Texas pigeon hunters are eagerly counting down to September 1, the opening day of the 2022-23 pigeon season in most of the state. It’s the first act in another round of long-awaited hunting seasons that will unfold between now and next spring.
Pigeon hunting represents what is arguably the best low-cost, high-quality hunting option available to hunters, and spending time in the field with friends on opening day is a hallowed tradition that most of the 300,000 Texas pigeon hunters would rather not miss out.
The lucky ones will find a ringside seat next to a field of mature croton or a storage tank filled with darting and diving mourning doves, feathered gray streaks that are among the most challenging targets of winged shots. While some hunters will charge a 15-bird limit, they most likely won’t. The average pigeon hunter is a marginal shot, at best.
Pigeon season opens on a Thursday this year in the north and central parts of the state, which could mean a five-day marathon for hunters with time to spare before the long Labor Day weekend. The delayed opening in the South Zone falls on September 14.
A feathered dairy cow
Pigeon season is a big deal around here. Even in a bad year, dove hunting in Texas is much better than in most states thanks to the abundant populations of the birds and the large number of places to hunt them on public and private lands.
In 2020-21, Texas hunters shot nearly 5.9 million doves and spent more than 1 million hunting days in the field, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Small Game Harvest Survey. Reports from the US Fish and Wildlife Service show that Georgia ranked second that year with an estimated harvest of 856,500 birds.
The population of Texas resident mourning doves is estimated at about 20 million, 10 million white-winged doves and about 3.5 million exotic Eurasian collared doves. Numbers can triple in the fall during good hatching years, according to Owen Fitzsimmons, TPWD pigeon program leader.
Together, this all adds up to a feathered dairy cow that is believed to generate more than $450 million annually for the Texas economy, Fitzsimmons said.
Extreme drought conditions hampered pigeon breeding in some areas this summer, but Fitzsimmons says the resident breeding populations appear to have been quite successful overall. The biologist says that pigeons tend to do better in dry years, and that seems to have been true this year.
“I’ve heard mostly positive reports from our staff, and our age-at-band ratios are very skewed, indicating there are a lot of young birds on the landscape,” he said. “I think we’re seeing a more productive breeding season than we’ve had in the last two years.”
Things are not so dry anymore in many places. Much of the state has received welcome rains in the past two weeks and some areas like Dallas-Fort Worth have received much more than expected.
Fitzsimmons says that the available water sources in good country for pigeons should be hot spots for hunts in the afternoon after the birds have fed. Otherwise, he hopes the best sprouts will occur around drought-resistant native food sources such as common sunflower, croton, pigweed, paspalum and other herbs and annual grasses they have planted, or any irrigated crops. As always, the food near the water will be golden brown.
Just remember that weather changes can move birds and alter hunting prospects by a dime. Significant rain events can put water where it wasn’t before and cause birds to scatter. The same goes for cold fronts that can push out resident birds and bring in new ones.
With long-term forecasts calling for more moisture in some parts of the state through the end of August, Fitzsimmons says Mother Nature could shake things up even more before the season opens while also improving conditions for late-August hunting. the season.
“One thing about these late rains is that they can cause some native vegetation to sprout and seed before winter,” Fitzsimmons said. “That could result in a good hunt in October all the way to the second division of the season.”
Dove Hunting Seasons in Texas
North Zone: September 1-November 13 and 17 Dec.-Jan. 1
Downtown area: September 1-October 30 Dec. and Dec. 17-Jan. fifteen
South Zone: September 14-October 30 Dec. and Dec. 17-Jan. 22
White-winged Dove Special Days: September 2-4 and September 9-11
Tips for field pigeon hunting
Explore: Check hunting areas ahead of time to find out if birds are present and to learn something about their flight patterns.
Choosing a place: Sit in the coolest shade whenever possible, preferably with the sun at your back. Hunting with the sun behind you will make it easier to see approaching birds and more difficult for birds to see you.
