Lovey Dovey

Few people go through the trouble of planting rows of grain for the 70 days of dove season, but that’s OK, because the Department of Wildlife & Fisheries has already done it for you.

Louisiana will really be a “Sportsman’s Paradise” for those outdoorsmen who enjoy the challenge of wing shooting for speedy gray bullets that buzz grain fields in the fall.

That is, if the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has anything to do with it.

When the first split of the state’s three-part dove season opens on Sept. 4, the DWF expects to have dove fields planted on 13 wildlife management areas across the state and some dove habitat on a handful of other WMAs.

In addition, the DWF plans to lease between a half-dozen and a dozen fields across the state, based on what kind of grain and doves they find the week before the season.

Where will the best hunting most likely be, and when?

Mike Olinde, a wildlife division program manager for the DWF, said that opening-weekend success may vary across the state — even across parishes — depending on factors such as: how much rain has fallen, whether landowners have been able to harvest grain crops, and how many doves have migrated into an area.

“The highest dove populations in September will be in the northern part of the state,” said Olinde, who has been involved in a project trapping and tagging doves to trace their movements. “I look at parishes like Madison and Tensas and Carroll — the counties in the Mississippi Delta have the best populations, in all honesty.

“There is a lot of interest in the southern part of the state, but in the northern part of the state, it seems like they’re more interested early, then it goes the other way. You’ve got more people in the southern part of the state who have more interest in hunting doves the whole year. And hunters will have the most luck in the southern part of the state, in terms of WMAs.”

Olinde said that hunters will be limited to noon-to-sunset hunting on the opening weekends of each of the three parts of the season: Sept. 4-5, Oct. 9-10 and Dec. 18-19. The rest of the season, hunting will be allowed from 30 minutes before sunrise until sunset. The 70-day season will be divided into Sept. 4-12, Oct. 9-Nov. 14 and Dec. 18-Jan. 10.

“We developed a compromise,” he said. “A third of the hunters wanted to hunt all day, a third wanted to just hunt a half-day, and the other third wanted some kind of compromise.

“The people who wanted the half-day hunts, that’s more because in the old days, particularly in the northern part of the state, you’d have big hunts and barbecues; it was a gentlemanly thing to do, and it was the one time you didn’t have to get up at daylight to hunt. That has all played into the compromise deal.”

The daily bag limit for mourning doves will be 12 birds. Olinde said there is no limit on the Eurasian collared doves that have become common across Louisiana over the past few years — as long as hunters don’t dress out their birds before leaving the field.

“If you fully dress a Eurasian collared dove, you have to count it against your limit. If you don’t dress it — if you leave the head and wing feathers on — it doesn’t count against your limit,” Olinde said.

“This is a Eurasian bird; it got into the Caribbean as part of the pet trade, and it’s been migrating across the south. It’s extremely common (in Louisiana) now, starting out around housing developments and grain elevators. If you have two houses and a telephone poll, in much of Louisiana, you’ve got ’em.

“They’re a little bigger than a whitewing dove, but the coo is a little more like a whitewing than a mourning dove.”

Olinde said the great majority of mourning doves taken by Louisiana hunters are native to the state, not migratory birds.

“If you look at the traditional harvest data, the majority of the kill comes in the first seven days of the season, and the majority of migratory birds haven’t moved in yet,” he said. “According to some old banding work we’ve done, once October kicks in, that’s when the majority of migratory birds start to show up.

“September hunting is often just one or two days, then you burn out a field and the doves move on. They’re scattered, and if you don’t have a lot of land to manage, it’s tough. Most migratory birds show up in our late-season harvest, and most dove hunters, they go less than four times a year.”

Olinde said the DWF will look at available grain fields the week before the first season opens and try to lease them.

“Our leased fields vary every year,” he said. “We don’t lease fields until the week before we have a hunt. We started out leasing fields three weeks in advance, and now we don’t lease them until the week before the season.

“We want to lease fields that are as good as we can get. When we leased them three weeks before the season, the fields that had a lot of doves, sometimes, by the time the season opened, they were gone. That’s why we do it at the last minute, and even then, I’ve leased fields that had thousands of doves in them two days before the season, and we’d catch a 3-inch rain, and they’re gone, and we end up with a bust field.

“Some of the fields you think are going to be your best end up your worst, and some of the ones you think are marginal end up being the best.”

Olinde said the DWF has been very successful at getting the word out about leased fields just a few days before the season.

“We post it on our Internet site (, and the local papers have done a good job giving out last-minute directions to the fields,” he said. “Hunters have gotten used to looking for them and learned where to find them. We used to get thousands of calls the week before the season, and now, they’re looking in the newspaper or on the Internet for them.”

Olinde said the DWF charges $10 per hunter for hunts on those early season leases, but all hunters aged 15 and under are allowed to hunt at no charge.

“We encourage parents to bring kids who are younger,” he said.

The DWF has suitable dove-hunting habitat on close to 20 WMAs. It has specifically planted dove fields on more than a dozen WMAs, and dove-hunting is available on two military reservations.

Here is a short summary of DWF dove fields on WMAs, plus contact numbers for further information:

• Bayou Pierre WMA — 2,212 total acres, Red River Parish, 20 miles south of Shreveport.

Olinde said that 90 acres have been planted in sunflowers, corn and sorghum, and there is a 1-year-old winter wheat field. Opening-day hunting is limited to 75 hunters who apply for and are selected in a preseason lottery. The rest of the year, the WMA is wide open for dove hunting, in season. Phone: 318-371-3050.

