Don’t forget about dove hunting as October continues

Lynn Burkhead
For the Herald Democrat

Exiting a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday afternoon down on the northern edge of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, I was reminded once again that it’s still dove season for another few days.

In fact, the first split of the 2021-22 dove season in the North Zone where Grayson County and the rest of North Texas lies, actually continues on until Nov. 12. And then after about a month’s delay, the second half of the season runs from Dec. 17, 2021, until Jan. 2, 2022.

That’s good news considering what I saw the other afternoon, which was dozens of plump mourning doves sitting on powerline wires next to Hwy. 75. And every few seconds, those big doves would vault off the powerline, make a few flaps of their wings, and pitch down into a two-acre patch of fading sunflowers.

And that’s not the only time that I’ve seen a pile of doves recently here in North Texas. In fact, during play-by-play duties for the Yellow Jackets over the last few weeks, a couple of trips into the DFW area have shown much of the same thing in the late afternoon hours.

And that’s plenty of hefty mourning doves — the so-called “Kansas birds” that hunters talk of — sitting on powerlines not far from football stadiums in Gunter, Celina, and Frisco. And in every case, those birds were doing the same thing, pitching into a nearby overgrown weedy field and dining on seeds from native vegetation that is still supporting the birds this late in the year.

All of that reminds me of the fact that while few wingshooters take advantage of it, October dove hunting can be surprisingly good. And surprisingly lonely too, since most hunters are currently occupied with chasing deer with their compound bows, getting their duck decoy spreads ready, or even tuning up a bird dog for the first quail hunt of the season.

But for the dove hunters who will stay at it for another few weeks, there’s a great chance to put the season’s biggest birds into the freezer as you bag a limit and likely never hear another shot in the process.

How can you do that? For starters, you’ll need to commit to going again, even if it isn’t something you’re accustomed to doing at this time of the year.

Second, you’ll want to do some scouting again, which may be as important now as ever.

Why is that? Well, for one reason, unlike the dove hunting action of early September, recent dry weather has brought waterhole hunting back into play again as many areas ponds and lakes have started to drop down a bit thanks to limited rainfall.

You’ll also want to scout for feeding areas again because where native doves were dining at the beginning of the season has likely changed by now. Back then, locally raised birds were keying in on leftover wheat, milo, and even corn fields at times. Now, that waste grain is long gone and migratory birds are having to search for whatever food they can find.

Because of that, it pays to focus current scouting efforts on native vegetation like the sunflowers mentioned at the outset of this story, or maybe even some leftover croton if you can find it.

Odds are, the rains earlier this year have left your hunting lease loaded up with native food sources, something that Texas Parks and Wildlife Department dove program leader Owen Fitzsimmons predicted might happen back in late August.

As good as Fitzsimmons expected the dove hunting action to be on and after September 1st, he also opined in our conversation that the late season stuff this year could be spectacular as the local birds flew south and the migratory birds filtered in from the north.

Why? Native food resources, that’s why.

“These big rain events (like we had earlier in the year) can affect the landscape,” he said. “One thing it can do really good is to get soil moisture in place to get native forage to pop up more than normal. That can help the dove hunting later on in the year as birds move in from up north.”

In fact, Fitzsimmons remembered some phenomenal hunting in the late season a few years ago, thanks to some timely rains that left much of Texas awash in tons of native food sources for doves.

“Three years ago, we had some late rains like we did this year,” he told me. “And if I remember correctly, by December, we had croton growing everywhere. We sometimes see that in years when we’ve had moisture most of  the year, kind of like this year. That can lead to some pretty good late season hunting conditions across most of the state.”

I thought of those words at midweek, and suddenly wondered how many shotgun shells I had waiting for me back at home since, for yours truly, it’s time to start thinking about going dove hunting again.

Realizing that the birds I saw on Wednesday are migratory doves, and that the approach of winter has birds fully feathered out, the last thing you might want to do is go up in shotshell pellet size and choke selection. Because of that, now is the time — in my opinion, at least — to opt for 7 1/2’s and modified chokes instead of the 8’s and 9’s and improved cylinder chokes I might have selected a month ago.

The bottom line here is this, that there is currently a good number of mourning doves pushing into the state right now as most Texas hunters think of ducks, bucks, and quail. And that means you’ll likely have the dove shooting all to yourself, not to mention a good opportunity to put tasty game birds on the table even if you never sight another wingshooter in the process.

Now, anybody see my bird hunting vest?