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Successful dove fields require early planning
RAYMOND, Miss. -- With opening day of dove season a few months away, many hunters have begun thinking about finding a perfect field.
Hunters with access to harvested grain fields or hay meadows have ready-made dove fields. However, many hunters without access to farms or pastureland will contact the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks or the local office of the Mississippi State University Extension Service to ask about preparing a dove field. Unfortunately, waiting until August is too late. The time to begin planning a dove field is now.
A wide variety of crops and native vegetation works great for dove fields. The first key ingredient to a successful dove field is an abundance of seed. Doves primarily eat seeds and consume very little insect matter or green forage.
Secondly, the seed in the field must be easily accessible to the doves. Doves prefer to feed on the ground in light cover. Because they have weak feet, doves seldom scratch for food. They seek out open areas where the ground is clean. Seed must be exposed or found among very light ground litter.
Finally, a successful dove field must be located in an area traditionally used by doves. Quite often, a well-prepared field will receive little use by doves simply because it is located in the wrong area.
The mourning dove is the single most popular game bird in the country. In Mississippi, more mourning doves are harvested each year than any other game bird species. Only the squirrel outranks it as the most hunted small game species. The dove’s popularity among hunters is due primarily to its quick flight and erratic movements -- not to mention its good flavor. People also enjoy the season for the tradition and high level of social interaction associated with a Mississippi dove hunt.
Doves have four basic habitat needs: food, cover, water and grit or gravel. When planning a field for mourning doves, select a location that meets each of these needs. Doves will travel for food, but they prefer food sources that are nearby.
Baiting is always a concern. Here are a few guidelines that will keep you out of trouble. It is legal to grow a crop and then manipulate the crop to make seed grown on-site readily available to doves. However, it is illegal to add seed to the field or remove seed and bring it back later. Contact a conservation officer for information regarding the regulations pertaining to baiting.
After deciding on a location for a dove field, the next step is the easiest one of all. Always start with a soil test. Apply lime and fertilizer at the rates recommended by the soil test results. Poor soil fertility equals poor yields.
Although doves will feed on a variety of different seeds, there are a few that stand out above the rest. Browntop Millet, Dove proso millet, Peredovik (black oil) sunflower, wheat and native warm-season plants are some of the more popular and productive crops used in Mississippi dove fields.
A traditional Southern dove hunt can provide wing shooters with a lot of enjoyment in September, but May is the best time to plan a hunt. To ensure yourself a great dove field this fall, start planning and planting now. Otherwise, you may have to settle for a mediocre, but expensive, private shoot.
For seeding and management recommendations, go online to http://extension.msstate.edu and search for dove fields. You will find plenty of information on setting up and maintaining a dove field.
Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service.