Dove field sunflowers

Sunflowers are one of the most attractive plantings land managers can offer for doves, but they have a lengthy growing period and must be planted in the spring to be ready to hunt over by early September.

The next wingshooting opportunity for most of Mississippi’s hunters won’t roll around on the calendar until September, but preparations for making the most of those dates is best begun no later than now.

According to state and federal regulations, crops grown in the fields over which doves will be hunted may be manipulated any way the land managers choose and shot over immediately, meaning they can be mowed, burned, disked and harrowed to keep the fields as attractive as possible for as long as possible and remain well within the law. Therefore, the best way to ensure the fall’s shoots will be both productive and legal is to manage toward that end all spring and summer long.

Land managers and wingshooting enthusiasts who’ll be preparing dove fields for the fall should consider staggering their crops to keep food on the table for the birds as long as possible, a process that can begins now by making the most of both plantings and of native vegetation that is likely already in place. Wild plants like pokeweed, ragweed and foxtail grass feed doves in season and out. Land managers who identify these on their property and leave them available to doves during the summer will be one step ahead of the game come fall.

Brown top millet, one of the most popular and adaptable plantings for doves, matures in 60 to 90 days, projecting the maturity of a crop planted now between mid August and mid September. A full field planted in such now would then be presented to doves by mowing the mature crop periodically in strips, keeping the birds’ food source fresh throughout the shooting season.

To create cover for hunters, dove specialists recommend planting rows of corn or sunflowers around field edges and, in truly large fields, in strips through the field centers. Sweet corn planted now would also mature in 60 to 90 days, with sunflowers taking a little longer. This would time their maturities to coincide with the opening weeks of the season to serve as cover for hunters, and the latter weeks of later seasons as food to be mowed down and presented itself.

Maximum attraction

When considering the location and orientation of a dove field, think about how the doves will use the resource and cater to their desires. Open, dead trees located along the birds’ travel routes and especially overlooking the field itself are a big bonus, as the birds are drawn to them to use as perches. Doves coming to a field to feed will sit in trees to look over the landscape and will also come and go from the trees to the ground regularly for safety.

A water source located near the field is not an absolute necessity, but it can be a great bonus as well. If there’s a nearby pond the doves might use, make sure it has clean, closely-mowed banks or an open mudflat, as doves will avoid tall weeds and overgrowth if they can.

As the season approaches, land managers should consider how they’ll manage their hunts to produce the greatest opportunity from their labor. Too much hunting pressure will cause doves to abandon a field, even if there is plenty of food. A good rule of thumb is to shoot dove fields only once per week, and then only in the morning or the evening but not both. Further, shoots should be limited to three hours or less to minimize the disturbance.

In the weeks before the season, try to leave the fields as undisturbed as possible. Doves are migratory but, in Mississippi, the opening weekend’s doves will be the birds that have been hanging around the field since mid summer, so keep them as comfortable as possible.

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