Lynn Burkhead — Dove opener mixed but where it’s good, it’s good

Herald Democrat
The 2021 dove hunting season kicked off on Wednesday, to the delight of most outdoors enthusiasts across North Texas and southern Oklahoma. As the Sept. 1st season opener came and went, local Grayson County hunters found mixed results, while those venturing further to the west found some shotgun barrel melting action and plenty of limits.

As the sun slipped quietly towards the western horizon on Sept. 1, yours truly sat clutching a well-worn pump shotgun, a box of scarce 12-gauge dove loads, and hoped for the best.

Admittedly, I wasn’t in a great spot if a limit of doves was destined for the grill, but it was the best I could do as I sat next to a hay bale and waited for doves that weren’t keeping their afternoon appointment.

Truth be told, I was doing nothing more than sitting in a potential flyway between a couple of feeding areas not far to my south and roost areas not far to my north.

It wasn’t where I wanted to be hunting, but after a landowner changed his mind last year, my boys grew into adulthood and have moved on, and friends were occupied and hunting elsewhere, it was the best I could come up with on such short notice.

For the better part of an hour, as the sun sank towards the horizon and the day’s worst heat began to wane, there was nothing but the occasional dragonfly buzzing by. While I could have easily limited out on those buzzing bugs, mourning doves and their white-winged cousins continued to be no-shows on the Back-40 I was guarding.

Finally, more than a little bit bored, I pulled my Smartphone out of its case and checked the e-mails I had felt buzz into my Inbox only a few minutes earlier. Scanning nothing but junk e-mail, I suddenly saw motion cut the brim of my hat and looked up to see seven mourning doves speeding over at Mach-1.

All I could do was laugh out loud and grin, the victim of unfortunate timing once again, all too often the story of my hunting and fishing career. The doves flew on low to the ground — easily in shotgun range had I seen them earlier — and I was left to a pleasant sunset, and nothing more.

While my 2021 dove season opener was nothing to write home about, others were more fortunate, particularly when they ventured outside of the immediate Texomaland area, which admittedly has seen its dove hunting prospects decline in recent years as farming disappears and land development accelerates northward from the DFW Metroplex.

For one of my longtime dove hunting friends — who asked to remain nameless in this particular piece — the shooting was extreme out near Wichita Falls.

“Yup, I would say that my dove hunting report should be titled ‘Extreme Dove Hunting,’” my longtime pal laughed. “The temperature on my truck thermometer when I got there read 101 degrees. I’ll be honest, I don’t think that I’ve ever been that hot before on a dove hunt.”

Fortunately, the wingshooting in that waste wheat field out near Wichita Falls was equally hot, among the best that my friend has ever experienced. Since I wouldn’t want to give up the exact location either, maybe that’s why he requested anonymity this time. After all, he’s planning to head west again this weekend.

“We bagged a few mourning doves and several Eurasians, but the bulk of what we got on Wednesday’s opening afternoon was white-winged doves,” said my wingshooting pal. “We had about 20 hunters in our group, and just about everybody got a limit.”

While the hunt took place in completely sunlit conditions in the triple digit late afternoon heat — Hurricane Ida and its residual moisture and cloud cover were long gone by then — this hunt centered around leftover wheat, as well as a few volunteer native sunflower patches too.

Water was scarce where my buddy was hunting, but he thinks it would have been golden if it had been present.

“A waterhole should be great over the Labor Day weekend, out there at least,” he said.

A mutual friend of ours ventured north of the Red River for Wednesday’s Sept. 1 season opener in both Texas and Oklahoma. For this pal — Doug Rodgers of Whitesboro — the action near Frederick, Okla. was equally blistering, both in terms of the air temperature and dove shooting prospects.

How good was it? Rodgers got a limit of doves — a mix of mourning doves and whitewings — as he usually does out there.

Also doing well, as they usually do during dove season, was Dakota Stowers and his guides with North Texas Outfitters. Based out of Waurika, Okla., NTO opened up a new hunting lodge this week and had plenty of hunters smiling after an opening day effort that saw 420 doves bagged by clients.

While not everyone got full limits in the grainfields and waterholes of southern Oklahoma and northwestern Texas, most did.

And like my friend hunting near Wichita Falls, the bulk of the bag limit at NTO was whitewings with a few mourning doves mixed in, something that would have been unheard ago back in the 1980s and 1990s when whitewings were confined to the southern counties of Texas.

But that was then, and this is now, a time when the enterprising hunter who has some land at their disposal and a willingness to do some scouting can still find a barrel burning dove shoot or two.

“Yeah, it’s been hot shooting for us so far,” said Stowers. “But we had to work for the birds a little bit harder this year than we normally have.”

Why is that? Because of all of the heavy rains this summer, and the effect that it has had on area agricultural operations.

“The problem with this season is that all of the farmers out here started plowing early with the big storms we had in August,” he said. “That’s something we hardly ever see. So, most of our go-to fields are plowed, which means no food.”

Typically relying on a mix of harvested milo and wheat fields, Stowers said that “…this season so far, we are primarily hunting old, combined wheat fields.”

With another big holiday weekend of dove hunting scheduled on NTO farms and waterholes, Stowers is expecting to add to his operation’s dove season totals in a big way as Labor Day approaches on Monday.

And for his operation, as well as for the individual hunter looking to take down a limit of doves over the next several days, he says that the key to success is the same as it always is.

“My tips for hunting success this Labor Day weekend?,” said Stowers. “Simple…get out and scout before you hunt if you can!

“I don’t know any other way, to be honest. Because you have to find the birds first before you can hunt them, and that’s true whether you’re a guide with a lot of clients coming in or someone simply looking for a good afternoon shoot and a great meal to follow.”