The beginning of September marks an important date on the calendars of migratory bird hunters around the state.
With the season beginning on Monday in the North and Central zones, Shaun Oldenburger, dove program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said that this year hunters should be prepared for a highly productive first split.
“There has been good production in most areas of the state and we expect high numbers of birds in the fall split, so opening day should be good throughout the state,” Oldenburger said.
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The first split in the North and Central zones will begin Monday (Sept. 1) and run through Oct. 20. The second split for both zones will last from Dec. 19 to Jan. 7.
Dove season in the South Zone will begin Sept. 19 and remain open until Oct. 20. The second split will begin Dec. 19 and last until Jan. 25.
TPW is projecting greater numbers of both mourning and white-wing doves in all zones.
According to reports by TPW, mourning dove estimates for the 2014 season should reach 26.6 million birds, while white-wing numbers have been estimated at 6.6 million.
“Population estimates of mourning doves for the year have seen a 5 percent increase from the previous year,” Oldenburger said. “We have actually seen gains since the 2010 season, when [Texas] was in that very ugly drought.”
Oldenburger said that some regions remain hindered by the drought, however.
“The pre-drought numbers have not really bounced back in the Rolling Plains and North Texas; however, South Texas and the Gulf Coast look much better than they have in years past.”
Despite reports of an expected higher yield of birds, bag limits will remain the same from the previous season.
Daily bag limits for all regions will remain at 15 birds per day, numbers that Oldenburger said have held consistent over the past decade.
“We have changed some things in the special white-wing dove area in South Texas, but regulations have been fairly consistent for the last decade or so,” Oldenburger said.
In the special white-wing region, bag limits will be 15 birds, and the season will run concurrent with the South Zone.
The second split should also offer productive hunting, and Oldenburger said the quality hunting at the end of last year should be a great incentive for hunters to save their shooting for later.
“Although close to 95 percent of the harvest of mourning doves and white-wings are completed by that first split, the second season can be very good and will have a lot less hunting pressure,” Oldenburger said.
The quality of hunting available in both splits depends mainly on the proliferation and quality of food available. Something that is determined long before the beginning of fall.
Bob Thornton of the Texas Dove Hunters Association said that the window for appropriate weather and crops should be vastly improved from the 2013 season.
“The problem last year was by the third week in September, most of the seeds had already budded and fallen to the ground,” Thornton said. “So once the bad weather came, there was really nothing to hold the birds.”
Thornton said that he has seen an increase in rancher participation and an increased focus on planting fields. That will undoubtedly improve the quality of hunts available, making the 2014 season more enticing to hunters.
“Guides and outfitters are really enhancing their programs to offer more than just a day hunt,
They’re providing lodging and meals, etc.,” Thornton said. “Day leases and farmers are planting more for the dove hunter, such as sunflower and milo fields; they’re focused on planting and crop maintenance to draw more hunters.”