A Vital Member of the Dove Hunting Family

A native Texan and life-time outdoor enthusiast, Gov. Greg Abbott is among the state’s most supportive advocates of encouraging hunters of all ages and abilities to enjoy what the Lone Star State has to offer.

The former Texas Supreme Court Justice and Attorney General, Abbott was sworn into office as the 48th Governor of Texas on Jan. 20, 2015. Even while serving as one of the state’s most popular elected officials, he and his family have managed to mix outdoor activities into their routine as often as possible. In 1981, he earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in finance from the University of Texas at Austin; the same year he married Cecilia Phalen, daughter
of Mexican immigrants, in San Antonio. He has a special interest in engaging youngsters and the physically disabled in outdoor activities such as dove hunting; spending time outdoors with his daughter, Audrey, whenever he can break away from his official duties. Governor Abbott has been unhindered in his outdoor activities despite being confined to a wheelchair since 1984 when, in a freak accident, an oak tree fell on him while he was jogging.

As a service to our readers, the Texas Dove Hunters Association asked Governor Abbott for a little time out of his very busy schedule to provide his comments and observations about dove hunting and other outdoor activities in the state.

The following are our questions and his responses:

TDHA: Tell us a little about some of your hunting experiences. Do you hunt with your family?
Governor Abbott: Hunting and fishing were a big part of life where I grew up in East Texas. Each year, the calendar seemed to revolve around the first day of dove season. My connection to the land began in earnest as a Boy Scout in Troop 201 in Longview, Texas. We went on camping trips all the time and that’s where I first cultivated that relationship that a person really has with the outdoors. As a father, I have cultivated a love of hunting with my daughter, Audrey. One of my fondest memories is when I took her on her first deer hunt. We went out near sunset and set up in a pup tent waiting for the right deer. As we waited, we spotted a deer about 250 yards away – one shot by my daughter and the deer was down. It was a really memorable experience with my daughter out on her first hunt.

TDHA: Do you have a favorite dove hunting memory?
Governor Abbott: A memorable dove hunt was on Opening Day of 2014. I took a break from the campaign trail—even though it was just a couple of months before the election—and took Audrey out for an afternoon of dove hunting. Hunting with my daughter is just about my favorite way to spend any afternoon. Like it always is on Opening Day in Texas, it was hot, but the birds were plentiful and we had a fantastic black Labrador retriever with us named Maggie. Thanks to Maggie, Audrey and I found all of our birds and went
home with a cooler full of doves.

TDHA: Which part of the state do you prefer to hunt?
Governor Abbott: The great thing about hunting in Texas is that
there are so many great locations to choose from. I don’t have a preferred place to hunt – I’ll take a good dove hunt wherever I can get it! I have lived in Austin since I was appointed to the Texas Supreme Court in 1995, so the closest hunting opportunities for me are in Central Texas. When Audrey and I went hunting on Opening Day in 2014, we hunted on a property just about 20 minutes from the Capitol — and there were plenty of birds, mostly white wings. I’ve also been on some great dove hunts in South Texas, West Texas, and the Panhandle.

TDHA: What are your views on kids learning to hunt?
Governor Abbott: Some of the best bonding experiences have been
on hunting trips with Audrey. It’s more than just landing the perfect buck or taking home doves, it’s about the time we get to spend together. I was proud to support last year’s proposition that enshrined in the Texas Constitution the right to hunt and fish because I want those opportunities preserved for every Texan and every Texas family.

TDHA: What do you enjoy most about dove hunting?
Governor Abbott: For me, one of the most enjoyable parts of dove hunting is the camaraderie. Unlike more solitary forms of hunting, dove hunting allows me to get together with a group of friends and stake out a good pond or tank. Then, when the birds come in and the shots are fired, everyone is excited about birds hit – and missed. I also enjoy the excitement of birds flying up behind you when you least expect it. The whole experience is something I look forward to every year as summer gives way to fall.

TDHA: What other game do you hunt?
Governor Abbott: I love to hunt white-tailed deer. One of my favorite things to do is just get out into the field, where deer are roaming
wild, and be able to track and find the right one.

TDHA: Texas Parks &Wildlife Commission Executive Director Carter Smith has described Texas as the “800 pound gorilla in the room” concerning dove hunting in the U.S. How do you think this helps or hinders the state in working with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which regulates migratory bird hunting across the country?
Governor Abbott: The Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission understands that dove hunting is a very important recreational activity for
many Texans. Texas Parks and Wildlife estimates there are more than 400,000 people that dove hunt in Texas each year. With that many hunters, there is an incentive for Texas and the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service to work together to manage the dove populations so that future Texans can enjoy this great recreational activity. Texas is seeing record number of hunters every year, while dove populations are staying at a constant rate. This shows that Texas hunters understand the importance of conservation; and almost all abide by state dove hunting regulations.

TDHA: There are multiple programs in the Lone Star State designed to assist the disabled, particularly Wounded Warriors, in participating
in the outdoor sports. How is your office supporting or planning to support this type of activity for disabled hunters, particularly dove hunters?

Governor Abbott: My office is actively engaged in providing ways to give back to our disabled veterans. That is why last session, I
signed into law HB 3968 which waives hunting and fishing license fees for veterans that are 50 percent or more disabled. Additionally, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has partnered with organizations like the Texas Dove Hunters Association and the Texas Wildlife Association Youth Hunting Program to host dove hunts for disabled and veteran groups. The Department also offers “Dove Hunting 101” classes led by their Hunter Education staff and volunteers
for disabled hunters. Free licenses are also available for active duty military members.

TDHA: Texas is one of the most popular locations for thousands
of wingshooters from all over the county taking advantage of the millions of doves filling the skies each fall. The overall economic benefit for both local communities and the state is estimated at more than $500 million annually. Are there statewide efforts under way or plans being developed by your office to help promote dove hunting as a family sport for both residents and non-residents alike?

Governor Abbott: My office is constantly looking at new opportunities to promote dove hunting as a family sport. My staff is working
closely with Texas Parks & Wildlife on making dove hunting more readily available. Currently, there are approximately 1.2 million acres of public hunting land spread across Texas that provide areas for families to go out and enjoy dove hunting together. We are always working to expand the number of public hunting areas to make it more accessible to residents and non-residents alike. In turn, this will increase the spread of economic benefit to local communities across the state.

TDHA: The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department has taken an active
role in promoting dove hunting as a safe, family-oriented outdoor activity; conducting programs in partnership with Texas Dove Hunters Association such as the Dove Hunting 101 seminars to help both beginners and experienced hunters. How do you feel about Texas being a role model or setting an example for other states with these types of programs?

Governor Abbott: I believe that Texas needs to continue to be the leader in promoting family-oriented outdoor activities such as dove hunting. With this in mind, we are motivated to increase opportunities like Dove Hunting 101 seminars, which are great resource for hunters of all ages and skill levels. Texas Parks and Wildlife provides many programs to engage hunters of all ages to be more informed, which in turn will make them better conservationists so that dove hunting can be enjoyed for generations to come.

By Ralph Winingham