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To say the least, this past year has been hard for many people and one that most of us would like to forget. With the Covid pandemic, elections, and freezeout of February, thank the good Lord that summer is here, and fall is just around the corner. And with fall, we can hopefully look forward to an untroubled and uninterrupted hunting season. Due to the pandemic, while trying to stay socially distant, many landowners and sportsmen were able to spend extra time at the ranch or hunting lease. Hopefully, during this time of masks, isolation, and quarantines, they were able to get some much-needed work accomplished cleaning senderos, deer blinds, mending waterlines and generally making repairs and a host of other items that were on the to-do list but never got done! Despite all the challenges the pandemic and snow-mageddon brought, many people were able to spend quality time with family, and maybe had some decent hunts.
Since summer has arrived and the pandemic is slowly fading (despite the media’s constant tirade about variants and surges) many sportsmen are looking forward to getting back in the woods. Many are also wondering how last winter’s freeze might have affected the upcoming hunting season and how they should react and manage accordingly. There is no doubt that the extreme winter weather impacted many species. Fortunately for Texans, most of our native game survived in fairly good shape. White-tailed deer, javelina, turkey, quail, and hogs seemed to have weathered the storm essentially unharmed, although some regions might have been more negatively affected than others. It appears the major impact of the winter storm took a devastating toll on many exotic species, specifically Axis deer (predominately males), blackbuck antelope and some super exotics. Reportedly, some birds and large quantities of coastal fish were killed as well.
Aside from wildlife, some plants were also killed or impacted. Broken limbs and dead-appearing trees were everywhere, especially in southwest Texas. But take heart! Woody plants, such as south Texas blackbrush, which appeared dead in many areas are now re-growing from the base, thus bringing the browsing level down to an accessible level. With the excellent and above average rainfall we have been blessed with this spring, forage production has been outstanding. In my opinion, all of this should result in an incredibly good year for all species.
The start of the annual hunter migration begins with the opening of dove season on or around Labor Day weekend. Dove hunting continues to be an extremely popular shooting sport. Unlike deer hunting, it is fast paced, affordable and typically a socially enjoyable group event. Because of the special white-winged dove season in the south zone, and three separate dove hunting zones, it is advisable to read the regulations, know the zone maps regarding dove hunting, and determine the hunting dates and areas.
Historically, white-winged doves were found concentrated in the lower Rio Grande Valley, but since the mid 1980’s they have drastically expanded across Texas and even migrated to states north of Texas. These beautiful doves are usually concentrated around urban areas and towns regularly harvested in conjunction with mourning dove season, frequently incidental or bonuses in the bag. As the white-winged dove population continues to expand and increase throughout Texas, it is obvious that the numbers of birds harvested will also increase, thus giving more recreation for sportsmen.
Since mourning and white-winged doves are migratory, there was little winter impact on the overall population, except for the resident birds which might have been minimally affected. Again, the outstanding rainfall this spring should provide plenty of seed food and a successful hatch prior to dove season. Some of the best hunting areas are around farms with grain or corn stubble, sunflowers, croton, ragweed or sesame, and surrounded by trees or brush for roosting, with watering areas such as livestock tanks in the vicinity. If unfamiliar with the area you want to hunt, there are numerous outfitters, guides, and local farmers that advertise dove hunting, and the local Chambers of Commerce are also an excellent source of information.
As dove season winds down, hunters start preparing for deer season. This year, deer season should be rewarding with good fawn production and antler development. As I write this article fawns are already hitting the ground. While starting the spring in rough shape, the does have rebounded physically from the harsh winter, due to the excellent spring rains and increased nutritional level of forage, which subsequently benefited all wildlife. This hunting season it is particularly important to continue to manage your deer herd. Make sure not to hesitate to harvest the required numbers, falsely believing that you need to be conservative because of the bitter winter storm.
So, hunters, clean your guns and load up on shells, because it should be a great year. Unless of course the usual happens, and the rains come on Memorial Day weekend and scatters the dove to-and-fro. It is time to put the pandemic and everything that depressed us over the last year behind and look forward to brighter days, especially in the beautiful Texas woods. Enjoy the camaraderie around the campfire without masks and sanitizers and have a wonderful and memorable hunting season.