Habitat conditions and bird numbers appear promising for Texas dove hunters who can use food and water sources to their advantage, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert. 

A dove bird getting a drink of water
Bird populations and habitat quality seem to bode well for a successful dove hunting season. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

John Tomecek, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension wildlife specialist, Thrall, said interest in outdoor activities like hunting continues to trend upward due to COVID-19, and the opening of dove season on Sept. 1 will be most hunters’ first time afield for 2021. 

Tomecek said Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, TPWD, biologists reported hunters should expect a good dove season, according to dove surveys and habitat conditions. But like most dove seasons, hunters who can take advantage of food and water sources will find the most success.

TPWD’s annual dove survey reported Winter Storm Uri had very little effect on overwintering birds, and rains that followed around the state improved habitat browse and cover that could translate into season-long success.

“Our spring dove surveys suggest that there may have been some impacts from the winter storm, particularly in the northern half of the state, but it’s difficult to know the extent since dove populations naturally fluctuate from year to year,” said Owen Fitzsimmons, TPWD Dove Program leader.

He said the most evident impact seems to be in the North Zone, where white-wing estimates are below average overall. 

“I don’t anticipate any long-term impacts,” Fitzsimmons said. “The good rainfall this spring and summer has resulted in good production, which will help offset any losses and allow a quick recovery.” 

He said statewide breeding populations are about average this year, with about 25 million mourning doves and about 12 million white-winged doves.

Dove season success depends on food, water

In a typical year, Tomecek said he recommends prospective hunters look at regional crop and rainfall reports and watch for weather fronts to pinpoint good opportunities to find dove.

Harvests of crops like sorghum, corn and oilseed crops such as sesame and sunflowers can be attractive to migrating dove and positively impact nearby hunters, he said.

Tomecek said widespread and continuous rains in many parts of the state have provided pockets of water typically unavailable to migrating dove. He said this could mean hunter success in those areas may depend more heavily on food sources than in years past.

“More rain than normal may mean more water availability than normal, so dove may not be concentrated around water sources in an average year,” he said. “So, it may come down to how hunters can manipulate crops or native plants to provide an attraction for dove in their area.”

Provide food legally, effectively

It is important to know the rules for manipulating seed and grain crops to put food on the ground as a way to attract migrating dove, Tomacek said. Mourning dove are ground feeders because, unlike white-winged dove, they cannot perch and eat simultaneously.

Basically, baiting is illegal, but manipulating standing crops is legal, Tomecek said.

Tomecek recommends managing any available food source by stringing smaller amounts of the crop for a longer duration to keep birds in the area. He suggests mowing two to three strips per week rather than felling an entire field at once.

“There is always the temptation to shred the whole thing and create a large amount of food at one time,” he said. “But it’s important to manage those resources to your advantage.”

Tomecek said it is too late for this season but that hunters who plant food plots or portions of croplands for dove should consider mixing a variety of seed-producing plants like sorghum, millet and sunflowers. The diversity of food on the ground will make the location a preferred destination for dove.

“Dove are not super-picky eaters, but if you can mix it up, it can make your location stand out,” he said.

If the crop mix is planted in distinct rows, Tomecek recommends cutting the food plot across the grain to improve the diversity of food.

Aside from food and water, Tomecek said hunters should watch for cold fronts that might push birds into the area from further north in the flyway. Watch the weather in states to the north and how it is moving days in advance. Temperature drops can be good indicators that northern birds could be arriving in your area ahead of cooler weather.

“It’s good to know who is planting what and where, but watching the weather in northern states and paying attention to changes is a good idea,” he said. “If you can be in the field just ahead of a cool front and have those other conditions in your favor, it can be a good hunt.”

Safety for new, experienced hunters

Safety should be at the forefront of every hunt, he said. Hunters should always be mindful of the area they can shoot safely, when crossing fences with firearms, or potential hazards in their surroundings such as rattlesnakes, rocky terrain or stepping into another hunter’s line of fire.

Tomecek said it is always a good idea to practice by shooting skeet before the hunt. It gives a chance for experienced shooters to activate their muscle memory and new hunters to receive instruction about tracking birds, leading their shots and avoiding peppering their neighboring hunter.