• Big Colewa WMA — 910 total acres on six tracts in West Carroll Parish.

The DWF has planted 20 acres in sunflowers. Phone: 318-343-4044.

• Bodcau WMA — 32,471 total acres in Bossier and Webster parishes.

The DWF has planted 30 acres in sunflowers and millet and 36 acres in year-old winter wheat. Phone: 318-371-3050.

• Boeuf WMA — 50,971 total acres in Caldwell Parish, 10 miles southeast of Columbia.

The DWF has planted 100 acres of sunflowers in five fields. Olinde said that Beouf’s dove fields have been expanded from 70 acres last season to 100 acres this season.

“This is one of the best WMAs in the northern part of the state,” Olinde said, “but with the rain we’ve had, I’m not sure how good the sunflowers will turn out.” Phone: 318-757-4571.

• Buckhorn WMA — 11,262 total acres in Tensas Parish, 14 miles west of St. Joseph.

Twenty acres are planted in sunflowers.

“It’s the same kind of thing (as Boeuf),” Olinde said. “I don’t know how well the sunflowers did. This is close to the traditional East-Carroll-West Carroll hotbed of doves. People will show up there if the doves do.” Phone: 318-757-4571.

• Camp Beauregard WMA — 12,500 acres total, owned by the Louisiana National Guard, in Rapides Parish, 8 miles north of Alexandria.

The DWF has planted 15 acres in browntop millet. A special permit is needed. Phone: 318-487-5885.

• Elbow Slough WMA — 160 acres total, Rapides Parish.

The DWF has planted 12 acres of sunflowers and browntop millet. It is open to hunting on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays only, Sept. 4-12 and Oct. 9-31, with only steel shot allowed. Parking is permitted in the lot south of Route 3170, next to the check-in station.

• Loggy Bayou WMA — 6,597 acres in Bossier Parish, 20 miles southeast of Bossier.

A 5-acre field of year-old winter wheat is available. Phone 318-371-3050.

• Ouachita WMA — 9,642 acres total, Ouchita Parish, 6 miles southeast of Monroe.

Twenty acres of sunflowers have been planted. Call 318-343-4044.

• Red River WMA — 41,681 acres total, Concordia Parish, 35 miles north of Ferriday.

Sunflowers have been planted on 25 acres, and there are several hundred acres of soybeans that will not be harvested in time for first-season hunting. Hunting is not allowed over unharvested agricultural crops.

Olinde said that Red River will really be a good dove-hunting area in the third season, but possibly not before, depending on when the soybeans are combined. Most of the doves will be migratory birds.

Olinde said he was worried about the sunflowers, because of the hard rains in May and June.

“I don’t think they fared overly well,” he said. Phone: 318-757-4571.

• Sabine WMA, Jackson-Bienville WMA, West Bay WMA — Olinde said there has been a fair amount of clearcutting of timber, and goatweed — a very popular dove food — has grown up in a lot of different areas, mostly strips, across all three WMAs.

“Sabine had a fair number of doves already, and J-B had a fair number,” he said. “You can’t tell somebody to go to a field in particular; it just depends on where the goatweed is on those places.” Phone: 318-487-5885.

• Sandy Hollow WMA — 3,515 acres, Tangipahoa Parish, 10 miles northeast of Amite.

A total of 40 acres are planted in corn and browntop millet. During the first season, hunting is open only on Sept. 4 and Sept. 11-12. On Sept. 4, a tract north of Highway 10 is open only to youths under age 16 and a supervising adult, who may also hunt.

“Sandy Hollow has been hit and miss,” Olinde said. “It wasn’t particularly good in 2003, but it was extremely good in 2002 and good in 2001.

“The caveat for this place is that it’s pretty much a September-only hunt. Last year, we changed the seasons to opening day and the following weekend only, so we wouldn’t burn it out so bad.” Phone: 504-765-2360.

• Sherburne WMA — 43,618 acres, Point Coupee and Iberville parishes.

The DWF has planted 30 acres of browntop millet and sunflowers. The DWF expects the second season to be much better than the first, so additional acreage will be cut and readied for the second split. Phone: 337-948-0255.

• Floy McElroy WMA — Richland Parish.

Twenty acres of sunflowers have been planted. The opening weekend will be wide open, Olinde said, but the second weekend will be a special youth-only hunt.

“We plant 20 to 25 acres of sunflowers every year,” he said. “We wanted to do a youth hunt only, and it’s open to any youth 15 or younger, but they need to be accompanied by an adult — who cannot hunt. We’ve tried to make it accommodating to adults, so we don’t take opening weekend away from them; it would be hard for people to give it up and not hunt it at all.

“But the second weekend is just for youths with an adult supervising.”

The DWF said a gate on Highway 137, 2 miles north of Rayville, will open at 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 11 and 12, and shooting will be allowed from noon until sunset.

• Fort Polk WMA — Vernon Parish, 10 miles southeast of Leesville.

“This is a military base, and we plant a lot of food plots, turkey plots, from three to five acres,” Olinde said. “One problem, because it’s a military base and there’s a good amount of training going on, that it probably won’t be open on the opening day of the dove seasons.”

The DWF has an additional 110 acres in the Kisatchie National Forest, adjacent to Fort Polk, and there is a 5-acre field planted in browntop millet.

“Sometimes, it’s excellent hunting, particularly in October,” Olinde said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to get some equipment in there and get rid of some more trees before the season.” Phone: 318-491-2575.