Dove hunting is the traditional beginning to the fall hunting season in Texas and is an important cultural event. In 2006, dove hunting provided approximately 394,000 resident and non-resident hunters an estimated 1.7 million hunter days of opportunity. The economic impact of dove hunting is becoming increasingly more important to rural landowners and communities through leasing and tourism dollars. Therefore, landowners and managers are often interested in making their property more attractive to doves through knowledge of dove biology and management.
Eight species of doves occur in Texas, however, the mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) and white-winged dove (Z. asiatica) are the 2 most economically important. The mourning dove is one of the most widely distributed game birds in North America and can be found throughout Texas. Although historically white-winged doves were found primarily in northern Mexico, the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and the Big Bend region, their range has expanded northward and is currently found throughout Texas except for the Pineywoods. White-winged doves are commonly found in urban areas.
Doves require food, water and cover. The mourning doves’ diet consists largely of seeds whereas white-winged doves eat seeds in addition to fruit or mast. Both prefer early successional habitats which can be achieved by shallow discing during the winter to promote plant species that benefit doves. Croplands can be managed to attract doves as well. Standing crops of wheat, milo, oilseed sunflower can be shredded to make seeds available on the bare ground. Doves prefer to water at ground level therefore, ponds, lakes, water troughs, and irrigation canals located between feeding and roosting sites are optimal. Water edges devoid of vegetation are typically preferred over vegetated areas. Isolated mottes of brush species with some mature trees are ideal for roosting cover. More information is available at the AgriLife Bookstore.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Of the eight doves that occur in Texas which are legal to hunt?
A. The mourning dove, white-winged dove, and white-tipped dove are legal game birds and may be hunted during open seasons. The rock dove or feral pigeon is unprotected and therefore may be hunted anytime. The red-billed pigeon, inca dove, ground dove, and band-tailed pigeon are each protected birds and may not be hunted anytime.
Q. Can I hunt for doves over bait?
A. No, hunting for doves over baited areas is illegal. Hunting for dove over a field or food plot that has been manipulated by shredding, burning, or other mechanical means is legal for doves but not for waterfowl. A baited area is defined as an area where salt, grain, or other feed is directly or indirectly placed, exposed, deposited, distributed, or scattered, that could serve as a lure or attraction for migratory game birds. Once the bait is removed, the area cannot be hunted for at least 10 days.
Q. What is the best management practice to attract doves to my property?
A. Shallow discing creates the early successional habitat that dove prefer. One strategy is to disc strips over a 3-year period. For example, in year 1, strip disc an area 10-15 feet wide. In year 2, disc an adjacent area and another adjacent area in year 3. In year 4, due to the growth of vegetation it should be time to re-disc the original area.
Q. What are the important seed-producing plants for doves in Texas?
- Black Brush
- Switch grass
- Panic grasses
- Plains bristlegrass
- Yellow Indian grass
- Annual sunflower
- Croton (dove weed)
- Western ragweed