Note the movement: Pigeons have exceptional eyesight and become inherently creepy once shot. Wear gray clothing and stand still when birds approach. Keep your face down until the last second.
Be mobile: Don’t hesitate to change hunting positions if pigeons are constantly flying out of range, but don’t infringe on others.
Use premium shot shells/chokes: Premium ammo will have a better pattern and can be ejected more easily from autoloading shotguns than cheap shells. No. 7 ½ to No. 8 are good draft sizes for pigeons. Enhanced, flat or modified cylinder chokes are good for pigeon hunting.
Lure: The rotating wings of a battery-powered pigeon decoy sometimes attract birds passing by.
No littering: Always pick up spent shot shells and other trash before leaving your hunting spot.
Mark/find birds: Mark the location of downed birds immediately. Do your best to locate them before shooting another.
Cleaning and Care: Keep harvested birds away from fire ants and clean them up immediately after hunting. Carry a cooler and plastic freezer bags to keep clean birds cool.
Daily limits: Each hunter is allowed 15 pigeons daily. A limit may include 15 mourning doves, 15 white-winged doves, or a combination of two, but no more than two white-tipped doves. You can’t kill one limit in the morning and another limit in the afternoon.
Do not mix birds: Keep your birds separate from other hunters in case you are checked out by a ranger before you reach your final destination.
shotgun socket: Pump and autoloading shotguns must be capped to accept no more than three cartridges, including one in the chamber.
Hunter education/license and seal: Hunter education certification is required of all hunters in Texas (including out-of-state hunters) born on or after September 2, 1971. Hunters must carry proof of certification while in the field. Dove hunters need a valid Texas hunting license and migratory bird stamp. Licenses valid for this season are now on sale.
Avoid baited areas: It is illegal to hunt migratory birds in areas that have been baited. If you suspect an area has been baited, it would be wise to leave before the shooting starts and contact a local ranger. Ignorance is no excuse.
Legal shooting hours: Legal shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset, except during special white-winged dove season, which is noon to sunset.
Wildlife Resources Document: Required each time you hand over your birds to another hunter for transportation. The document must include the shooter’s name/address/hunting license number, receiver’s name, number of birds, and location of capture. Handwritten documents are accepted.
Eurasian pigeons are a plus: Eurasian collared pigeons are exotic species that do not count towards your limit. Leave the feathers on all collared pigeons for identification purposes until they reach their final destination, in case you are checked by a ranger.
playing it safe
Keep hydrated: Be sure to bring enough fresh drinking water to stay hydrated. The same applies to dog handlers. An active dog can quickly overheat in hot temperatures.
Watch out for others: Always know what is in front of and beyond your target. Never shoot in the direction of other hunters.
Do not swing in the game: Swinging hunting accidents typically occur when the hunter is tracking a pigeon or quail, then pulls the trigger when the snout crosses paths with another individual who may or may not know is there.
Play some defense: Never assume anything. Always inform other hunters around you of your whereabouts and be aware of what is going on around you.
Eye/ear protection: Wear eye protection while in the field to help prevent injuries from stray shot. Shotgun pellets can pierce skin or gouge out an eye from 200 yards or more. Earplugs will muffle the sound of a shotgun blast.
Bugs and snakes: Spray clothing with a good insect repellant to deter chiggers, ticks, and other biting insects. Good snake boots are recommended in rattlesnake country.
facts and figures
Texas pigeon hunters: 300,000
Combined Annual Harvest: 5.89 million birds (2020-21 season)
mourning doves: 3.9 million
White-winged pigeons: 1.75 million
White-tipped pigeons: 48,800
Eurasian collared pigeons: 200,771
Economic value of pigeon hunting: $452 million
Public hunt: TPWD’s public pigeon lease program offers hunters access to more than 100 areas leased from private owners for pigeon and small game hunting. Most are located near metropolitan areas and offer good habitat for pigeons. A $48 annual public hunting permit is required. To review lease agreements, visit tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/hunt/public. Pigeon leases are shown as clickable gold stars on the interactive map.
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