More than 20 years ago — when my son was just starting his college career and I was still angry at ducks — the two of us packed up for a teal hunt down on the prairies west of Houston.
We were in a line of trucks leaving the field when traffic came to a halt and began moving up one vehicle at a time. I stepped out of the truck to assess the blockage and figured out there were several federal wardens checking plugs and steel shot and limits for the hunters exiting the hunting area.
When I got back into the truck and started moving forward again, my son was staring straight through the front window, kind of pale and sweaty. “Dad, I didn’t get my hunter education class done the way you told me,” he said.
Always the supportive dad, I could say only something to the effect of: “OK, see you when you get out. Let us know what happens.” I really did expect him to get some kind of citation, but since I’d been pestering him to get certified and thought he had, I didn’t have much sympathy for the check he was going to have to write.
When we got to the roadblock, the wardens asked for our license and checked our birds to see that they were separated and sent us on our way. Daniel got back into the truck and let out a breath that could have choked a horse.
“I can’t believe they didn’t check that,” he said. I couldn’t either, but it was a good teaching moment, and he got his certification immediately upon returning to Austin.
I thought of that recently when I was helping my youngest daughter find a hunter education class for my twin grandkids, Ben and Connie. They are 11-years-old now and are ready to start hunting, and they need to get that certification out of the way.
All this has been leading up to this moment. When you head out to hunt doves on or near Sept. 1, be sure you have taken care of the administrative things you need for hunting each fall. Hunter education is one of the things you have to have sooner or later, and it makes sense to get it done before the season, not try to find a midnight class the night before the season opens.
But hunter education is just one thing you’ll need to have taken care of before the season starts, and it’s not the main thing. That would be your new hunting and fishing license. The new licenses kick in Sept. 1 and run through Aug. 31, 2018. They went on sale Aug. 15 at vendors around the state.
And since this is a new year altogether for license holders and hunters in Texas, let’s go through a checklist of some things it makes sense to have with you and in your vehicle when the season opens and dove shooting starts. Things like:
• You’ll need shells and a gun. Before you start thinking how obvious that is, consider what I did when I showed up for the annual Operation Game Thief sporting clays shoot a couple of years back. I had all my boxes of shells in my field bag but picked the wrong shotgun out of my gun cabinet when I was packing up that morning. Twenty-eight gauge shells will NOT fit in a .410 bore. I couldn’t buy .410s at Capitol City and had to borrow a 20-gauge shotgun and buy shells from a display that Joe McBride had set up for the day.
• If you’re shooting an autoloader or a pump, be sure you have a plug in the shotgun from the start. You should not be able to load more than two shells in the magazine while hunting migratory birds.
• Make sure those shells you have are proper for the game you’re chasing — 7½s to 9s for doves and maybe 6s for teal if you’re doing a doubleheader that day. Don’t mix the lead and steel in the field, and make sure they’re separate in your truck.
• Camouflage or neutral earth-toned clothing, particularly shirts, aren’t required, but they’re going to help your success when dove hunting. And while you’re at it, spray your clothes with insect repellent before you leave. Something with permethrin will keep chiggers and ticks off you for a couple of months after a single spraying.
• You’ll need ice and a cooler for cold water and drinks and a separate water container to keep your dog hydrated if you take one with you. I carry a plainly marked plastic 5-gallon water container in the truck that I can pour for my dog to drink or pour over her if she starts to overheat in the blast furnace of an early September hunting day. You be surprised how often that happens here in Texas.
• The ice will help prevent spoilage of your birds while you’re heading home. It helps if you carry plastic food storage bags to put your birds in on the ice. I always have a Sharpie or other permanent marker in the truck to write my name and license number, plus the date of the hunt and the number of birds in that bag. That’s imperative if you have more than one hunter who’s using that ice chest or if you’re hunting more than one day on a particular trip.
• Keep yourself cool with water and wear sunscreen, for sure. Skin cancer isn’t anything to fool around with. Wear a hat to shield your eyes from the sun and to keep the doves from seeing your face. You’d be surprised how many times a dove will flare when a hunter raises his face to the sky.
• And finally, the limit is 15 doves combined. Count them. Know how many you have in your bag, and don’t leave one in there. I still have a smelly game bag from a mourning dove I missed nearly 10 years ago. It’s the worst smell ever.
You don’t have to separate mourning doves or whitewings or leave a wing on the whitewings. Just don’t take more than your share, and keep them separate once they’re on ice.