Texas bird hunts can’t be beat

One of the most exciting birds we can hunt in Texas is the bobwhite quail. A goo

Texas hunters have it made. We have big numbers of white-tailed deer, turkeys, wild pigs, ducks and geese, as well as doves. We’ve got huge chunks of land that produce bobwhite and blue quail, and if that’s not enough, check out a hunt for snipe since the season is open through Feb. 12.

It’s a fact that the bird hunting options in Texas are about as good as they get. Consider this: Last February I was on a hunt in South Texas that produced over 30 coveys of bobwhite quail in one day. That’s definitely primo shooting. Last year the quail season across Texas was as good as it’s been in years. This season is a little slower but well worth the effort. By the way, the Texas quail season is open through Feb. 26.

“Last January and February, the numbers of quail that we saw in South Texas were as good as I have ever seen,” says Robert Sanders, a longtime quail hunting guide. “It wasn’t unusual to have my dogs on 20-plus coveys per hunt.”

Bird hunting is wrapped around excitement – pure and simple. And if you’re good enough to put down a daily limit, you know it’s been a good time.

One of the craziest hunts I’ve been on in years was at the Elm Bayou hunting club south of Winnie. Rocky Chase and I took our labs, Tank and Big Nose Kate, out on one of the goose hunting fields there. It was a mix of wet and dry ground with just enough rice stubble to hold lots of jacksnipe. The dogs would flush the birds and we did our best to shoot the fast flying targets. You can’t believe how fast these little birds are. They come up like a guided missile then shoot out across the field like a fighter jet. It’s some of the best wing shooting you’ll ever find here in Southeast Texas.

At that same club, Chase invited a group of hunters out for a September teal hunt one afternoon. I remember walking out into a wide open field that had been partially flooded by a tropical storm. Within a half-hour, we were shooting at flights of teal that were coming at us like bats out of a cave. That was a hunt none of us will ever forget. Way fine!

One of the most difficult bird hunts I’ve ever been on involved woodcocks. A number of years back, I was up in Polk County just off of Lake Livingston with two guys that specialized in hunting woodcock. The drill was to follow a couple of springer spaniels that would find and point the birds that were feeding in densely wooded cover. It was so thick that we could barely swing a shotgun without hitting limbs.

A woodcock looks a lot like a jacksnipe. And when they are busted out of thick foliage, they shoot up and zigzag through the trees. They are the most difficult birds I’ve ever shot at.

Conversely, a turkey is not difficult to shoot, but getting within shotgun range of these wily birds is a whole different matter. The spring hunts are the best. It’s a time when the birds are mating. Once you’re set up in the right area and know birds are there, it’s about total camouflage and calling. There is nothing quite like calling in a strutting gobbler with fanned-out tail feathers.

Some of the best turkey habitat is in South and Central Texas. That’s where you’ll find lots of Rio Grande turkeys. We also have suitable habitat here in East Texas for Eastern turkeys. After the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department began stocking wild Eastern turkeys, we eventually ended up with at spring season.

Wild turkeys used to be plentiful in the Pineywoods. But they were wiped out by market hunting along with extensive habitat loss in the later parts of the 19th century. Although more than 50 counties in East Texas were stocked during the 1980s and 1990s, fewer than 30 counties are open for turkey hunting today.

Alabama, Missouri, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia have provided wild trapped Eastern turkeys for the Texas restocking project. The states are compensated $500 for each turkey they provide, funded by TPWD’s Upland Game Bird Stamp program.

Eastern gobblers are much larger than Rio Grande turkeys. And they are a hoot to hunt. The only Eastern gobbler I’ve ever shot was in Trinity County. I was hunting on Champion International timber company land that was one of the first areas stocked with turkeys. Hopefully the stocking program will continue to increase the numbers of turkeys we have strutting their way through the Pineywoods.

Dove hunting is among the most popular bird hunting done across Texas. It’s especially popular here in Southeast Texas, thanks to thousands of acres of rice fields and plowed ground.

Believe it or not, we even have some fine hunting for pheasants up in the Texas Panhandle. If you have never hunted birds up around Lubbock, you area definitely missing out on some of the finest wing shooting in Texas, or for that matter, the nation. The Panhandle region has a little bit of everything – great duck and goose hunts, huge numbers of doves and huntable numbers of wild pheasants.

Like I said, when it’s all said and done, you can’t beat the bird hunting options that can be had from one corner of Texas to the other.

Robert Sloan can be reached by e-mail at sloan288 [at] aol [dot] com.

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