanted to land right where we were. Others were passing over to the middle or upper end of the field.
Then Thomas said, “Look behind you!”
I turned and saw a flock of dove the size I haven’t seen since I was in high school. Actually it would be better described as a cloud of dove. Even against the gray sky you could see them coming by the hundreds.
When we first saw them they were so far off, the birds looked like dots in the sky, but in an instant they were on top of us.
Again, the over/under shotguns turned out to be a disadvantage. There were no lingering birds. The flock rushed in, we shot, and they blew out.
The good news was that wasn’t the last flock, and with every new flight it was shoot a few and watch the rest fly away.
By the time we quit we had 19 birds between us, not limits but certainly not a bad East Texas dove hunt any time of the year.
What was even more fun was this was the second day of a three-day hunting weekend in which my Lab got to retrieve quail, dove and ducks all within 50 miles of Tyler.
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