Texas dove hunting season: Mourning and whitewing numbers

Texas hunters’ hopes are on the rise, just like the state’s mourning dove population.

Across the board, from the Trans-Pecos to the Piney Woods, mourning dove numbers jumped from the previous year, and, in some cases, soared.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s annual dove survey, done during the height of breeding season each May and June to calculate the state’s dove populations, estimated 28.3 million mourning doves in Texas this year, a 44% jump from last year’s 19.8 million, which was an all-time low since the survey began in 2008.

The 2023 survey puts Texas’ mourning dove numbers back above the long-term average of 27.5 million birds. After five years of below-average numbers, the state’s mourning dove count is the highest it’s been since the boom years of 2016-17, which each saw more than 35 million birds.

Good news for mourning doves, which have been experiencing a range-wide decline over the last few decades because of land-use changes and habitat degradation. And good news for Texas hunters, who account for 30% of the nation’s mourning dove harvest.

North Zone: Sept. 1-Nov. 12 and Dec. 15-31

Central Zone: Sept. 1-Oct. 29 and Dec. 15-Jan. 14

South Zone: Sept. 14-Oct. 29 and Dec. 15-Jan. 21 with special white-winged days on Sept. 1-3 and 8-10

“In terms of pure numbers, I definitely think we’re looking at a better season than we’ve had in several years,” said Owen Fitzsimmons, TPWD’s webless migratory game bird program leader.

“The Rolling Plains had the largest increase, 129% over last year, which is great. But what’s really encouraging to me is that every single ecoregion in the state saw an increase this year.”

The Rolling Plains’ 4.2 million mourning doves is 66% above the long-term average. The Oaks and Prairies region is another hot spot with over 7.5 million mourning doves, a 48% jump from 2022 in a region that historically accounts for more than a quarter of the state’s population. The Edwards Plateau in central Texas holds over 1.7 million mourning doves, up over 73% from last year and the highest count for the region since 2014. The Piney Woods also boomed with over 2.3 million mourning doves, a 31% bump from last year and over 50% above the long-term mean. The Trans-Pecos exploded with over 2 million birds, 173.6% higher than last year. The Gulf Coast continued its recent uptrend with over 1.5 million mourning doves, 17.5% more than last year and 33% greater than the long-term average. The South Texas brushlands and the High Plains saw modest increases from 2022 of 5% and 11%, respectively.

“South Texas is always good. Not any major increases in the South Texas region, but they’ve been the stronghold for doves the past 4 or 5 years,” Fitzsimmons said.

“Hunting has been really good in South Texas for the last few years, and I don’t expect that to change this year.”

The High Plains, which historically accounted for a third of the state’s mourning doves, appears to be the only region that lacks the same optimism of the others ahead of this hunting season. Despite an 11% increase from last year, the region’s mourning dove population remains 30% below the long-term average due to a string of drought-hindered nesting seasons.

Everywhere else in the state is looking strong for mourning doves, though.

“We had some good hatches last year despite the drought. We even had some really good late hatches that I noticed when I was out hunting in September. Those are birds that live through the fall and winter, and carry over into the breeding season,” Fitzsimmons said.

“Then this year, we had such a perfect spring really. For all wildlife. Nice, cool, wet spring. And even though it got really hot since then with this heat wave, conditions persisted pretty well throughout the summer, so I think we saw a another really good hatch year.

“I think we’re in a really good position, better than we’ve seen in several years.”

Texas hunters are also in a good position when it comes to white-winged doves. The Lone Star State is the stronghold for the species, accounting for 87% of the country’s whitewing harvest.

“We’re actually tied for the highest statewide total of whitewings on record, too. The last time we had this many whitewings was in 2015. That’s good too for the rest of the state. If you’ve got whitewings in your area, they should be up,” said Fitzsimmons, although he noted he’s heard reports that there aren’t as many birds as typically seen in the El Campo and Wharton areas.

The 2023 statewide estimate for white-winged doves is 11.7 million birds, up 20% from 2022.

Despite the below-average numbers for mourning doves in the region, the High Plains counted over 2 million white-winged doves, the greatest year-to-year increase of any ecoregion for the species with a 149% bump and the highest whitewing count for the region in the survey’s history.

The Gulf Coast prairie aims to have good prospects for whitewings after a nearly 60% jump from last year (1.8 million birds). The Trans-Pecos is up 47.5% with nearly 400,000 birds. The Edwards Plateau’s 1.1 million whitewings is 13% higher than 2022 and the Rolling Plains’ 630,000 birds is a 27% increase.

Other regions saw slight dips but remain well above the long-term average for the species.

South Texas has 2.7 million whitewings, down 10% from last year but still 30% higher than the long-term average. The Piney Woods has only about 180,000 whitewings, down 35% from 2022 but up 47% over the course of the survey.

The Oaks and Prairies have 2.8 million white-winged doves after dropping nearly 6% from last year and 12% long term.

The statewide long-term average for white-winged doves is nearly 10 million birds, and the trend is upward.

“We’re seeing the highest levels of whitewings we’ve had in Texas,” Fitzsimmons said. “They’re continuing to expand in other states as well. They’re breeding as far north as Nebraska and Colorado, they’re expanding west and east. They’re doing really well as a population.”

Texas’ dove season begins Friday in the North and Central Zones and starts Sept. 14 in the South Zone.

The daily bag limit is 15 birds with no more than two being white-tipped (white-fronted) doves. Legal shooting hours are half an hour before sunrise to sunset. Hunters are required to possess a migratory game bird endorsement with their hunting license.

The six special white-winged days in the South Zone are Friday-Sunday and Sept. 8-10. Legal shooting hours during the special white-winged days are noon to sunset and the 15-bird daily bag limit cannot contain more than two mourning and two white-tipped doves.

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