Corey Mason grew up invested in the outdoors and has worked with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for more than 11 years.
“I’ve been dove hunting since I was a child before I could carry a shotgun in a field with my grandfather and father, serving as the bird boy,” Mason says.
The formative years he spent chasing frogs inspired Mason to purchase his own shotgun and take hunting, just as his father and grandfather did.
“Dove hunting is a passion of mine,” he says. “A lot of children and adults are introduced to this hunter sport because there is no real financial output.”
Mason explains that a hunter simply needs a shotgun, box of shells and few acres of land to be successful at dove hunting.
Now an adult, Mason works as the Migratory Shore and Upland Game bird Program Leader at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Dove hunting is the traditional opening sport of the hunting seasons in Texas and generates the most hunting efforts in the state. “There are about 300,000 dove hunters in Texas alone,” Mason says.
Texas harvests about a third of the dove hunted in the nation, with an annual harvest of six million doves a year, he says.
The reason there is a high population of doves in Texas stems back to the vast number of brush, nesting habitat and food production in native annual plants and agriculture crops, Mason says.
“Dove hunting is steep in culture in Texas. There are dove events celebrated in local communities around the state,” Mason says. “Dove hunting is something Texas is proud of.”
Getting family involved
Dove hunting is a wonderful way to get children involved in hunting sports. Participants take away precious, long-lasting memories with their family and important safety and ethical lessons.
Zavalla native and retired rancher Bruce Barnes, reminiscing on his early childhood years, recalls learning how to shoot and the lessons he learned while receiving lessons from his father.
“I was six years old and very eager for the right of passage. I thought I knew all there was about the rifle, which was pretty much true,” Barnes says. “But my easygoing dad was very serious about safety, a fact I really couldn’t fathom until I started to teach my own kids, but I did learn, and I consider myself a safe shooter because of his concern.”
Barnes took the lessons to heart and wanted to pass them down to his children.
“All my kids I taught to shoot. I bought all of them their first .22 rifle,” he says.
Barnes’ daughter took up hunting after she was married, and he was proud to say she still uses the skills he taught her years ago, now to provide for her family.
“They still depend on hunting to provide meat for their family because they can’t afford to buy beef,” he says.
Barnes says learning to shoot also teaches responsibility.
“Other than learning to shoot, what my dad taught me is that gun ownership is a responsibility not be taken lightly,” he says. “You have the power of life and death in your hands. You have to know your target and what’s behind it.”
Bruce mentioned young hunters also learn lessons in ethics, such as not hunting out of season, taking only what you can use and how to make a humane, one-shot kill.
Safety and hunting
The state requires hunters to complete a hunter education course, allowing them to better grasp hunting and safety skills. The certification doesn’t expire and is recognized by all states requiring a hunter education course to be taken.
Hunter education covers the skills, regulations and responsibilities of hunting, wildlife conservation and the outdoors, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife website. Every year, more than 30,000 youth and adults in Texas become certified in hunter education.”
Every hunter, even out-of-state hunters, born on or after Sept. 2, 1971, must successfully complete the course or be accompanied while hunting. The minimum age for becoming certified is nine.
Texas Parks and Wildlife employee and hunter-education coordinator Terry Erwin stresses the course’s importance.
“After completing the course, the main thing to consider is pointing that muzzle in a safe direction,” Erwin says. “You should practice shooting clay birds first, they will (help you) gain skills to become a better hunter.”
Wearing orange is an important safety precaution while spending time with family and friends in the field. Erwin says you should always wear blaze orange, at the very least an orange hat.
“Doves can see colors, “Erwin says. “But if you’re still, you won’t shy the birds away.”
Erwin lists several safety tips for young hunters heading out to the field for the first time, dog and gun in tow.
“Don’t shoot at anything you don’t want to kill. Don’t shoot until you’re ready. Treat every gun like it’s loaded,” he explains. “Make sure of your target, what’s in front of and what’s beyond.”
Taking children on their first hunt can bring long-lasting memories to store away in their memory bank. But be prepared with the knowledge of safety in the field to ensure not only a fun first hunting experience but also a safe one, allowing them to gain life lessons to remember years down the road.