COLEMAN, Texas -- Mourning doves started flying at daylight. Birds not silhouetted against the western sky zipped by close enough to catch with a long-handled landing net. I was still putting clip-on decoys in the skeletal, gray branches of a long-fallen pecan tree.
Most Texas dove hunters chase their quarry opening weekend and spend the remainder of September and October alternately cheering and bemoaning the ups and downs of local sports teams. They've arguably missed some of the best dove action of the season and undoubtedly the best weather.
Dove season in the north and central zones continues through Oct. 24. It runs through Oct. 31 in the south zone. Dove hunting remains the most fun you can have with a shotgun and it's a lot more fun when you're not sweating. Besides, after 10 days of dove hunting, I think I've got it figured out. You need to be in the right place at the right time (duh).
That's easier said than done. As Boone Pickens observes, "doves are unreliable." That's particularly true where he hunts them, on his Canadian River ranch, where this year temperatures fell to 46 degrees one night in late August.
They're a little more predictable in the central zone, particularly the Rolling Plains and Cross Timbers Regions west and north of Dallas. Even in the best places, doves can throw you a Cliff Lee curveball when you least expect it.
Like last Saturday, for instance. My wife, Emilie, and I were hunting with Coleman hunting outfitter Dusty Greaves. He's one of those quintessential rural Texas ranchers who doesn't say much, and he's certainly not one to brag.
In the old days of John Wayne westerns, you could insert Greaves into the Ben Johnson supporting actor role, and he'd work just fine. By word of mouth (not his mouth), he's developed one of the top all-around hunting businesses in a very gamey area.
"I'm going to put you next to a tiny, little waterhole on the edge of a newly plowed field," said Greaves. "(There have) been birds feeding there. The farmer just plowed under his sunflowers, seeded with wheat and barely covered the wheat seeds. It should be good."
It sounded better than good. It was the equivalent of a legally baited field. There were probably 500 mourning doves that came into the field but they all landed in the middle.
In the meantime, 1,000 or so white-winged doves passed over, most about 200-yards high. It was the right place but the wrong time. Emilie shot four doves. I got one.
The next morning, Greaves led us along a winding road deep into his personal ranch, then left us in the flyway. Emilie put her hunting stool against a big pecan tree. I picked a similar spot just 10 yards away.
For 30 minutes, the flight was fast and confusingly furious with birds coming from every direction. Then it slowed to a steady trickle, and it was easier to concentrate on one bird at a time. It was 51 degrees at legal shooting time, so cool that Emilie wore a jacket.
Like all great dove hunts, this one ended too soon. It was the best dove hunt I've had all season. We didn't shoot any better than usual. We didn't see as many birds as we'd seen the day before. We were in the right place at the right time.