AUSTIN – Texas has the largest dove population, the most dove hunters, and the most flexible dove hunting framework in the nation. A recent opinion survey indicates Texas dove hunters are content with the current seasons and bag limits.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department asked the opinions and attitudes of Texas dove hunters toward season structures and bag limits in an August 2009 mail survey sent to 7,500 recipients. Besides revisiting several issues of continuing interest, the dove survey specifically sought feedback on three issues, including the late season segment being established in the North Zone, late season segment interest in the South Zone, and the new 15-bird daily bag limit for the Central and South Zones.
“We have a lot of options available for tweaking the system and want to be sure we’re serving the needs of our dove hunters,” said Corey Mason, TPWD dove program leader. “Some things, like opening prior to September 1, are out of our hands. But, according to the survey results, our hunters prefer by a two-to-one margin that traditional September 1 opener.”
Recent changes in mourning dove harvest strategies resulted in the Central Management Unit having a single season structure option, a 70-day season, and 15-bird daily bag limit, although state regulations can be more restrictive should the Commission choose. With 10 extra days now available in the Texas North Zone, TPWD asked hunters what season structure they preferred. A split season was preferred by 56.7 percent, with a shorter late segment being most preferred. Additionally, under current regulations, this season structure would standardize regulations between the North and Central Zones.
One question that seems to come up routinely in coffee shop talks relates to half-day shooting versus all-day. As in past surveys when this question was asked, dove hunters continue to prefer the all-day option by a sizeable margin with only 15 percent preferring noon-to-sunset shooting hours. Response preferences have averaged around the 80 percent rate in every survey TPWD has conducted regarding the all-day option. All-day hunting will continue as long as there is no evidence indicating it is harmful to the resource.
Texas has had a 4-day Special White-winged Dove Area hunting season the first two complete weekends (Saturday and Sunday, noon to sunset shooting hours) in September in portions of South Texas for more than 50 years. Hunters indicated they prefer this format over a Friday-Saturday option and no other changes to the special season are needed.
Texas boasts 350,000 dove hunters and the survey showed nearly half (44.5 percent) hunt in the Central Zone. Prior to the 2009-10 season, hunters in the Central Zone preferred a longer season and smaller bag limit. However, now that both 70 days and 15 birds are available in one option, it becomes a win-win proposition for hunters.
South Zone hunters also prefer the 15-bird bag and 70-day season. According to the survey results, South Zone hunters also prefer to open as early as possible and hunt as late in the season as allowed by federal law over having a consistent closing date.
“Texas is the only state allowed to establish a late season that runs until January 25,” said Mason. “We have not run the season to the end of the framework for many years mainly because the primary hunting interest comes early and the segment of hunters who participate in the January season is very small.”
The complete survey findings are available online at http://archive.tpwd.state.tx.us/business/feedback/public_comment/media/texas_dove_hunter_opinion_survey_results_2010.pdf.