posted on July 26, 2004 00:00
ALBANY – Fast-flying dove are a fickle lot as every wing-shooter knows. They're often here today in droves ahead of early autumn cold fronts and gone tomorrow by the time the dew dries.
But Rob Hailey, a Shackelford County rancher, has learned to entice the birds to linger on his place, and he's cashing in on that knowledge.
"It boils down to the same old ‘food, water and habitat' mantra," said Hailey. "There's nothing new there. The real secret is to enhance each of these factors to the point that the birds actually want to stay here rather than migrate."
Rocky Vinson, Texas Cooperative Extension agriculture agent in Shackelford County, works closely with Hailey. He said Hailey knows what it takes to attract and keep doves on a place.
"He's observed them for years," said Vinson. "His dove hunting operation is not the usual brief field-hunting scheme many farmers offer following grain harvest. Hailey actually manages for the birds year-round along with his other wildlife ventures of deer, quail and Rio Grande turkey.
"He's a manager who meets the birds' needs by making good use of the natural and material resources he has on hand," said Vinson. "He's the most innovative person I know. He plants about 400 acres in food plots annually to try and meet the doves' needs all year. But he also relies heavily on the forbs seeds found naturally in the soil. He ‘activates' croton, ragweed, snow-on-the-mountain and other plants whose seeds doves love by disking strips, or what he calls ‘zigzags' through the rangeland. These zigzags done in late winter along with roadside disking, stimulate germination and result in an explosion of natural dove fodder. The birds greatly benefit, and Hailey is not out much more than a little fuel and tractor-time.
"By studying the habits of doves, he's figured out the birds like to rest and roost in large dead trees. So he has killed many mesquites that border his food plots and left them standing for the doves' use. He's even strung artificial ‘power lines' near sunflower patches because he noticed the birds love to rest and stage on the real thing before they begin to feed. It's this type of attention to detail that has made Hailey's wildlife venture the success it is."
Hailey is also a big proponent of providing water for the birds. He's made and installed shallow concrete troughs 50 feet from the 21 livestock water troughs on the place.
These bird troughs are 2 feet square with a water-holding depression formed with an old, worn 22-inch disk from a harrow. These are located on the east side of a bush or tree which gives the birds some protective cover and helps shade the water from the hot afternoon summer sun.
Hailey said people often wonder why the birds can't drink from the livestock troughs.
"The cattle trough is too high for the baby, not-able-to-fly-yet birds," he said. "And when they are able to fly up to the rim of the cattle trough, they might fall in and drown. So I designed the shallow bird waterer to be fed from the cattle trough at ground level. This setup has worked very well. They are used a lot by all types of wildlife."
Hailey's September dove hunts are on weekends. The place is then rested during the week to give the birds time to settle down and return to the area. Most of these hunts are comprised of business firms entertaining clients and personnel. There may be as many as 70 people involved in one weekend. Hailey also hosts a youth hunt the first weekend of October.
"The kids are screened through a rather intensive process and must be certified through the hunter safety course," said Hailey. "A parent must accompany the youth and be side by side with them at all times while they are in the field. No hunting is allowed by the parent the first evening. The following day, both parent and child can hunt together."
The 2,500-acre ranch is located 15 miles northeast of Abilene in western Shackelford County. The property was originally owned by Hailey's grandfather. It's been in the family for more than 100 years. It and two adjoining sections he and his wife, Jo, lease were once a cattle operation. Today the only cattle on the place are longhorn steers kept mainly for aesthetics. The ranch is now managed for a balance of game and non-game birds and deer, a challenge Hailey said is much more enjoyable than the cattle business.
Hailey earned a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Florida and a master's degree in finance from Oklahoma City University. He also spent time in the U.S. Army as a Green Beret in Germany. He then served a 15-year stint with IBM before returning to the ranch.
"I wanted to try to get this place operational before I was 65," said Hailey. "I just did not want to be sitting in a rocking chair and saying I wished I would have done A, B, or C ... So I bit the bullet and came back here in 1981. My wife is still upset with me since our standard of living went downhill rather rapidly! But when friends come to visit, they always say ‘I know why you did what you did.' It's great. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.
"I have always loved the outdoors. Hence, I do not consider this a job, even though it is our main source of income. My wife does teach school in Abilene, which is a great help. I thank the Lord every day for letting me be the caretaker of this place."
Hailey tries to attend every Extension and Natural Resources Conservation Service meeting he can. "These folks have helped me a lot," he said. "There is always something to be learned. If I believe something I've heard will work, I will try it. Both agencies have been helpful in planning and executing prescribed burns and plant identification. They're also good sounding boards for ideas I might have. They are a great tool and resource for me and my operation."
To learn more about Hailey's operation and other innovative dove-related ventures, attend one of a series of Dove Symposiums in August. Dates and the general locations are:
-Aug. 12-13 in Wichita Falls;
-Aug. 19-20 in Coleman; and
-Aug. 26-27 in Uvalde.
The symposiums are sponsored by Extension, Texas Wildlife Association of Texas, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and Dove Sportsman Society. Co-sponsors are Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society and Texas Farm Bureau.
For more information on the dove symposiums, check out http://texnat.tamu.edu , contact the Extension office in any of the host counties or Dr. Dale Rollins at (325) 653-4576,