Successful dove hunting can be challenging, but that’s where the knowledge of experienced hunters like Calvin Hudson comes in handy.
Hudson, an Erath County resident and Tarleton State University graduate, retired in 2006 after 26 years as ag teacher and career and technology director at Stephenville High School.
He became an avid hunter at a young age, learning from his father and grandfather.
In his younger years, he was shot by fellow hunters on four different occasions. Fortunately, none of the wounds were life-threatening. He still carries a few randomly-placed shotgun pellets under his skin.
Through the years since then, Hudson soaked up knowledge and now teaches hunter safety education classes. Not surprisingly, he emphasizes safety first, including wearing a bright orange hunting hat and vest, plus the essential advice, “Know your firearm.”
His advice is to make sure you and your entire family have firearm safety training. And when you buy your hunting license pick up a copy of “Shooting Safety Rules” published by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The 2019 hunting season for dove and other migratory birds in Erath County will be Sept. 1 - Nov. 12 and Dec. 20 to January. Those dates are laid out by the TPWD’s map featuring three zones for dove hunting in the state. Erath and surrounding counties — mostly south of Interstate 20 are in the Central Zone.
Hudson said his first experiences were in hunting doves, squirrels and rabbits.
“I started out when I was four or five years old,” Hudson said.
His hunting experience has taken him to places such as Ontario, Canada to Colombia, Brazil, and even to Africa once upon a time.
Hudson hunted bear and also went fishing in Canada. His excursion to Africa was for plains game animals.
“I hunt a little bit of everything,” said Hudson, the owner and operator of a business called Box H Gamebirds for 22 years. He raises pheasant and quail on the Horton Ranch, south of Stephenville. The ranch is owned by Ed Horton, who is often Hudson’s hunting partner.
“I sell birds to other hunting operations,” said Hudson, who graduated from Del Valle High School before earning a degree from TSU in 1978. His first year of teaching at SHS was in 1980.
He supplements his income as a guide on hunting trips.
When dove season rolls around, as it has now, sometimes the prospects are better than others. Doves are migratory, and so far this year there have not been large amounts in this area.
“Doves are just here today, gone tomorrow,” Hudson said. “Some years are better than others.”
He noted that doves are federally protected birds, with strict bag limits. Because they are migratory, hunters are not allowed to set out bait for them.
“The state sets regulations on birds that don’t migrate,” Hudson explained.
One of the favorite things in a dove’s natural food menu is sunflower seeds, so they often will descend on those spots. They also love milo, wheat and other grains.
“Johnson grass, they eat the seeds off of that,” Hudson said. “They like bare ground to feed on. Sometimes they will be in a group of one, two or three. Sometimes they will get in big groups — maybe 15 or 20.”
And, of course, they will often be around water sources.
“Doves will fly 20 miles to get water,” Hudson noted.
But even when the dove are in abundance, nothing is guaranteed. Not only can they be difficult to shoot because of their speed, but they also learn quickly from what they see.
“They are very fast, so it's a very challenging bird to hit. They get smart and stay away from it (areas where hunters have been shooting)," Hudson said. "We kind of rotate around the fields. They mainly move early in the morning and in the evening. They are a very skittish bird. You want to stay pretty (camouflaged). Stay hid, be still.”
Beyond the sporting aspect of dove hunting, they are tasty.
“You can fry them, wrap them in bacon, grill them,” Hudson said. “Doves are excellent eating.”
Hudson said that mourning doves are the most common in this part of Texas. The largest type of dove seen in this region are the Eurasion variety, which have no limit because they are a non-native bird. The smaller Mexican turtle doves are also among the mix here.