Starting Dove Scouting Early
July 31, 2018
Editorial Staff (266 articles)
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Starting Dove Scouting Early

By Ralph Winingham

Well before that first shotgun blast at that first dove on opening day, successful hunters and outfitters will have spent quality time on research, travel time, and maybe offered a prayer or two in anticipation of a good hunt. The secret to success during any dove season eludes many hunters each year, although Lady Luck does shine on a few no matter what they do as a pre-season ritual.

That secret is simply using investigative skills of a good reporter—spending time gathering up the who, what, when, where and why of a good season.

On the outfitter side, those operators who might have hunting properties scattered over half a dozen counties or more spend a good amount of both their pre-season and pre-hunting time scouting locations for birds.

dove scouting

Mark Roberts counts a limit of birds taken on one of his fields.

“I like to be out before sun up (on his scouting excursions). I park my pickup and sit awhile drinking coffee while I watch the fields and power lines,” said Mark Roberts, who is based in Uvalde and manages about 4,000 acres scattered over both the Central and South Zones. “If the birds are there, you will see them,” he said.

By using a variety of potential hunting locations, in addition to plots he has planted with crops designed to concentrate mourning, white-winged and Eurasian collared doves found in the area, Roberts increases his flexibility. In addition to his personal scouting and planting efforts, the outfitter relies on the watchful eyes of the area farmers who maintain and produce crops in their fields.

“It is nice to have them out on their tractors calling me on their cell phones when they see a lot of birds. That is a good network of information,” he said.

Another outfitter based in D’Hanis, and with hunting properties across three counties, Jason Schneemann with Down South Adventures said his scouting efforts start in May when he monitors his food plots. The scouting effort really comes into play after the dove season opener.

“I’m on the road every day of the week, sometimes in the morning and sometimes in the evening. My hunters are paying me to get an edge on the birds and I have to be one step ahead of the doves in monitoring their patterns,’’ he said. The hunting operation has been in business for about 20 years and has fields in about four or five different counties, he added.

 

dove scouting

Wyatt Hagedorn waits to make a fine crossing shot on a white-winged dove.

Mark Katzfey of Katzfey Ranch near George West, said in the past 17 years he has learned the birds are never predictable and will fool outfitters and hunters during most seasons. “The birds have patterns and you have to pay close attention in order to be able to put your hunters on the doves. It is a lot of hit or miss,” he said.

Katzfey said he spends a lot of time scouting, driving around food plots and water tanks every day for at least four days before a hunt in order to pinpoint good shooting opportunities for his hunters. With hunting locations scattered across Live Oak and San Patricia counties, he said if he does get fooled with a no-bird situation, he can rotate his hunters to another field where the wingshooting will be adequate for sending lead down range.

This type of scouting effort and focus on quality hunting time is what helps make the Lone Star state the top dove hunting location in the nation, with an estimated 250,000 Texas hunters shooting more than six million mourning and white-winged doves each year. That tally makes up about 20-25 percent of the annual dove harvest across the country and provides about $300 million into area communities each season.

Dove scouting questions to ask outfitters

On the hunters’ side of the equation, scouting and preparation for the season should also mean a little travel time to eye-ball a potential bird-bagging location in addition to some face time with outfitters. Although the first question of an outfitter always seems to be, “How much will the lease (both day and season) cost me?” there are other equally important issues.

As a rule of thumb, most outfitters will be happy to answer questions such as those listed below. If the outfitter balks at providing this information, it might be time to find greener pastures:

• Who is the outfitter and/or property owner and how long has the property been leased for dove hunting?

• What type of hunting is available—pass shooting on high-flying birds along flyways; close shots around tanks; or are the birds entering or leaving crops in fields?

• Will there be mourning doves, whitewings, Eurasian collared doves, or a mixture of target opportunities?

• When do you allow hunting on the property? Do you conduct both morning and afternoon hunts or do you allow the birds some shot-free time?

• Where is the hunting property and how large is it?

• How many hunters do you allow on the lease at one time?

• Do you offer family discounts for father/son, mother/daughter, etc. and are the shooting conditions compatible for young or inexperienced shooters?

• Are there facilities available such as restrooms, bird-cleaning stations with running water or other creature comforts to make the hunting experience more enjoyable?

• Are the hunting areas easily accessible in standard vehicles or can they be reached within easy walking distance of parking areas?

Do you have a good working relationship with the local game warden (naturally, the onus is upon the hunters to comply with all game laws and regulations) and area law enforcement agencies?

•••

Read Ralph’s story in the July/August Journal, on newsstands now.

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