Opening day of dove season is always a busy one for Texas game wardens, and this year’s Labor Day opener in the North and Central Zones was no different. It shows in the number of citations issued in the field.
Through Sept. 10, Texas game wardens wrote 732 tickets to mourning dove hunters, according to figures from Col. Craig Hunter, director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department law enforcement division.
As always, tickets were issued for a wide variety of violations. Some citations were issued for violations that occurred out of hunter negligence, others because of blatant breaches of game laws.
Interestingly, the most common citation issued to dove hunters revolved around hunter education requirements not being met. According to Hunter, state game wardens issued 413 tickets statewide to hunters who were either not certified in hunter education, were certified but could not present proof of certification, or did not possess the necessary hunter ed deferral.
It is amazing that there are so many irresponsible or uninformed people out there in the field. It’s not like the Texas’ hunter education laws are new.
Hunter education was made mandatory in Texas way back in 1988. Anyone born on or after Sept. 2, 1971, must successfully be complete a hunter education training course before they can legally hunt alone in Texas.
The minimum age for certification is nine. Hunters under nine, or older non-exempt hunters who are not yet certified, must be accompanied in the field by a person who is at least 17, who is licensed to hunt in Texas, who is hunter ed certified or exempt and be within normal voice control of that person while hunting.
Uncertified hunters 17 and older who are not exempt are allowed to purchase a one-time deferral, which is valid until the end of the license year. Hunters with a deferral must be accompanied in the field by a legal hunter who is at least 17.
The TPWD law enforcement chief said the second most common violation involved hunting with an unplugged shotgun. Most auto-loading and pump style shotguns are capable of holding five shotshells. However, in order to hunt migratory game birds, these shotguns must be “plugged” in the magazine so they are not capable of holding more than three shells.
You can buy a factory plug at just about any sporting goods that carries firearms. Otherwise, you can make your own using a wooden dowel. A piece of No. 2 pencil or a straight stick will even work if you find yourself in a pinch.
It’s safe to say that many citations written for unplugged shotguns are due mostly to negligence on the hunter’s part. Perhaps the plug was removed last winter to hunt squirrels and you forgot about it, or maybe you bought a new shotgun and simply forgot to install the plug before going dove hunting.
At any rate, negligence is no excuse in the eyes of a game warden. It’s routine for wardens to inspect firearms for plugs when checking hunters in the dove fields. If your shotgun isn’t plugged properly, you will more than likely receive a citation.
The next four most common violations likely had nothing to do with negligence.
According to Hunter, 76 hunters were ticketed for shooting over their bag limit, 65 cited for hunting over bait, 65 for hunting without a license and 27 for having over their possession limit.
The daily bag limit on doves is 15 per hunter. A legal limit may include a mix of mourning or white-winged doves, but no more than two white-tipped doves. Eurasian collared doves are considered exotics and do not count towards a legal limit.
It is easy to lose count of how many doves you’ve shot, particularly when you are in an area with lots of birds flying and your shotgun is consistently finding its mark.
For that reason, it is always wise to keep a running count of how many birds you have in the bag. As you close in on a limit, make a mental note of how many more are needed to fill it. It’s your responsibility to avoid going over. Count and recount.
Much the same could be said when it comes to hunting over bait. It is illegal to hunt migratory birds over bait, such as milo, maize, etc…… where the grain has been dumped to attract birds. A baited area is any area where feed has been placed or within 10 days after all such feed has been completely removed.
One of the most common excuses game wardens hear from hunters who are caught hunting over bait is “I didn’t know the area had been baited.” While it is entirely possible, it isn’t very likely in most cases.
The best defense here is to know who you are hunting with. If you suspect an area has been baited, it would be best to find a different place to hunt.
It is not necessary for a hunter to know an area is baited to be in violation for hunting over a baited area. It’s a federal offense and commands some brisk fines.
If you find a large concentration of birds on public land while scouting, make sure to check for any obvious signs of baiting by walking around to see what is concentrating the birds. If you find grain on the ground, empty your shotgun, leave the area and report the bait to wardens.
Hunting without a license is another blatant game law violation, as is having more doves in your possession than the possession limit allows.
Possession limits are different than daily bag limits. The daily bag limit on doves is 15 and the possession limit is three times the daily bag (45). In other words, if you go on a three-day hunting trip and kill a limit each day, you are perfectly legal transporting those birds home in an ice chest.
However, that would not the case if the season is only two days old, unless you have written documentation from another hunter giving you permission to transport his or her birds.
Once the birds reach their final destination and are cleaned and placed in a freezer, they no longer count against your possession limit, according to state law.
Hunter said an additional 290 citations were issued to white-winged dove hunters during the Special white-wing dove season on Sept. 6-7. Wardens also issued 69 warnings and seized 342 white wings taken illegally.
There will likely be another spike in citations issued when anxious Texas hunters head to the field for the opener of the first split South Zone season on Sept. 19. The first split in the South, Central and North zones runs through Oct. 20.
The season re-opens on Dec. 19 statewide and continues through Jan. 7 in the North and Central zones and Jan. 25 in the South Zone.
The best way to avoid becoming a statistic in TPWD’s data base of game law violators is to know the rules. More importantly, to play by those rules.