Welcome hunters to San Saba County! We are happy to see you again and glad you are here! With the kick-off of the 2012-13 hunting season now officially underway, let’s talk mourning dove management sprinkled with some hunting tips to help you be more successful.Texas is the number one dove hunting state in the nation and mourning dove are the most numerous and widely-distributed game bird in North America. The mourning dove is one of seven species of doves and pigeons native to Texas. Mourning doves are an important economic, recreational, and esthetic resource to Texas and landmanagers, sportsmen, and enthusiasts all play a vital part in their existence here.Each spring, male mourning doves establish territories in suitable habitat and announce their presence to competing males and prospective mates by cooing their mournful four-note call from exposed perches. Males also use exaggerated, stiff-winged, flapping-gliding flight to further advertise their territories when moving from one cooing perch to another.Once a female is attracted to the territory, both birds assist in building the nest, incubating the eggs, and caring for the young. Trees with a trunk diameter greater than eight inches and a crown height of ten to thirty feet are generally preferred. The nests are usually located five to fifteen feet above ground level. The clutch usually consists of two eggs laid one day apart. Incubation lasts about fourteen days. The male usually takes nest duties from mid-morning until early evening each day while the female takes the night shift. Since incubation starts immediately after the first egg is laid, the first egg usually develops and hatches about one day before the second. Consequently, one of the nestlings is often noticeably larger than the other. Less than fifty percent of all nesting attempts are successful. High winds, rain, and hail destroy many nests. Snakes, mammals, and avian predators prey on eggs, nestlings, and adults as well.Both parents feed their young a secretion from their crops known as “pigeon milk.” This substance is very similar to milk produced by female mammals. After about seven days, the pigeon milk is gradually replaced by a diet of regurgitated seed. Young doves grow very rapidly and leave the nest ten to fourteen days after hatching but continues to be fed by the male in the vicinity of the nest for several more days. The female often begins renesting immediately after the young leave the nest. Adult females may nest successfully as often as four or five times in a single season in warm southern climates but only two or three broods per season in northern climates.As with all wildlife species, food, water, and cover are essential for mourning dove survival. Although many small game species such as bobwhite quail and cottontail rabbits spend their entire lives within a mile or so of their birthplace, mourning doves are strong, swift flyers capable of crossing the continent during migration and traveling many miles to obtain their daily needs. Even during the nesting season when they are most sedentary, doves often travel five miles or more for food and water. All of the habitat requirements for mourning doves do not necessarily have to appear on the same farm or ranch, but they will be more numerous on land where all habitat needs are supplied. Mourning doves are almost exclusively seed eaters. Their diet includes both native and introduced seeds. Native plant seed especially important to doves in Texas include sunflower, croton, ragweed, and pigweed. Partridge pea, bundleflower, panic grass, paspalum, prickleypoppy, and bristlegrass are also important. Introduced plant seed important to doves include grain sorghum, forage sorghum, corn, wheat, rice, peanuts, domestic sunflower, and Johnsongrass.Soil disturbance is generally the least expensive method of actively providing food for doves, but seed of desirable plants can also be purchased and planted quite successfully. Seeds are commercially available for most of the introduced species listed above and a few of the native species. The seed of most dove food plants can be planted in the spring, but native sunflower seed should be planted in the fall for best germination. Mourning doves generally water twice a day, once in mid-morning and once in late evening. As with feeding areas, the dove prefer their water sites open and free of tall, concealing vegetation. An ideal watering site includes a bare landing area at least thirty to fifty feet wide at the water’s edge. A gravel, caliche, or grazed area at the water’s edge will also work well. As mentioned earlier, mourning doves are highly mobile and readily attracted to abundant food and water. However, heavy, continuous hunting can cause doves to leave desirable habitat. Reduction of hunting pressure could take the form of fewer hunters, fewer days, or shorter hours. If adequate land is available, perhaps one or two feeding fields could be left completely unhunted. Data has proven that legal sport hunting replaces approximately one-fourth of the natural mortality that occurs each year but does not add additional mortality to the mourning dove population. In addition, nationwide surveys have proven there is no significant difference in mourning dove breeding densities in hunted and nonhunted states.Local Forecast:With forage and water in ample supply, birds may not be as concentrated as in previous years, but there will still be plenty around. Concentrate your hunting efforts around not only farm fields, but stands of native croton and sunflowers and those water sources that offer the birds a safe flat landing free of tall grass and brush. The closer you are to towns, the more likely white wings will be taken while the farther you are from towns, the greater chance of taking more mourning doves will be. Keep your eyes peeled for the Eurasian collared dove (or ringed neck dove) this year. Their numbers are slowly increasing and they are moving up from the valley. We have many in this area and they are treated as exotics, with no bag limits to be had. They are larger than white wings and have an obvious black ring around their neck and they taste the same as the other two species.The Central Zone season runs from September 1-October 24 and the daily bag limit is 15 mourning, white-wing and white-tipped doves in the aggregate, to include no more than two white-tips. Possession limit is twice the daily bag limit. The split, or second season runs from December 22-January 6, 2013 with the same daily bag and aggregate limits as the first season.Don’t forget that all migratory game bird hunters must be HIP (Harvest Information Program) certified. It should state “HIP” on your hunting license or don’t forget to ask the clerk when purchasing your hunting license this year. Also, don’t forget to report any banded mourning doves you harvest. The banded birds were caught earlier this year throughout the state by game biologists. The idea is to track movements, distribution, and survival rates. If you harvest a banded bird, call 1-800-327-BAND to report the location and band number and the state will send you a neat certificate. You can keep the band. You can also report the bands online at www.reportband.gov.Have a safe and enjoyable hunting season this year. This will undoubtedly be one of the better overall hunting seasons in many years, so get out there and participate. Grab a youngster and take them with you. Share your knowledge and experiences with them and teach them the ways of the wild. I hope to find you in the hunting fields this fall and perhaps we can trade hunting stories.