When it comes to Texas’ dove season, tradition is a hard thing to change.
Calls over the years for moving opening day from Sept. 1 to the first Saturday of September has always been stonewalled by a majority that likes open day just the way it is.
Almost all other seasons begin on a Saturday, but dove hunters have always preferred to kick off the fall hunting season on Sept. 1 wherever it may fall. As a friend once said, if you have a job that you cannot take off from for two days to go dove hunting then maybe you need a different job.
So when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department announced this year’s season dates it came as no surprise that the season opens on Monday, Sept. 1.
However, if you look close enough there is a change. The department opted to lop days off the end of the first season and add them to the winter season. It is only a couple of days, but it does beg the question, why?
In the North and Central zones that means the season will close Oct. 20 and then reopen Dec. 19-Jan. 7, 2015.
Last year the first season went through Oct. 23.
In South Texas the regular South Zone season will begin Sept. 19 and run through Oct. 20 instead of Oct. 27 like last year. It will open again Dec. 19 through Jan. 25.
For most hunters the change is not going to make any difference. According to the TPWD 98 percent of the North Zone mourning dove harvest and 92 percent of the Central Zone’s harvest comes early in the season, like the first two weekends.
It is about the same for white-winged dove, which are taken normally in conjunction with mourning dove hunting.
While there are a few October hunters in the two zones, the winter season can be dicey first because of the weather and secondly because while hunters might see droves of birds, a few shots can send them migrating farther south in search of more stable food supplies.
With all this in mind, when the TPWD staff first proposed a season it was based on last year’s dates for a variety of reasons including consistency and to overlap with youth-only seasons for duck and deer in late October.
But proposals are not written in stone, and as the regulations began to move up through various decision makers it was eventually changed.
“As we presented these season dates to the TPWD Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee they agreed with the recommendations except for one minor detail, a Friday opener instead of a Saturday opener during the second half of the season,” said Shaun Oldenburger, TPWD dove program leader.
“When presented to the Commission, they felt it was best for hunters to have more days during the second half of the season than the first so days were taken off the first half of the season and put on the back end of the season. It was their perspective that by providing added days around the Christmas and New Year holidays it would increase hunter participation and provide more time for school-age hunters as well.”
Honestly, this is another case of the Commission taking care of South Texas at the expense of the remainder of the state because only South Texas hunters have a good shot at the birds.
Fortunately this time the lost days were weekdays when hunting pressure is traditionally light.
“No there are not a whole lot of guys that hunt past Sept. 10 and very few that hunt in the winter,” said Coleman outfitter Dusty Graeves. “There are more that hunt in October than in the winter. That is some of my best hunting. It is going to take away some opportunity, but not a lot.
It is too early to make a good call on season prospects because there is a lot of summer left. However, after years of what biologists believed was a decline in dove numbers throughout the central portion of the country they started to drift back upwards in 2012. Conditions have been good throughout much of the state for nesting again this year.
“With harvest rates near 4 percent for mourning doves based on banding data, it is clear that hunting at the current level in the United States is not impacting populations or population growth,” Oldenburger noted.
During the regular seasons, hunters will still have a 15-bird limit, and like last year a three-day possession limit of 45.
Along with the regular seasons, the Special White-winged Dove Area season was set for Sept. 6-7 and 13-14.
Also approved was a 16-day statewide early teal and Eastern Zone Canada goose season that will run Sept. 13 through Sept. 28. The season length is representative of a continued strong North American blue-winged teal population.
The daily bag on teal remains six, with a possession limit of 18. Bag limit for Canada geese will be three and a possession limit of 6 in the Eastern Zone only.
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