It was 0HHH-One Hundred hours (1am) as I start three-hundred-mile drive from Montgomery to the town of Uvalde, Texas on Monday, December 27th 2021. Clear skies with a dry and open road were a welcomed start for my two-day adventure with Outfitter Mark Roberts. Seven AM was the scheduled meeting time to rendezvous with the other hunting clients (five dads and their six young sons from SE Louisiana who had wisely driven in the night before). “It’s gonna be foggy” stated Mark on yesterday’s phone call. “Birds will be flying late if they move at all. Those Whitewing don’t like to fly in the fog” he continued. Heck man if I didn’t know any better, I would swear that he was trying to convince me to stay home but pay close attention boys and girls because under promising and over delivering is the hallmark of an apex guide. My drive this morning was darn near perfect right until I cleared the town of Hondo where just as predicted the fog rolled in and it was low beams and tempered speeds for the final forty miles. A seventy acre hunting field located a literal stones throw from the north side of town would be the playing field; roughly 30 acres of standing sunflower (planted by Mark himself eight months earlier) surrounded by 25 acres of flat fence line ground, overlooked by 15 acres of rocky brush filled hillside. “Well, you got the fog part correct” I jeered at Mark as I stepped from my truck. “I see that you are still sipping coffee from that old bent-up Yeti mug you ran over with your tractor.” I continued… “Why wouldn’t I?” he replied with a smile “doesn’t make sense to get rid of something that still works”. Mark is a slightly salted yet thoroughly seasoned Dove outfitter whom I formally met a year earlier primarily because he was the only guide I could find with any huntable population of birds. He is a genuine native of Uvalde County whose family took up permanent residence there around the end of the Civil War. He is also the owner of a meat processing market about “half a beers drive north of town” (Mark’s sarcastic words, not mine) that has served the likes of Dolph Briscoe (former Governor of Texas, legendary landowner, and cattle man for all you young whippersnappers out there). “No need to rush you all into the field” Mark addressed the group. “The birds you will be hunting this morning are White Wings, notorious for their pattern of late morning arrival”. “Not the same kind of birds you experienced in September” he continued “these are Kansas birds, well-educated along their migration south, they know what a hunter looks like so concealment and discreet movement will be the key to your success today”. His briefing was followed by non-negotiable safety instructions on muzzle trajectory, safety switches and trigger discipline. Wise words for us all but especially young ears that had gathered on the front row ahead of their dads. We followed his red truck into the field where with the benefit of the approaching dawn he could provide us with visual perspective on our options for placement. We would hunt this field from the perimeter areas surrounding the Sunflowers but avoid stepping into the crop itself. Doing so would promote the most birds into the field possible without pressuring the birds out of the area for the sake of future hunts. The fog hung heavy about half a cell tower high dropping a heavy mist over our field. Eight AM came and went without an audible shot from our field or the surrounding areas. By 8:15, just about the time when everyone’s guard was sufficiently dulled, a flurry of Mourning doves swooshed low from two of the four fence lines and into the safety of the Sunflowers with narry a shot. “I thought you said these would all be White Wings” I shouted over at Mark who simply shrugged his shoulders with a well-timed grin over the top of his coffee mug. The hour of 9am, and then 9:30 came and went without event. It wasn’t until around 9:55am when we got our very first look at a single Whitewing entering the field, high and out of range times two. It was soon followed by three more… then seven… and then as many as 30 – 50+. Our hunters held their shots as the birds made their approach from town in growing numbers, many dropping straight into the crop, some simply swirling high overhead only to exit just as quickly as they had approached. These birds proved themselves every bit as smart and cautious as Mark had promised. It was both magnificent and a little frustrating to witness how so many could approach and enter the field without providing any credible opportunity for a shot. Most of the birds that were harvested flew in small numbers, lower with their craw full of seeds as they exited the fields. Many eyes see many things, our chances of being identified as threat was indeed directly proportional to the size of the group that approached. The afternoon hunt for this field began at 12:00 pm sharp. I know this because at that very time the birds were just as active as they had been roughly two hours earlier. Never-the-less, it was time for me to move. Mark had offered me an opportunity to hunt a new area (to me) on the SE side of La Pryor and the meeting time was at 1:30; just enough time to clean half a limit, check into my hotel, grab a bite and boogie 30mi south to rendezvous with him and his incoming group of new hunters. This playing field would be much larger and diverse than what we hunted earlier. Mourning doves, exactly what you would expect to hunt this far from town, and soon my suspicions were confirmed as we stirred up a gaggle of them loafing along the tree line just shy of the area where we would park. “Hunt where you like just stay out of the Spinach” was Mark’s only directive. It was roughly 300 acres of plowed ground, cut Sesame, cut Milo, standing Milo with the Nueces River on one side, a perimeter tree line, half a dozen Pivot sprinklers and yes at least 30 acres of Spinach crop… Plenty of birds and plenty of options for hunting them… My kind of hunt. There were seven other people for this afternoon’s hunt: four from Austin, two from Houston and one from Iowa. The Austin crew camo-ed up, ammo-ed up, grabbed their smoke poles and posted themselves along the tree line where we had encountered our drive-in birds. Team Houston/Iowa donned BRIGHT HUNTER’S ORANGE GAME VESTS, ammo-ed up, grabbed their smoke poles and posted up in the middle of the un-cut Milo field…… Now, I have learned a great deal over the last 40 years about late season dove hunting but make no mistake, I’m a long way from knowing it all. There may in fact be a legitimate reason for wearing bright orange vests to hunt the most sight gifted, and wary of all avian species on the planet… However, if there is a reason… it is definitely beyond my ability to comprehend, but I digress. My choice of action at 2pm this afternoon was to grab my field glasses and hold tight to the trucks. Observation is information, the hour was early, the birds were not yet moving and there were many indications that their feeding pattern could be late considering that morning’s heavy overcast skies. Scouting aside, reading the playing field is probably the most critical yet overlooked component to a successful hunt. It was in fact a discipline that worked on this hunt as well with most of the shots that afternoon occurring 50 - 100 yards from where we parked. All passing birds, high yet within the limits of 7.5 shot range and all moving at speeds that would challenge the likes of a competition Sporting Clay shooter…My kind of hunt. The next morning it was another foggy 7am start back on the north edge of Uvalde. I began the hunt a bit concerned that many of the birds we had encountered on the previous morning might have educated themselves out of the area. Much to my surprise those fears were unfounded as this morning’s hunt proved to be practically identical to the morning before with the bonus of two Eurasian Collared doves finding their way into my game pouch. The afternoon hunt was very good as well, characterized by a 50% reduction of arriving flights from the hours of 1-3pm however, there was never any time between 10am and 5pm when the doves simply stopped flying all together. My drive home to Montgomery on Wednesday morning was spent in quiet reflection of the last 48 hours with Mark’s hunting outfit. Bird hunting clients have a diverse criterion for how they define success. I believe my experience consisting of two different fields with four different crops, in two different zones (Central & South), shooting three different species of dove (i.e. White Wings, Mourning doves and Eurasian Collared doves) would have surpassed most hunters expectations never-the-less I am quite certain there are a those who would have labeled it one Feral Pidgeon shy of a full grand slam. My many thanks to Mark Roberts (830) 261-9467 and support guides Cliff and Ken for yet another excellent winter season dove hunting adventure. I look forward to my next trip afield with you in 2022.
“Chase your passion with wild abandon, pick-up your hulls and Let’s Go Brandon!”