|Pete McCoy and his sons Andrew and Chris enjoyed a successful day together during last year’s dove hunting season.|
Dove season will officially kick off the 2014-2015 hunting season for many Alabama hunters, and dove hunters will have more opportunity to enjoy their pastime this season. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service approved a 90-day season as opposed to the 70-day season in place last year, giving hunters 20 more days in the field. