Tricky start: Special dove season opener on Sunday this year is confusing some

HARLINGEN — A quirk of the calendar is raising concerns about game violations surrounding the opening day of dove season in South Texas.

The traditional first day of hunting in the Valley, the Special White-Winged Dove Season, will occur on Sunday, Sept. 1, instead of the usual Saturday opener.

And Texas Game Wardens in the Rio Grande Valley are trying to educate hunters to head off what could be a big ticket day if folks unwittingly assume the usual dove opener is Saturday and begin shooting on Aug. 31.

Texas Game Warden Ira Zuniga says the wardens are fielding numerous phone calls seeking clarification about the change this year in the season opener.

“We’re going to have some people who are out there, a little confused,” Zuniga said. “We have to talk to some of these folks. But the Outdoor Annuals are already out and people are starting to read them and we’ve been getting a lot of calls regarding the Sunday-Monday deal.”

Federal regs

The culprits, says Owen Fitzsimmons, Webless Migratory Game Bird program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, are the calendar and federal regulations.

“It is an odd start for South Zone hunters this year,” Fitzsimmons said via email. “According to federal hunting regulations set by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, dove seasons cannot start prior to Sept. 1 anywhere in the U.S., including Texas.

“Starting last year, those same USFWS regulations now allow the South Zone to open as early as Sept. 14 for regular season,” he added. “The special white-winged dove days are designed to provide additional hunting opportunity for South Zone hunters during the first two weeks in September before the regular season starts.”

Fitzsimmons said Texas is allowed four special days to maximize hunting opportunities, which the state allocates to the early special white-winged season. He said TPWD usually assigns those to the first two weekends of September, but this year Sept. 1 falls on a Sunday.

Legal shooting hours during the four-day Special White-Winged Dove Season are noon to sunset.

“It is the responsibility of the hunter to know the rules and regulations,” Zuniga added. “Outdoor Annuals are provided free of charge at any sporting goods store where licenses are sold, and they can also download the Outdoor Annuals at Android or IoS (Apple) phone stores for free as well.”

Bird numbers good

The good news is the estimate of bird numbers for mourning doves, white-winged doves and white-tipped doves, the three species legal to hunt in Texas, appear to be up.

“As for hunting this year, I’m anticipating a strong season,” Fitzsimmons said. “The amount and timing of spring rains across most of the state really kicked the habitat into high gear for dove breeding season. Plus, many of the states north of us had similar conditions which should result in a strong influx of migrant birds for Texas.

“Breeding birds have high energetic costs, but with the abundant highly-preferred dove foods available on the landscape this year, we’re seeing excellent production,” he added. “White-wing production, in particular, has been very high in the southern half of the state, and we’re still seeing significant breeding activity in central and south Texas right now.”

Fitzsimmons said the hot, dry conditions will hopefully concentrate doves around feeding and watering areas, which would be optimal for hunters.

Last year, despite an abundance of birds, many South Texas wing-shooters were frustrated by weekend rains and the resulting muddy fields which led many hunters to stay home.

“As long as the weather holds up (I got rained out every hunt last year, as did many others), I’m optimistic we are going to have not only a great September, but a strong rest of the season, as well,” Fitzsimmons said.

South Zone dove season

Regular season: Sep. 14 to Nov. 3; Dec. 20 to Jan. 23, 2020

Additional days for Special White-winged Dove Season: Sep. 1, 2, 7, 8 (special regulations apply)

White-winged dove regulations

LIMIT: 15 birds, no more than two mourning doves and two white-tipped doves

POSSESSION LIMIT: Three times daily bag limit

SHOOTING TIME: Noon to sunset

Things to remember

All hunters regardless of age need a hunting license.

Electronic license option takes effect: Starting Sept. 1, it will be legal to display an image of information from TPWD’s website or a photograph of a hunting/fishing or combination license on a wireless device for the purpose of verification of possessing a valid license. You must have your physical license for any activities requiring tags.

Anyone under the age of 17 can purchase a youth hunting license and stamp endorsements do not apply.

Adults require a current hunting license, migratory bird endorsement, HIP certification, picture ID, hunter education certification if required and a shotgun with a plug that only allows three shells.

During special white-winged dove season, legal shooting hours are from noon to sunset and the bag limit is 15 white wings, not more than two mourning doves and two white-tipped doves. Hunters must keep their birds in their possession until final destination. Please don’t co-mingle (mix/pile) everyone’s birds together.

Wildlife Resource Documentation is needed if a hunter is leaving birds behind or with someone who has no license or the additional birds would put them over the limit. Hunting from a motor vehicle is illegal. Pick up your trash, leave the area better than you found it. Make sure you have permission from the landowner where you plan to hunt.

When a Texas Game Warden approaches you for a compliance check, listen to his or her instructions. For example, they may ask you to unload your shotgun or request that all hunters stop shooting while the inspection is conducted. Safety, safety, safety. Treat all firearms as if they are loaded so don’t muzzle anyone.

Source: Texas Game Wardens