“Dove hunting is usually a group activity, so always be aware of the people around you,” he said. “It is a good opportunity for experienced hunters to impart some knowledge and for new hunters to experience the outdoors.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

CENTRAL: The August heat drove a flurry of corn and sorghum harvesting. Sorghum harvest was mostly completed, with the baling operations of the post-harvest stubble for winter feed also moving along nicely. yYields were somewhat affected by pest damage, especially stink bugs and aphids, brought about during the rainy period a month ago. The corn harvest was close to complete. A number of fields were prepared for fall small-grains plantings of winter wheat and oats. Topsoil moisture was low, which will hold off fall plantings. Foliar harvest aid desiccants are being sprayed to manage cotton and encourage leaf drop as well as aid in boll-filling and to hasten maturity. Another hot and dry week is forecast, which will allow the remaining corn acres to be harvested. Livestock were in excellent condition, and many had exceptional feeding growth from consuming the harvested crop stubble. Some weevil emergence in pecans was reported, and most producers were spraying their orchards.

ROLLING PLAINS: The region was warmer with little to no rain and some reports of grass fires. Cotton was progressing, and there was soil preparation for wheat planting, which in places may occur sooner than normal due to earlier rains. The corn crop was disappointing because much of it was drenched by rains or destroyed by feral hogs. Most of the milo made it through all the rain, but feral hogs destroyed many of those fields too. Some farmers were using growth inhibitors, and cotton benefited from earlier rains. There were reports of some dodder infestations in pastures and of armyworms moving through earlier than usual. Grasshoppers and flea hoppers were also reported. The hot and dry weather caused some grass to begin to grow dormant. Forage conditions were favorable for winter storage. Coastal Bermuda grew exceptionally well due to earlier rains, producing abundant forage and the possibility of a second cutting for hay. Native pastures greened up and were doing well, and cattle gained a good amount of weight from grazing. There were not many stocker calves currently available, but more were expected to be added as demand increases. Some producers were using the excess grass as stockpiled forage for the fall as they started to wean their calves.

COASTAL BEND: Isolated showers have caused some delays in harvesting and field work. Most grain sorghum has been harvested except in the upper portion of the reporting area, where harvest continued with producers either salvaging grain damaged by mold and sprouting or harvesting quality grain due to later planting dates. Corn harvest was mostly finished. Defoliation and harvest of cotton were in full swing. Reported cotton yields vary from below average to above expectations. Cotton modules were stacking up at the gins and a lot of modules were on the yards. Tillage, mow-down or herbicides have been applied to most fields that have been harvested. Rice harvest continued in earlier planted fields. Range and pasture conditions were still good in most areas, but there has been some drying up on lighter land. The scattered showers have kept large numbers of acres green and lush. Livestock were in good condition. Hay baling continues and good yields have been reported.   

EAST: Hay production continued across the region. Pasture and rangeland conditions were good. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate. Most livestock producers had more grass than normal for August. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Armyworms remained a problem in most areas. Wild pigs caused increasing damage to hay meadows and pastures.

SOUTH PLAINS: Subsoil and topsoil moisture levels remained fair to good. Cotton insects generally have decreased across most area fields. Cotton fields that reached physiological cutout of 5 nodes above white flower before Aug. 10 should have accumulated 400 heat units by Sept. 4 to be safe from most insects other than cotton aphids. Grain sorghum is all over the board in terms of plant development and insect pests. Corn is mostly quiet with some small colonies of spider mites being found, but beneficial insects were holding them in check. Earworm feeding continues to be limited to ear tips. Peanuts were maturing well, and cattle were reported to be in good condition.

PANHANDLE: Most of the region reported short to adequate topsoil and short to adequate subsoil moisture. Pastures and rangelands were in fair to good condition. Corn was in good to excellent development. Sorghum was coloring, cotton was fair to good, and soybeans were fair to good. Where grown, peanuts were reported to be in good condition. The region remains dry, and producers were applying final waterings for cotton. Some bollworm pressure increased, and producers were encouraged to scout for them and make applications at thresholds. Sorghum progressed well and reached heading stage. Corn harvest was expected to get underway within the next two weeks.

NORTH:  Soil moisture was mostly short across the district as daytime temperatures ventured into the upper 90’s. Summer forage had improved from the previous week’s rain. Corn was being harvested across the counties, and the grain sorghum harvest had begun. Soybeans and cotton were looking better. Pastures and hay meadows were still looking good in some areas. Crabgrass and Bermuda grass were facing big issues with army worms.

