Ghost Riders in the Sky

A field guide to dove hunting in Texas
Father, Son, Hunting, Field, Dove

It had been almost 30 years since my brother and I had last hunted together, which was probably the last time that he had hunted. Robby was in town for a weekend visit and our Sunday morning foray into one of our local dove fields seemed like a good ticket to catch up on some old times. “These things are like little gray ghosts in the sky,” he claimed. With over a box of spent green Remington hulls, he had only one bird to show for his efforts. “You’re just a little rusty, that’s all,” were my consoling words. I then dumped my 15 bird limit on the tailgate and spouted, “Looks like little brother won this round.” But he didn’t care, nor did I, as we were both simply enjoying the opportunity for some much-needed familial time together. And that is one of the things I like so much about dove hunting; it lends itself to various occasions of the hunt, from a solo standpoint, as well as those which involve a social component. “Okay big brother, now that I’ve schooled you on putting these little gray ghosts in the bag, I’m now going to show you how you put them on a plate,” and we did indeed enjoy a tasty pasture to plate lunch.

The bird

There are seven species of indigenous doves and pigeons in Texas, with white-winged doves and mourning doves being the two species that are the most abundant and are most commonly hunted. Though the white-tipped dove is considered a gamebird in Texas, very little hunting for this dove takes place due to lack of opportunity that’s presented by the birds’ scarcity and lack of distribution. Inca doves, common ground doves, band-tailed pigeons, and red-billed pigeons round out the lot, but are non-factors in the Texas hunting scene.

Mourning doves are the most ubiquitous of the North American dove species, being found in all lower 48 states, as well as in Canada, Mexico, and Central America. It’s been estimated that our Texas fall mourning dove populations are upwards of 50 million birds. These grain-eaters have broad habitat tolerances and are perfectly content making their homes in the back yards our largest of metro locales, as well as the wilds of Texas’ back forty.

White-winged dove are a bit newer on the scene in much of Texas. Historically, the lion’s share of whitewings in Texas were found in the Lower Rio Grande Valley Region of deep South Texas. However, this largely began changing some 20–25 years ago, as these birds began showing up in locales further north in the state. Recent years have seen whitewings scattered over much of Texas, including the northern reaches of the state, but it’s interesting to note that the resident concentration of whitewings in many areas of Texas are highly centered in and around urban areas.

Referred to some as the “bonus bird,” Eurasian collared doves, or ringnecks as they are often called, are an exotic species with numbers and distribution that has greatly grown over the last 10 years around the state. They are slightly larger than a whitewing, have no closed season and no bag limits, hence being referred to as a bonus bird. Interestingly, they tend to be predictably site-specific, preferring locations with buildings and larger trees, such as old homesteads, ranch headquarter locations, and on the outskirts of towns. They can take a punch and you are well-served to use heavier bird loads on these hefty doves.

Doves, Hunting, gun
A mixed bag of indigenous white-wings and mourning doves, along with a few exotic Eurasian Collared Doves, often referred to as bonus birds.

The hunt

As mentioned earlier, out of the various hunting options, dove hunting is better suited than most game animals when it comes to serving as a good fit for a variety of occasions, including social excursions for family or friends, corporate outings, or simply for the lone hunter. Further, the dove season opener in Texas falls during September when Friday night lights are cranking up, the first cool days are beginning to emerge, and the excitement of Fall Fest is in the air. Dove hunting seems to offer a renewed excitement for the those of us who have suffered through the long summer doldrums, awaiting our fall rituals, as hunters.

Essential gear and equipment for dove hunting is generally modest. Your favorite shotgun with plug, bird loads, light-weight camo, folding chair, bug spray, valid Texas hunting license, and cool beverages to mitigate the warm Texas weather. Optional items might include dove decoys, snake boots, and your favorite retrieving dog.

Strategies for dove hunting are generally 2-pronged, depending upon location. Those who hunt over smaller farm ponds will typically seek camo and shade under the cover of a tree, often finding that the better water-hole shooting takes place during the last few hours of daylight. The other general venue for dove hunting takes place over farm fields, which are typically either wheat or grain sorghum, either of which are highly desirable for doves. Mature sunflower fields can also be magnets for these birds, and don’t overlook natural stands of native croton (dove weed) that are sometimes scattered around the pasture, as these can be great spots for a dove shoot as well.

Man, Field, Hunting, Dove, Decoy
A classic set-up with hunter using grain stubble to break their outline, with decoy out front.

About Wildlife Systems

Wildlife Systems, Inc. (WSI) is a hunting and wildlife management firm that was started in 1987. In addition to offering hunts for a wide variety of other game and exotics, WSI provides excellent dove hunting over grain fields in the San Angelo area. Economically priced day-hunts are available and WSI also offers a limited number of package dove hunts which include meals and lodging for groups of 8–15 hunters. WSI clients typically enjoy mixed opportunities for mourning doves, whitewings, and some Eurasian collared doves. Most of these hunts take place during the first three weeks of September.

For additional information on hunting with WSI, check out their website at www.WildlifeSystems.com or call (325) 655-0877.

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  • Greg Simons

    Greg Simons received a B.S. degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences in 1987 from Texas A&M University and soon after formed Wildlife Systems, Inc., a company that currently manages hunting operations on over 800,000 acres of private land in Texas and New Mexico. He is also co-owner of Wildlife Consultants, LLC, providing technical assistance to landowners and other entities on habitat management and other wildlife-related needs. Greg is Past President of Texas Wildlife Association, Past Officer of Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society, serves on advisory committees for the wildlife programs at Texas A&M University and Tarlton State University, as well as many other committee appointments, and he has given programs around the country on various wildlife and hunting related topics.

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