Plan Now For Fall Dove Hunting

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Now is the time to begin planning and preparation of fields to attract doves during the upcoming season. The mourning dove is one of the most popular game species in the Southeast, and fall dove shoots are a South Carolina tradition.

Large numbers of doves will feed on waste grains and weed seeds in harvested peanut, corn and wheat fields. Fields can also be planted especially for dove hunting. It is legal to plant a field with grains attractive to doves, and harvest or mow all or part of it, or none of it at all, and shoot doves over the area. Dove hunters are reminded that shooting over top-sown grains is not permitted. Well-managed dove fields will provide benefits to doves and other wildlife before and after the hunting season as well.

Several factors should be considered when planning a dove field. Generally, a dove field should consist of about one acre per hunter, and be a minimum of 3 acres in size. Fields should not be located near busy highways, residential areas, schools, hospitals, etc. Also, doves seem to prefer fields away from large blocks of woods.

A single field can be manipulated to attract good numbers of doves through the season by alternating strips of several different crops. For example, browntop millet, which will mature in 60-70 days, will provide food during the early dove season. Dove proso millet was developed primarily for doves and will mature in 80-90 days. Dove proso should be available after the browntop seed falls. A late-maturing corn could then be planted on the remaining strips to provide late season food. Sunflowers are also an excellent dove field planting. Select small-seeded, black oil-seed varieties as doves prefer these over the larger striped-shell sunflowers.

Planted strips within fields should be 30-50 feet wide, and it is important to keep dove fields weed-free. Doves have weak feet and will not use a field where they have to scratch and search for food. For this reason, it is best to plant in rows to facilitate cultivation. Herbicides labeled for the various plantings are also recommended. Row-plantings also make finding downed birds easier.

Dove fields should be planted on dates that allow the seed to mature about two weeks prior to hunting. This allows the birds time to locate the food source and become accustomed to feeding in the field. Overshooting will drive doves away from even a high-quality dove field. A field should not be hunted more than once or twice a week, and the birds should be allowed to feed unmolested during the last two hours of daylight. A particular field should be hunted morning or afternoon, not both.

After the close of dove season, fields should not be plowed under. The planted crops as well as associated weed seeds will continue to provide the birds with a reliable food source throughout the remainder of winter and early spring. It may be beneficial to lightly disc a few strips through fields covered with heavy vegetation to assist doves in finding scattered seeds.

Landowners interested in dove field recommendations should contact the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, Small Game Project, at (803) 734-3609, or their local DNR regional wildlife biologist.

Pending approval by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the S.C. Natural Resources Board, 2003-04 mourning dove hunting season dates will be Sept. 1 - Oct. 4, Nov. 22-29, and Dec. 19 - Jan. 15. Afternoon hunting only (noon to sunset) will be allowed from Sept.1-6. The bag limit is 12 doves per hunter per day.