Mourning Dove Field Management
Mourning doves are migratory birds and move over large areas feeding primarily on seeds form agricultural crops and weeds. They usually remain in a general location for months, as long as there is abundant food. In late summer, adult doves join large flocks of juvenile birds and concentrate, often in large numbers, on harvested fields and recently mowed or burned areas. These habits make mourning doves easily managed for hunting.
There are many ways to prepare a field for dove hunting and many crops that can be planted. It takes a great deal more effort these days to have good dove hunting when you want it without resorting to top-sowing wheat and risking a potentially baited field. Crops which are grown in a field, may be manipulated in that field, by mowing, burning, harvesting, or other method, without the great risk of illegal baiting. (Check with the TWRA for current regulations) The right crops have to be planted at the right time, as well as mowed, burned, or manipulated, in some fashion for optimum effectiveness in attracting doves.
In planting a dove field, consider how many hunters will be utilizing the field. A general rule in most cases is to have an acre of land per hunter, but this may vary, depending on the lay of the land. Hunting in an overcrowded dove field can be dangerous and unrewarding, so consider the number of hunters you want to accommodate and plan accordingly.
Doves do not have very strong legs and prefer relatively clean ground for feeding. This can be accomplished in several ways. The use of herbicides, cultivation, mowing, and burning are all methods used to meet this end. Some crops create enough shade to reduce weed competition. Thick stubble will discourage doves from using a field.
It is recommended to have a soil sample taken and analyzed by the Agricultural Extension Service. Always follow the soil test recommendations for applications of fertilizer and lime. The best dove fields have a common thread...abundant food that is readily available to doves. Good farming practices will be rewarded with consistent, annual, dove shoots.
When planting a dove field, consider this: A diversity of foods is usually best, and some crops are preferred at different times during the season. High carbohydrate foods such as corn, attracts doves better when the weather turns cool in the late fall. Crops that produce small seeds are often preferred in early September. In- cluded below is a list of commonly grown foods for doves.
Corn - Excellent for early or late season. There are several ways to prepare a cornfield to attract doves. Mowing is the most common method used.
Cornfields cut for silage often attract large numbers of doves and can provide good shooting. However, to increase the amount of available food left in the field to attract doves, leave an acre or more of corn standing in the field. After cutting silage, the standing corn can then be mowed or cut. Landowners can often find hunters willing to pay for the privilege of hunting, and a good cornfield, averaging 100 bushels per acre, bringing $250-300 per acre, can often be recouped through hunting fees.
A particularly effective method of preparing a cornfield for dove hunting involves the use of a silage chopper to cut standing corn.
Using this method, corn should be left in rows, (preferably 4 rows) scattered across the field. Disc the ground on either side of the standing rows, and use the silage chopper to cut down and blow the corn onto the freshly disced strips. This offers maximum availability for doves without costing much money.
Sunflower - Probably the best and certainly the most popular dove food. Keep the ground clean with cultivation and herbicides. Leave some standing rows to provide natural hunting blinds.
Sesame - Also known as Benne and sometimes swamp pea. It grows about 4-8 feet tall, shades out most weeds, and is usually
planted in rows and left standing for the entire season. It is an excellent dove food. However, sesame requires a long growing season and requires 120-150 days to mature.
Millets - There are several varieties of millet. White proso grows rapidly, producing seed in about 45 days. It is one of the best dove foods known due to its hard seed coat which is resistant to mold.
The seeds scatter readily when mowed or burned. White proso is an excellent choice for September dove shoots.
Dove proso is similar to white proso but grows 3 to 6 feet tall. The seeds do not mature at one time, but drop throughout the fall.
Browntop millet is a heavy seed producer, maturing in about 45 days. It is an old favorite for dove hunts.
Pearl millet grows 3 to 8 feet tall. It tolerates drought and soil acidity (5.5-6.5) and is also a heavy seed producer.
Wheat - Wheat makes a great dove field when left standing throughout the summer and burned prior to hunting in the fall.
Sorghum - Grain producing varieties of sorghum like milo and WGF have similar nutritional value to corn. It has a small seed which is favored by doves. It is drought tolerant, but does poorly on highly acidic soils.
There are other crops which are attractive to doves, but the above list includes the most commonly grown. Any of these can provide great dove hunting, but some may have advantages on different fields or times of year. Don't be afraid to experiment and try
different crops and methods.
The Link Below Provides Additional Information
University Of Tennessee Publication:
"A Guide to Successful Wildlife Food Plots"...Pages 103-111