Each year, about 400,000 hunters head afield in Texas in pursuit of doves, ducks, and other flying fowl. So you can bet that right now, bird hunting aficionados across the great State of Texas are shooting clays, rustling up game bags, and getting insect repellent and sunscreen in their field kits in preparation for the various bird seasons that open Sept. 1.
Wingshooters really need to be aware of stiff penalties that are attached to migratory-bird hunting regulations,” said Edwin Walker, Independent Program Attorney for U.S. & Texas Law Shield in Houston. “The penalties aren’t just monetary—they can involve jail time, and you can get caught and prosecuted even if you are unaware that you’re breaking certain laws.”
Walker explained that migratory game birds are those species designated in conventions between the United States and several foreign nations for the protection and management of these birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 U.S.C. 703-712).
By regulation, migratory game birds in Texas include all wild species of ducks, mergansers, geese, brant, coots, rails, gallinules, plovers, Wilson’s snipe or jacksnipe, woodcock, mourning doves, white-winged doves, white-tipped (white-fronted) doves, red-billed pigeons, band-tailed pigeons, shorebirds of all varieties and sandhill cranes. Does not include exotic collared-dove and Egyptian Geese.
In Texas, mourning-dove bird hunting tops most hunters’ prep list, and every year game wardens cite dove hunters for a variety of infractions related to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA, 16 USC 703 – 712), which many hunters may not know about. But ignorance of the game laws is no excuse, Walker said.
He notes that the MBTA creates two types of consequences for violations of its bird hunting provisions: criminal penalties and forfeitures. It is a misdemeanor to violate any provision of the Act, with punishment of a maximum fine of $15,000 or imprisonment up to six months or both. But it is a felony to “knowingly” take a bird with the intent to sell or to sell a bird, with penalty of a maximum fine up to $2,000 or imprisonment up to one year or both. (§ 707(b)-(c)).
Bird Hunting: Shotgun Capacity Limited to Three Shells
In addition to the United States Code and federal regulations, Texas hunters are also covered by the laws of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Code and the regulations of the Texas Administrative Code.
For instance, one of the most common bird hunting mistakes is shooting a semi-auto or pumpgun that can hold too many shells.
Walker pointed out that the regulations define a “Legal Shotgun” as a “Shotgun not larger than 10-gauge, fired from the shoulder, and incapable of holding more than three shells. Shotguns capable of holding more than three shells must be plugged with a one-piece filler which cannot be removed without disassembling the gun, so the gun’s total capacity does not exceed three shells.”
“The capacity limit for shotguns is a total of three shells,” said Walker, “so that means one shell in the chamber and two in the magazine. The magazine must be plugged so it can’t hold more than two shells, and many shotguns come from the manufacturers without the plug installed. It’s a simple matter to open the magazine tube on most repeaters and install the plug, but customers sometimes overlook this simple step and get into the field with an unplugged gun. It can be disastrous.”
Hunting Over Bait
Another area that snares hunters is inadvertently hunting over bait. The law is very clear that it is the hunter’s responsibility to know whether or not he or she is hunting over a baited field.
According to the publication “Dove Management In Texas” produced by the Texas Cooperative Extension, (now called Texas A&M AgriLife Extension), regulatory changes adopted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1999 defined key terms relative to baiting to clarify the conditions to legally hunt migratory game birds, including doves. A printable version of the information created by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service can be found at the following link: https://www.fws.gov/le/pdf/dove-hunting-and-baiting.pdf.
The document defines a baited area as “any area where salt, grains or other feeds have been placed, exposed, deposited, distributed or scattered if they could serve as a lure or attraction for migratory game birds.” A baited area cannot be hunted until at least 10 days after all bait is removed.
Walker said, “The distance a person can hunt from a baited area, including deer or quail feeders, is not absolute. Court rulings vary, depending on factors such as weather, topography and flight patterns of the birds. The definition of a bird hunting baited area does not make an exception for deer and quail feeders, so avoid hunting in areas where these feeders are located.”
Hunting over a field or food plot that has been manipulated by shredding, burning, or windrowing is legal for dove hunting, but not for waterfowl, according to the USFWS. For bird hunting doves, you can do anything to the crop except harvest and redistribute it onto the same field.
An exception to this rule is the practice of “top-sowing,” which is broadcasting seed of wheat or rice with a fertilizer spreader or from an airplane. Doves cannot be hunted in such fields unless this practice is considered a normal agricultural practice for that area. Before hunting, check with a local game warden to make sure you are in compliance with hunting regulations.
Bird Hunting: Other Infractions
Hunting citation figures compiled by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department highlight some other areas that accounted for the bulk of mourning dove and white-winged dove violations in recent seasons.
— Walker said bird hunting without a license is a common oversight. “Some hunters may feel the risk of being caught without the proper documentation isn’t that high,” he said, “but the cost of a license sure beats the cost of a citation.”
— Exceeding the bag/possession limit nabs a bunch of hunters, Walker said. “‘Double dipping,’ that is, shooting a limit of doves in the morning and then again in the afternoon, is a violation. Also, hunters shouldn’t ‘share’ birds to manipulate the possession bag limits.”
— Hunting without migratory game bird stamp endorsement. This is a separate fee that isn’t included on a standard hunting license.
Click here to see the opening-day dates, zone maps, and other bird hunting migratory bird regulations on the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department website. Or consult the agency’s Outdoor Annual regulations booklet when you buy your license and stamps.
Hunter Shield Protects Hunters and Anglers
Did you know that more than 16,000 violations are recorded by Texas Game Wardens every year? Mistakes in the woods and on water happen, and while unintentional, you could still be breaking the law.
If you have questions about year-round bird hunting regulations, Texas Law Shield is here to help. Members of Texas Law Shield’s Hunter Shield program have access to attorneys to get the answers they need concerning not only year-round game, but hunting and fishing laws in general. In addition, members are granted discounted entry to Sportsman Law Seminars. Seminars include access to former game wardens and attorneys who are also seasoned hunters. Add Hunter Shield to your existing Texas Law Shield membership for only $2.95 per month.
Not a member of Texas Law Shield? Join today to expand your education as a sportsman and ensure your hunting and fishing questions are answered by trustworthy sources who know the law.