The hunting of doves in late summer has been a southern tradition for generations. Dove hunting offers an early opportunity for wing shooting as well as a great social atmosphere for friends and family to spend time in the field. An action-packed dove hunt is also a great way to introduce kids to hunting and to make memories they will cherish for years to come. While a great dove hunt surely involves some amount of luck, hard work and preparedness can help shift the odds of having a productive field in your favor. Here are a few tips that will help you impress your hunting party and avoid wasting time and money.
Select the Right Location
Most hunters know it is a good strategy to plant their dove field near a water source with habitat for perching and roosting nearby. However, many hunters select areas based solely on these factors and fail to consider the soils under their feet. High preference plantings like sunflowers, milo, and corn need highly productive soils with good moisture holding capacity. Excessively well-drained soils may be better suited to browntop millet or even broadcast wheat per state regulations. Use an online resource, such as Web Soil Survey, or contact your local private lands biologist (www.mdwfp.com/privatelands) to help select the best site for planting.
When planting sunflowers or corn, larger fields (greater than 10 acres) are often necessary to offset losses of matured seed crops from predation by other birds and mammals. Additionally, young sunflowers are susceptible to browsing by white-tailed deer. In areas with high deer density, it might be wise to plant larger fields of sunflowers or to select other plantings such as browntop millet, sesame, or buckwheat.
Plant at the Right Time
Doves will not come to a field out of loyalty. They are there to gather food from agronomic crops, for the most part. To ensure seeds are available for doves, establish crops so that they will fully mature at least two weeks before hunting. For instance, hunters planting peredovik sunflowers (110-day maturity) for an opening day hunt should plant no later than mid-April. For hunters wishing to provide new food sources as the hunting season progresses, plantings can be spaced throughout the recommended planting “window” of dates to provide areas with varying times of seed maturity. Using a variety of crops with different maturation periods can also accomplish this staggering of seed development through time.
Summon Your Inner Farmer
For many hunters, their primary exposure to farming is planting winter plots for deer. Winter food plots can be forgiving, in that the goal is to produce forage over a long period. Successful dove plantings need to produce seed at a precise time. Managing for this type of seed production is exceedingly difficult, just ask a row-crop farmer.
Highly productive crops like sunflowers, milo, and corn require precise planting, soil amendments, and weed control. Most experienced hunters establish these crops using a well-calibrated planter and conventional seedbed preparation; though a no-till seed drill is also a great option. The goal is to manage the density and spacing of plants to maximize seed production. Planting in rows also facilitates nitrogen fertilization using injection after the planting has established.
Weed control is also critical to maintain the bare ground that doves need to forage. There are several weed control options for sunflowers, milo, and corn including row cultivation, pre- and postemergence herbicides, or some combination of mechanical and chemical weed control. Given that row cultivation requires specialized equipment, the best method is often a combination of pre- and postemergence herbicide applications. For best results with sunflowers apply a tank mix of 4 ounces of Spartan® and 1.3 pints of Dual Magnum® per acre at the time of planting (conventional tillage or no-till). Once the sunflowers are established, grass weeds may become a problem. If this occurs, apply 8-10 ounces per acre of Select over the top of the established sunflowers. For postemergence applications, add a non-ionic surfactant to the tank at a rate of 1 quart per 100 gallons of solution to improve herbicide uptake. When using herbicides it is important to follow the recommendations on the herbicide label.
Preparing the Field for Hunting
Dove field managers should begin manipulating portions of their standing crops 10-14 days prior to hunting to begin attracting doves to the site. The goal of manipulations should be to provide loose, scattered seeds (most commonly by mowing) on top of relatively clean ground so doves can easily access them. A single planting can have lasting benefits by continually manipulating new areas throughout the season. If grasses or weeds begin to develop after manipulations, an additional herbicide application may be necessary to maintain bare ground. Light disking in narrow strips can also be effective for creating bare ground next to managed food sources.
Dove hunting is a great way to enjoy Mississippi’s great natural resources. To learn more about dove plantings or other habitat management issues, please visit our website at www.mdwfp.com/privatelands. For answers to specific questions you might have about your field, call us at (601) 432-2199.