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C.A.S.H. Letters

Dove Hunting

Orange County News - Orange, TX. 200 wd LTE’s to OCN@hearstnp.com 

9/21/07

To The Editor:

Thankfully, it seems that the tradition of dove hunting in Texas is quickly coming to an end. Though the Parks and Wildlife Department reported that in the ten-years ending last year, the number of Texas’ dove hunters has declined by thirty-two percent, one still wonders why so many hunters kill from 5 to 8 million of the peaceful birds every year. Doves are not a safety threat, they are not overpopulated, and they do not degrade any part of the environment. Sadly, it seems that the birds are killed for nothing more than recreation.

How sad that the life of a dove –the internationally recognized symbol of peace – is worth only $7 to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department – the cost of a Migratory Game Bird Stamp. But there is good news for the birds on the horizon. As interest in hunting wanes, wildlife watching has become the wildlife-related outdoor pursuit of choice, attracting more than triple the number of participants than hunting. Given this truth, Parks and Wildlife should change with the times and promote wildlife watching over its hunting programs. To protect wildlife and habitat while promoting a more peaceful world, please visit www.wildwatch.org.

Joe Miele, Vice President

Wildlife Watch, Inc.
Box 562
New Paltz, NY 12561
201-880-4989

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Orange County News - Orange, TX

http://www.theorangecountynews.com/news/2007/0829/Outdoors/021.html

OUTDOORS IN SOUTHEAST TEXAS Matt Williams

Time seems to fly when you are on the road and having fun. Last time I seriously thought about it, the 2007-08 dove season opener was more than a month way.

Time has narrowed the gap considerably. In less than two weeks I plan to be slatered in bug dope and standing waist deep in a croton field somewhere, hopefully with a small mound of spent shot shells at my feet and a near limit of mourners and whitewings in my bag.

If I'm lucky, there will be a few of those plump Eurasion collared doves in the mix. The collared doves are considered exotics and don't count against a daily bag limit. Just call them bonus birds.

Dove season gets underway on Sept. 1 in the North and Central zones, which basically includes all real estate north of a line that follows U.S. 90 between Del Rio and San Antonio, and Interstate 10 between San Antonio and Orange.

Outside of a special white-winged dove area, everything south of the line will be off limits until Sept. 21. That is when the South Zone dove season gets underway.

Never mind all the preseason fluff about dove season, and how is reputation as of the most anticipated events of the year for hook and bullet crowds. Just about anybody who owns a good scattergun already knows that, sort like they know what a bust last season turned out to be.

As a whole, Texas dove hunters struggled last year. Experts say the slow year occurred because the season fell on the heels of one of the worst droughts in recent times.

The dry weather reduced food production, the amount of cover and negatively impacted nesting efforts of doves.

The poor hunting year is reflected in Texas Parks and Wildlife Department survey data that indicates last season was the worst on record in nearly two decades for Texas dove hunters.

In 1986, there were 400,000 dove hunters in Texas. Last season there were about 272,000 dove hunters.

Texas dove hunters typically kill 6-8 million birds each year. Last year's harvest was a meager 5.7 million birds, well below the previous year and a far cry from the long-term marks.

Wildlife biologists are painting a much prettier picture this year, largely because of the exceptionally wet summer. Food sources are abundant and nesting efforts have been highly successful.

"Above-average precipitation statewide has created ideal habitat conditions for dove," said Jay Roberson, TPWD dove program leader. "I expect above-average production this year and success should be higher provided the doves aren't dispersed."

Several factors could impact hunter success, particularly early in the season when most dove hunters spend their time a'field. The availability of food is a biggie.

With so much natural forage out there, biologists say the birds could be more spread out rather than concentrated on managed fields where many hunters gather.

Dove also are prone to move around a lot when weather patterns change drastically, particularly when the change involves a cold front, rain or a hurricane.

Some areas of state already have received abnormal amounts of rain in August as the result of a tropical storm called Erin. With more turbulent weather brewing offshore, even more rainfall is likely in coming weeks, particularly if Hurricane Dean made landfall near Texas.

Ideally, the weather will settle down by the month's end so hunters can enjoy the long weekend a'field. The season opener falls on the Saturday ahead of Labor Day, which means many hunters will be able to enjoy multiple hunts before returning to work after the holiday.

