Dove hunters likely to have rough go on opening day

Getting your limit on doves this weekend may prove to be more of a challenge than in years past. The ongoing drouth that has most of the state firmly in its grasp is beginning to rear its ugly head. Landowners, hunting lease owners and even the general public are quickly becoming aware of the negative effects the lack of rain is having on wildlife. Come Labor Day weekend, McCulloch County is normally filled with excited hunters and landowners ready for the opening day of dove season. This year, preliminary reports are showing that the usual bumper crop of doves is anything but plentiful and limiting out on opening morning may be more of a challenge that ever before. “We have birds, but they are very scattered and not congregating,” said one landowner. “The sunflowers and doveweed matured too early this year because of the heat and most of it is gone by now.” High temperatures and lack of rain have virtually nullified the chance of successful hunts over grain fields. Hunting over tanks in the late afternoon is shaping up to be the most promising spot. Fortunately for many, a series of healthy showers in early June that covered most of the county was enough to fill many stock tanks. The Lohn and Doole areas in McCulloch County have traditionally been the hotspots for early season wing-shooting. The drouth however, has affected virtually every area of the region and fields that historically have been a sure bet on opening morning may or may not be as lucrative as hoped. “I was talking with several guys from all areas of the county at the cafe earlier today and none of them seemed to have any birds,” claimed one local rancher. “This drouth is really starting to put a hurt on us in more ways than one, and it’s not just us’it’s everyone in the entire state.” Despite the disheartening prospect of potentially slow wing-shooting this season, hunters are still reserving their fields and anxious about the upcoming hunts. “I have had several hunters pull out because of the drouth but many of them say they are coming anyway just to get out of the city and get away for awhile,” said an outfitter located in the northern portion of the county. “We have some fields that have a little doveweed and sunflower left and the only question will be, is it enough to keep the birds coming'” McCulloch County is part of the Central Zone in the state and the season for doves runs from Sept. 1-Oct. 17 and Dec. 26-Jan. 7. Shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset. The daily bag limit is 15 dove in the aggregate. Texas boasts a fall dove population of more than 40 million birds, more than half of which are produced annually. In addition, several million more migrant doves from bordering states to the north make their way across Texas each fall. Last season, 393,000 Texas dove hunters spent a combined 1.2 million days afield and took 4.5 million birds. Cold fronts in late August tend to push locally produced doves south, and if rain comes, the dove may disperse over a greater area, making it tougher on hunters hoping to concentrate their efforts around stock tanks. Need a place to hunt’ For the price of a $40 Annual Public Hunting Permit, hunters can access dove hunting on 48,000 acres of TPW public dove leases. Funds generated by the sale of permits are used to purchase these hunting rights. The 130 leases are scattered through all three dove zones; some cover more than 1,000 acres and the largest contains nearly 4,000 acres. Annual Public Hunting permits may be purchased wherever hunting licenses are sold. White-winged dove hunters are reminded that a $7 white-winged dove stamp is required to hunt white-wings anywhere in Texas and that whitewing populations are expanding throughout much of the Central and South Zones. Dove hunters can avoid taking any chances by purchasing the Super Combo license package, which for $49 includes resident hunting and fishing licenses plus all seven special stamps. Purchased separately, the package would cost $91. Persons 65 years of age or older may purchase the resident Senior Super Combo license for $25 which offers the same privileges as the Super Combo license and is available this year for the first time. Hunters are also reminded to renew their hunting licenses, which expire Aug. 31, before heading out on opening day.

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