Outfitters Find Prime Shooting Locations For Their Clients

Good dove hunting outfitters have to develop a variety of skill sets, put in a lot of hard work and be just a little bit lucky to consistently find prime time shooting locations for their clients.

Those that can’t produce quality bird-busting opportunities don’t stay in business very long.

Probably the most important of the skills that define a top-notch outfitter is the ability to scout out locations where hunters hungry for wingshooting excellence will experience a bird bonanza. That might sound simple, but if it were easy, anybody could do it.

“I normally start my day driving out early, park in my pickup and sit drinking coffee while I watch the fields,” said Mark Roberts, who operates Mark Roberts Dove Hunting based in Uvalde.

“I like to be there when the sun comes up. If you watch the fields and power lines, when the birds are there, you will see them,” he said.

Roberts manages about 4,000 acres of hunting property, equally split between the Central and South Zones, and regularly plants bird-attracting crops to improve the chances of attracting doves. Relying on a variety of potential hunting locations allows him the flexibility he needs to provide ample winged target opportunities for his hunting groups.

In addition, he is fortunate to have access to a healthy population of Eurasian Collared Doves at some sites that can serve as a fall-back hunting opportunity if the migratory birds do not cooperate. As non-migratory birds falling under the category of exotics, the Eurasians generally stay in one area, can be shot at any time and do not count as part of a daily bag limit.

“I also depend a lot on farmers out on their tractors calling me on their cell phones when they see a lot of birds. It is a good network,” he said.

Another veteran outfitter in the Uvalde area, Joe Elder of Elderado Hunting, said in addition to staying in cell phone contact with area farmers to obtain bird reports, he personally visits fields no more than a day or two before a hunt to make sure doves are in the air.

“Even with that, I have seen a lot of birds in a field on a Thursday night and then Friday morning on a hunt there is nothing. When that happens, it sucks,’’ he said.

Being able to relocate his hunting groups to another of the more than a dozen sites within a 50-minute drive can save the day if the birds are a no show, Elder added.

After more than 15 years in the business, the outfitter, whose main lodge is in Uvalde but who also maintains a smaller operation in Del Rio, said that working around weather conditions is the hardest part of the scouting routine.

“Cool winds can blow the birds right out of an area overnight, so we have to be prepared to move our hunters quickly,” he said.

Brian Kanke with Busted Feathers Outfitters based in Moore, said that scouting for birds every afternoon is part of their daily routine of managing hunting sites in about 11 different counties.

“We don’t invite anyone down here if we don’t think they will get an easy limit. When we have booked hunters, we notify them about two days out to let them know they will be hunting where we have seen the birds,’’ Kanke said.

“The hunters want to see birds and they want to shoot birds, we make sure that happens,’’ he said, adding that they always accompany their hunters on the food plots they have planted and farmed to make sure the wingshooting action is hot and heavy. If it isn’t, the hunters are relocated.

Based in D’Hanis and covering three counties, Jason Schneemann with Down South Adventures said his scouting efforts start in May when he monitors food plots and really kick into high gear when the season opens.

“I’m on the road every day of the week, sometimes in the morning and sometimes in the evening. My hunters are paying me to get an edge on the birds and I have to be one step ahead of the doves monitoring their patterns,’’ he said.

Ed Micaletti of The WingSport Depot near Dallas said their operation is constantly in scouting mode. In addition, the outfitters stay with their hunting groups to pick up and relocate whenever hunting conditions are less than ideal.

“We have seven or eight different areas spread out across three counties, all within an hour drive, so we can easily move hunters if it is necessary,’’ he said.

“Last year we had to move a lot because the birds were really spread out,’’ Micaletti added, explaining that monitoring the hunting sites as often as possible helps the outfitter keep a close tab on area birds.

“We are not going to just turn people out on a piece of property if there are no birds there. If something happens and the birds aren’t moving, we give the hunters a refund or offer them another hunt on our nickel,’’ he said.

The importance of high quality scouting techniques is not lost on John Hart of La Media Lodge near McAllen, who said they spend at least four to five hours a day in an attempt to pinpoint the birds.

“There are a limited number of birds and a limited number of hours in the day when you can find them – a couple hours in the early morning and a couple hours before dark.

“Scouting is an ongoing process because the birds are not going to congregate in the same fields every day,’’ Hart said.

The hunting operation has been in business for about 20 years and has fields in about four or five different counties, he added.

Mark Katzfey of Katzfey Ranches based in George West said that driving the roads looking for birds at food plots and water tanks at least four or five days ahead of a hunt has been a key to his operation during the past 17 years.

“We scout our hunting areas in Live Oak and San Patricia counties regularly so we can put our hunters on plenty of birds. If it does get slow, we just rotate them to another field,” he said.

In addition to these top-notch outfitters, other operations that have met the Texas Dove Hunters Association’s high standards are available at www.texasdovehunters.com/dayleases.

By Ralph Winningham