Those who are still be looking for a place to hunt should check out the classifieds of local and metropolitan newspapers, or the chamber of commerce offices in dove hub towns such as Coleman, Brownwood, Sweetwater, Abilene, Uvalde and Hondo. The Internet also is a good source to locate outfitters with day hunt packages to offer.

Expect to pay $75-$125 per day for unguided hunts through most outfitters. The hunts should be on land the outfitter has permission to access via ownership or some type of lease.

Ideally, the outfitter should have a working knowledge of how the birds travel, and where the best shooting opportunities are at during early morning and late afternoon flight periods.

As an alternate to booking through an outfitter, you might consider checking out the state's Public Dove Lease Program (PDLP). The program, run by TPWD, includes about 140 different units that range in size from under 100 acres to several thousand acres.

A $48 fee will provide you access to all of the units. The fee covers the cost of an Annual Public Hunting Permit (APHP), which also provides yearround access and hunting opportunities for deer, turkey, quail and other wild game on more than 1 million acres of public land statewide. The APHP is available at regional field offices, or wherever hunting licenses are sold.

There are public dove hunting units in most regions of the state, but the better ones consume agricultural fields. Many are located along the I-35 and I- 10 corridors. Printable lists and maps of the individual units are available over the Internet, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/hunt wild/hunt/public/lands/dov e_hunting_areas/. Otherwise, maps will be sent by mail. It can take up to two weeks for them to arrive.

Permit holders should understand that access to the dove fields is on a firstcome, first-served basis. Visiting hunters should space themselves accordingly, be courteous to others and hunt safely. It also is important not to litter and to pick up spent hulls before you leave.

Dove season dates and bag limits

North Zone: Sept. 1-Oct. 30; 15 birds, not more than two white-tipped doves.

Central Zone: Sept. 1- Oct. 30 and reopens Dec. 26- Jan. 4; 12-bird bag and not more than two white-tipped doves.

South Zone: Sept. 21- Nov. 11, reopening Dec. 26- Jan. 12; 12 birds, not more than two white-tipped doves.

Special South Texas Whitewing Zone, west of I- 35 and south of U. S. Highway 90, white-winged

dove afternoon-only (noon to sunset) hunting the first two Saturdays and Sundays in September, 12 birds, not more than four mourning doves and two white-tipped doves. Hunting over bait can get you busted

Illegal dove hunters, beware. You could have an unexpected visitor on opening day of dove season, Sept. 1. And he may be wearing a badge.

That's the word from a reader who called this week to pass along news that he had discovered a considerable amount of "bait" strewn about a nondescript area on his deer lease.

The bait in question is "milo," a grain sorghum seed. Birds love to munch the stuff. Dove hunters have been known to salt hunting areas with milo and other grain ahead of the season opener in order to attract birds to a specific spot.

It works on the same pretense as a corn feeder does with deer. Easy groceries are hard to resist.

Difference is, baiting deer with corn is legal in Texas. Baiting doves, or any other migratory game bird, is not.

The man called to inquire about the legalities of hunting doves over baited areas. I steered him to pages 68-69 of the 2007-08 Texas Outdoor Annual for some answers.

While some of the rules in the manual are confusing, those regarding hunting migratory birds over baited areas are pretty straightforward.

Here's a recap:

- "Bait" is described as salt, grain or other feed, directly or indirectly scattered, that could attract migratory birds to an area where hunters are attempting to hunt them.

- A "baited area" is defined as one that fits the aforementioned description.

- A "baited area" is considered as such for 10 days following the complete removal of all the bait. In other words, you cannot legally hunt over an area that has been baited for nearly two weeks after all the bait has been cleaned up.

The anonymous caller said he discovered the milo, about 50-100 pounds of it, on Aug. 14. He said he planned to notify game wardens of its whereabouts.

My guess is there is no way the area can be 100 percent cleaned up in time to meet the 10-day deadline. If that's the case, anyone who elects to hunt around the spot runs the risk of getting into trouble.

The fines for dove hunting over bait can be brisk. And the rules apply to every hunter in the field, whether they are aware an area has been baited or not.

That's why it is always a good idea to know the group you are hunting with. If you suspect an area has been baited, the best decision would be to avoid the place altogether and look for a different place to hunt.

MATT WILLIAMS is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail at mattwilliams@netdot.com.

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