Managing land properly attracts and holds doves

Dove hunting is a great way to introduce children to hunting or involve them in the sport. They usually get to do a lot of shooting and stay more active. It’s a social experience. (Photo courtesy Dennis “Rusty” Barfield)

For many landowners, dove season begins months before the shooting starts as they prepare their lands to attract and hold birds. New landowners should first seek expert technical help from state or local agencies. Experts can come out to examine the property and make recommendations how to improve it.

“I highly recommend people get professional technical advice before starting something on any property,” said Aaron Barton of Barton Outfitters (469-763-1885, Bartonoutfitters.com) in Oxford, Miss. “They can test the soil pH, make recommendations for fertilizer, give advice on planting schedules and other things to make a good dove field.”

Fulfill their needs

The birds need four basic requirements: food, cover, water and grit to help them digest seeds. In Louisiana and Mississippi, doves usually don’t need to travel far to find water or grit, so concentrate on food. The birds mostly eat seeds of wild plants as well as cultivated crops such as corn, millet, milo, cotton seeds and wheat.

“Doves are strict granivores, almost all seeds, but they do eat a few bugs,” said Jeffrey P. Duguay, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Director of the Research and Species Management Branch. “A weedy field can provide a lot of seeds that doves eat. Browntop millet produces much more seeds per plant than some native weeds.”

Diminutive doves need bare dirt at ground level under a protective leafy canopy that can hide them from predators. They won’t come to forest floors with thick layers of debris on the ground. Sunflower or corn fields offer doves excellent food and overhead cover. White-winged doves especially like sunflowers, often perching on the flower heads to feed. Doves won’t come to a stubble field. Burning eliminates stubble and other clutter at ground level, making it easier for doves to feed.

“Doves see that smoke of a burning field and key in on it,” Duguay said. “I’ve seen where we burn fields and doves start coming in to it that same day.

“Don’t burn the whole field just part of it to get the doves coming in about two weeks ahead of opening day. The next week, burn another strip to keep doves coming in to the property. Throughout the season, prep part of the field if it’s big enough. That way, it will always have seeds on the ground throughout the season.”

Preparing for opening day

Some people only hunt doves in September. Opening day becomes a major social event with friends and families gathered for some good shooting and food. Various plants grow at different rates. For example, browntop millet takes 60 to 90 days to mature. For an opening day hunt, landowners must plant it in early June.

Croton seed is a great natural food for doves. (Photo courtesy Jeffrey Duguay)

“Managing a field for the early or late split is the same except for when we start our preparation,” said Dennis “Rusty” Barfield with Enid Lake Charters (662-719-0601, enidlakecharters@gmail.com) in Cleveland, Miss. “I want the maturity of my crops to be prime on opening day of each split.”

After feeding, doves commonly roost in trees or on powerlines. Trees or brush around field edges give birds places to land, watch for predators and rest. That cover also helps break up the human outlines of hunters. Some landowners erect poles on their fields and string fake electrical wires between them to give the birds perching places.

Before planting or otherwise manipulating a field, study the federal and state game laws. In general, landowners can follow normal accepted agricultural practices to avoid baiting charges. Landowners do not need to harvest their crops. Before hunting season, a landowner might invite the local conservation officer or state biologist to look at the property for legal issues.

About John N. Felsher 47 Articles
Originally from Louisiana, John N. Felsher is a professional freelance writer, broadcaster, photographer and editor who now lives in Alabama. An avid sportsman, he’s written more than 3,600 articles for more than 173 different magazines on a wide variety of outdoors topics. He also hosts an outdoors tips show for WAVH FM Talk 106.5 radio station in Mobile, Ala. Contact him at j.felsher@hotmail.com or through Facebook.