FAR WEST: Temperature highs averaged in the mid-90s and lows in the mid-60s. There were scattered thunderstorms and high winds across the region with precipitation averaging between 0.5 and 2 inches. Ground moisture was above average for the first time in quite a while. Weeds in cotton, pecans and alfalfa had emerged due to the rainfall. Many fields had too much water after a lengthy irrigation followed by heavy rain. There was a fair amount of yellow, waterlogged cotton as well as cotton anywhere from 10-20 days behind in progress. These fields were in need of quite a few warm days and a lot of heat units going forward with a late freeze to mature out this crop. Whitefly was becoming an issue in cotton, and many growers were spraying. Both corn and sorghum harvest started, and early harvest reports were for above-average yields. Hay was being produced, and producers were trying to control African rue and other toxic or invasive species. Applications for pecan weevil were going out in pecan orchards. Pecans issues were reported due to rain, specifically on Wichita pecan variety, where water-stage fruit split occurred due to excessive moisture. The Wichita variety is normally only used as a pollinator in this area, so the overall impact on that variety was not bad. Rains brought on a little grass growth in pastures, but more was needed to sustain it. Weeds have also greened up considerably. Many area ranches already started their fall shipping season, and producers continued to feed wildlife and livestock. 

WEST CENTRAL: The weather was hot and dry. There was little fieldwork as most land had been prepared for planting. No fertilizer rigs were moving. Some dryland fields showed signs of heat and moisture stress. Cotton looked very good at this point. Pecan orchards were relatively still. Corn harvest began. Cutting and baling hay continued. There was some field preparation for fall small-grain planting. Insect pest problems such as grasshoppers and armyworms continued. Pasture gains were good, and many cattle were expected to move to the feed yard with heavy body weights. Feed yard placements were more normal in August, and placement may exceed last year. There has been a smaller replacement pool of cattle to draw on for future placements, and feedlots will compete for dwindling supplies, leaving some pens empty this fall.

SOUTHEAST: While the region was starting to get really dry again, certain areas received rain. In Jefferson County, rice was progressing well even though the rains complicated hay and rice production. Some hay was harvested through the week. In Grimes County, pastures continued to lose moisture, while some parts of the county remained in good condition by catching a shower or two. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely, from excellent to poor with good being the most common. Montgomery County and Hardin County both reported 100% good. Soil-moisture levels throughout the region ranged from adequate to surplus with adequate being the most common. Hardin County and Montgomery County both reported 100% adequate.

SOUTHWEST: Weather conditions were hot and dry with little to no rain reported. Range and pastures were in good condition but were drying due to a lack of additional moisture. Corn harvest continued. Sorghum harvests were near completion. Cotton was progressing well. Wheat farmland was being prepared for planting. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Livestock markets were looking good, with sheep and goats selling steadily high and cattle market prices increasing slightly. Producers were beginning to supplement due to the drier conditions. Kendall County reported dove numbers have increased in the last few weeks. Fall gardeners were planting.

SOUTH: Weather conditions were hot and dry, with occasional showers across the region. Corn was close to complete, as was grain sorghum. Cotton was close to defoliating, and hay was being rolled up. Strawberry plastic mulch was being applied on some farms, and spring vegetable crop progress has stalled due to the heat. Pasture and range conditions were starting to decline due to heat and no recent rainfall. Spotty, small showers improved conditions in limited areas, but in other areas, there was no rainfall at all. Cattle were being rotated in pastures to help with grass regrowth where possible while some producers were reverting to feeding hay and cubes. Watermelon and cantaloupe production was ongoing, with most fields irrigated by the local water canal system. Coastal Bermuda grass fields were producing good hay bales. Pecan nuts were developing normally. Some farmers were finishing up harvesting sorghum and preparing the soil for the next planting season. Stock tanks were still reasonably full but beginning to drop in levels. In the eastern part of the district, cotton showed great yield promise. Hay farmers continued to harvest, and hay inventory was increasing. Beef cattle were in good condition and local markets reported average volumes and steady to higher prices for all classes of beef cattle. Hay producers were finishing their last cutting and round baling their hay, with hay prices from $50 to $65 per round bale. Deer producers and breeders were dealing with chronic wasting disease. A few corn and grain sorghum fields remained unharvested. Sesame harvest was almost complete, with sugarcane and citrus being irrigated. The grain harvest was done except for late-season grain sorghum. Some cotton producers were harvesting their cotton, while others were defoliating their plants. Pastures were in fairly good condition but already showing some signs of moisture stress.

Paul is a communications and media relations specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Communications. Based in San Antonio, Paul is responsible for writing advances, news releases and feature stories for Texas A&M AgriLife agencies, as well as providing any media relations support needed.