H unt any variety of sought-after game bird in Texas—doves, quail, ducks, geese, pheasants or sandhill cranes—and you’ll quickly find out just how much practice you should have put in at the shotgun range.
You’ll also find out that even when your pellets find their target, there’s no guarantee you’ll collect that bird.
According to figures from Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and overall federal data compiled for nearly the past century, roughly a quarter of ducks and geese shot by hunters are lost or fly away wounded. Research also shows those waterfowl almost always suffer mortal injuries, with less than three percent surviving.
When you factor in the wounding loss rate to average harvest estimates, it means that each year, more than three million waterfowl are lost annually in the United States and Canada.
For dove hunting, research has shown a wounding loss rate of about 30 percent. Federal estimates show almost twice as many doves as waterfowl are lost annually. The dove loss figure in Texas, where hunters annually kill more mourning and white-winged doves than anywhere else, would fall between 1.5 million and 2 million, according to those estimates.
Doves are among the most daunting quarries to locate after you’ve made a clean shot. They have a curious tendency of disappearing right in front of you, especially if you’re hunting near standing crops or fields recently cut with vegetation littering the ground.
The best thing you can do before any bird-hunting outing is to be prepared in a variety of ways. When preparing your gear, there’s no substitute for knowing the capabilities and range of your shotgun with various loads and chokes.
Most hunters think of turkey hunting when they decide to pattern their shotgun, but it can be handy to know how your shooting iron spits out different shot sizes at varying distances for upland and migratory game bird scenarios. Practice also helps. Although it might not make you a perfect shot, it will up your odds for success.
In hunting scenarios, it’s good to think about shot selection. You shouldn’t risk long shots because the best you’ll accomplish is wounding birds that you never should have pointed a gun at.
The ideal way to locate a downed bird is simply to mark where you think it fell, as well as a nearby landmark, even if it’s something diminutive. On the way to locate a downed bird such as a dove, you should avoid shooting at other birds until you’ve found it.
I know I’ve been caught up in good hunts where doves seemed to be everywhere, but it also has added to the frustration of searching for one bird after you’ve lost your mark trying to note where another had fallen.
Beyond the feeling of guilt that can arise from not finding a downed quarry, there are rules that apply to seeking out fallen birds. Wanton waste rules specify that hunters must make a “reasonable” effort to locate and retrieve all downed migratory game birds. However, hunters may not cross onto private property to do so. Without permission from a landowner, it’s trespassing.
If a game warden saw you knock down birds and not attempt to retrieve them or otherwise prove that you didn’t, he could theoretically count those against your daily bag. If that takes you over the daily limit, you could be cited for unlawful take and possession of migratory birds.
That kind of criminal violation could cost a hunter between $25 and $500 for each bird over the limit and a civil restitution figure could be tacked on for each. Also, you could face suspension or revocation of hunting privileges under the dual aspect that a violation of a state migratory game bird regulation also is a violation of a federal regulation.
It’s rooted in conservation to never take more than your fair and legal share of game, which should be enough incentive for any hunter.
—by Will Leschper
The Texas Gulf Coast is part of the most important and most threatened wintering areas on the continent, and Ducks Unlimited continues working to support the millions of waterfowl that winter here each year.
As Ducks Unlimited closed its 2016 fiscal year on June 30, the organization proudly completed more than 6,000 acres of conservation projects in Texas.
Projects to enhance public lands waterfowl habitat were completed at D.R. Wintermann Wildlife Management Area, Mustang Island State Park, and Sheldon Lake State Park. In a joint beneficial use project with the Galveston Bay Foundation, DU moved dredge material nearly five miles to restore 50 acres of marsh.
DU’s private land efforts continued to ensure the role of the Texas Gulf Coast rice-prairie wetland complex as part of the continent’s most important wintering area with more than 4,000 acres of wetland enhancement projects. Through DU’s foundation, Wetlands America Trust, Ducks Unlimited closed one conservation easement that permanently protects 1,200 acres of wetland and wildlife habitat in the Lone Star State.
Moving forward, construction on a 200-acre moist-soil unit at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge began in August. This project is part of DU’s Gulf Coast Initiative and was supported in part by Axalta Coating Systems. DU will soon kick off a project at the J.D. Murphree WMA to enhance about 2,000 acres of wetland habitat through installation of water management infrastructure.
Other projects slated for the coming year include enhancements to marsh terraces at San Bernard NWR, and completing quite a bit of survey and engineering work for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for future projects.
Ducks Unlimited is committed to ensuring that waterfowl find abundant habitat across North America. People reap tremendous benefits from DU wetlands conservation work, too. In addition to the enjoyment waterfowl and other wetland wildlife provide, wetlands along the coast mitigate storm surge and support much of the economy.
—by Andi Cooper
Hunters and anglers who agree that the Conservation Reserve Program works for wildlife, sportsmen, and landowners can now show their support for enhancing the program in the next Farm Bill, according to a news release. With the launch of CRPworks.org, a coalition of sportsmen’s groups is rallying conservation advocates who want to see better investments in the CRP.
Introduced in the 1985 Farm Bill, CRP once supported 37 million acres devoted to conserving soil, water and wildlife habitat. But Congress has reduced the size of the program to just 24 million acres in the most recent Farm Bill, according to the release.
The user-friendly website and advocacy app at CRPworks.org allows supporters to add their names to a petition asking lawmakers to reverse this trend, explaining that “without a strong CRP, the northern plains states would lose much of their duck breeding habitat, greater sage grouse in the West would be at greater risk of population decline, and brook trout would disappear from Eastern headwaters. Without CRP, 40 million sportsmen and women would lose access to private hunting and fishing grounds across rural America.”
Email Will Leschper at