There is always a high level excitement that begins to build among Texas dove hunting junkies during the waning days of August. Sept. 1 is just around the corner, which marks the long-awaited opener of dove season in the North and Central Zones.
Though its statewide audience isn't near as large as that of high school football, dove season is a big deal in Texas, just the same. It's the opening act in long-line of hallowed hunting seasons, one that is played out on a wide variety of stages ranging from vast croton and grain fields to isolated water holes where the birds go for a refreshing drink at the end of a hot summer day.
There is a lot to like about dove hunting, but one of really cool things is it is a highly social sport in which hunters can converse freely among themselves without worry of spooking the birds. It also poses the inherent challenge of hitting dipping, darting, diving targets known to come zipping in unannounced from odd angles, often at speeds in excess of 40 m.p.h.
Another neat thing about dove hunting is it doesn't cost a lot to play the game. In fact, dove hunting represents what is arguably the best opportunity for a high-quality, low-cost hunting experience for Texas sportsmen.
There are dozens of reputable outfitters across the state who lease up property in good dove country. Most offer day hunts that range in cost from $50-$125 per day, per hunter. Others offer all inclusive packages that include lodging, meals and bird cleaning, but you can expect to pay extra for those services.
Booking a hunt through a reputable outfitter comes with some distinctive advantages. The good ones will have done plenty of pre-season scouting before you arrive. Not only should they know which fields are holding birds, but they also should have a good idea as to how the birds are using them, and what flight paths they are taking when exiting or entering the fields.
Of course, even the best outfitter can't control what happens in the event of a drastic swing in the weather. What was originally forecast to be a banner opening day can quickly turn into a wash in the event of a big rain or cold front.
There are a number of things hunters can do to help increase their chances of having a successful hunt and pleasurable experience in in the field. Here's a random list:
Get Legal: Every hunter, regardless of age, is required to have a hunting license and proof of HIP certification on their license. A migratory bird stamp also is required of hunters 17 and older.
Hunt Safe: The No. 1 cause of hunting accidents is tracking birds and pulling the trigger just they cross paths with other hunters. It is called swinging on game.
Know the whereabouts of every hunter, whether they are a member of your party or not. It is also a good idea to make sure other hunters know your location. If you decide to change spots, make sure everyone knows it.
It is easy to get excited out there. Don't take shots you might later regret.
Wear Eye/Ear Protection: Shotshell pellets can travel a considerable distance. Always wear shooting glasses to protect your eyes from stray pellets. It is equally smart smart to use ear plugs to help prevent the continued report of a shotgun from damaging your hearing. If you have kids, make certain their ears and eyes are protected in the field.
Avoid Hunting Baited Areas: Be absolutely sure the area you are hunting has not been "baited" to attract birds. It is illegal and considered a federal offense. Ignorance is no excuse. If caught hunting over bait, you will likely be ticketed and face a brisk fine, whether you knew the area was baited or not.
Dress For the Occasion: Doves have extremely good eyesight. They can pick out bright clothing, faces and bald heads from a considerable distance, causing them to shy well before they come into shooting range.
Wear drab clothing, preferably a camouflage material that blends with the surroundings. Keep your head down and use the bill of your cap to hide your face when doves are approaching.
Be Mobile: Doves like to fly certain routes when traveling between feeding, watering and roosting areas. Don't be afraid to change locations if birds are consistently skirting you, unless it will infringe on other hunters. Sometimes moving 30-40 yards is all it takes to get within reach of those sweet spots.
Use the Right Choke: The shotgun choke controls the constriction of the bore at the muzzle end of the barrel. The tighter the constriction, the tighter the shot pattern will hold together; less constriction allows the shot pattern to expand.
A full choke a bad choice for dove hunting. It restricts the shot pattern too much and narrows the shooter's margin of error.
The modified or improved cylinder choke are better choices because they pattern nicely out to 40-45 yards, which is pushing the effective range for most wing shots.
The Right Ammo: Steer clear of blue light special ammo. Quality ammunition costs a little more, but it will increase your kill ratio because it patterns better.
Be Responsible: When you kill a bird, is your responsibility to mark the spot and put forth the best effort to find it. It is never a good idea to take a shot a another bird until you find the one you are looking for, especially if you are hunting in thick cover.
It is also your responsibility as a hunter to care for your so they don't spoil between the field and their final destination. Take along a cooler and put cleaned birds on ice as quickly as possible after the hunt is over.
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, email@example.com.