Texas dove hunters can expect another good to excellent hunting season this fall. That's the educated guess of Jay Roberson, Texas Parks and Wildlife dove program leader.
Roberson's prediction seems safe enough. Texas serves as a migrational funnel for mourning doves headed for Mexico. With an average harvest of about 4.5 million mourning doves and 1.5 million white-winged doves, Texas is traditionally the nation's top dove hunting state.
Roberson encourages dove hunters to examine bagged birds carefully, looking for small metal leg bands. Hunters can keep the bands, but they should call the toll-free number printed on the band and report the band number.
About 1,500 doves have been banded in Texas this year in the beginning of a long-term project to determine the status of mourning doves. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service surveys indicate a slight but steady decline in dove numbers, and banding will provide additional information.
Roberson said some biologists believe that doves have shifted from a rural environment to suburbs and even cities. If F&WS dove counts continue to decline, the service is expected to cut hunting seasons and bag limits.
"Dove banding could provide some valuable information about mourning dove populations," Roberson said. "I urge hunters to keep a close eye out for banded birds and report all band numbers."
Roberson said doves, like several other bird species, might carry West Nile Virus but there's no indication that a human can contract the disease from a bird. A dove experiencing West Nile Virus symptoms would not be strong enough to fly in a normal fashion, Roberson said.
"Nature has a way of taking care of these problems," he said. "A dove that flies just a little slower than other doves will soon be picked off by a falcon. Any dove that's showing virus symptoms is not long for this world. Even if a harvested bird were sick, the virus should be destroyed by cooking. It's always a good idea to be careful when you're cleaning any wild game."
West Nile Virus is transmitted by mosquitoes and other biting insects. Hunters should protect themselves from insects. Judicious use of insect repellents will do an effective job.