Erath County Game Warden Zach Havens is gearing up for dove season.

Havens has served Erath County since May, following the retirement of Tony Navarro, who flew the coop in November after more than a quarter-of-a-century of service in the Lone Star State. Havens transferred to Erath from Eastland County, and since his transfer he has been busy outside of the county manning area lakes, including Granbury, Whitney and Proctor since there are none in Erath.

After a long, hot summer, Havens said he is looking forward to cooler weather and the opportunity to stay in the county. While the cooler weather may be weeks away, the opportunity to stay in the local jurisdiction will come quickly as dove season opens on Wednesday, Sept. 1, when Havens said Erath hunters are known to down more than a few doves.

Havens, who was an "avid hunter and fisher prior to signing up" with Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) almost 13 years ago, said while his daily duties leave little room for recreation, as a game warden, he does stay up to date on the rules of the range. And Havens, who earned his biology degree from Tarleton State University, said there are a number of violations that hunters should work to avoid during dove season.

The paperwork

Havens said all hunters must be licensed, and those born on or after Sept. 2, 1971 are required to hold hunter education certification. The certifications can be obtained locally when classes are offered or by completing the written portion of an online hunter education course and quizzes at www.tpwd.state.tx.us/learning/hunter_education/online.phtml followed by a one-day field course. A schedule of upcoming field courses is available on the Web site.

To legally hunt dove, Havens said licensees must have a migratory bird stamp, which applies to dove, and also covers teal, gallinule, rail, snipe and woodcock, when in season. He also said dove hunters must have HIP (Harvest Information Program) certification, to hunt in Texas.

According to TPWD's 2010-11 Outdoor Annual Hunting and Fishing Regulations guide book, which is available at retail outlets that sell licenses, when you purchase your license, you should tell the license clerk that you intend to hunt migratory game bird during the 2010-11 season and need to be HIP certified. Once certified, the letters "HIP" should appear on your license.

Rules of the range

Violations of TPWD could add up to a fine of $25-500 and civil restitution penalties could apply in some cases. Havens said even the most seasoned hunters should familiarize themselves with the TPWD regulation book every year since dates and bag limits change regularly.

And Havens offered up a few tips to start dove season off with a bang.

Havens said each hunter is required to maintain possession of their birds, and "co-mingling" their birds with other hunters' bags is a violation.

According to the TPWD guide book, "all harvested migratory game birds not in the immediate possession of the person who killed them must be tagged with a wildlife resource document (found in the guidebook on page 93) until the birds reach the possessor's personal residence and are finally processed."

In regards to equipment, Havens said one of the most common violations is an unplugged shotgun. He said shotguns cannot hold more than three shells total - one chamber and two in the magazine. Semiautomatic or pump action shotguns must be plugged to only hold three rounds.

Want to know when to shoot? Havens said shooting hours are restricted, and hunters may only shoot for the skies from half-an-hour before sunrise until sunset to "allow birds time to water prior to roosting" each night.

And yes, there are also restrictions on the number of doves you can down. Havens said there is a daily bag limit of 15 doves this year.

The possession limit is 30, or twice the daily bag limit. Simply put, if you go on a three-day hunting trip and kill 15 birds Friday and 15 Saturday, you will have to wait until the following weekend to bag more birds. There is an exception to the rule - on opening day, Sept. 1, the possession limit and bag limit are the same, 15.

Havens also said that hunters should be mindful that hunting in baited areas - any area where bait has been placed, exposed, deposited, distributed or scattered to serve as a lure for dove is illegal. And hunters are responsible for knowing whether an area is or is not baited.

Finally, Havens said it is illegal to hunt dove from a motor vehicle, with exceptions for paraplegic hunters or leg amputees. He also said it is illegal to "rally" dove with the aid of a motor vehicle.

How you can help TPWD

Havens said TPWD is calling on hunters' help. He said that many doves are banded in an effort to track and monitor the species. According to TPWD, all doves should be inspected and if present, all bands should be reported. Previous studies indicate that two-thirds of banded doves taken by hunters were never reported.

"High reporting rates maximize return on hunting license dollars spent for needed management information," TPWD says. "Please report bands to the toll-free telephone number 1-800-327 BAND (2263) or on the Internet at http://www.reportband.gov."

Dove dates

For the Central Zone, which includes Erath County, regular season will be held Sept. 1-Oct 24 and Dec. 25-Jan. 9, 2011.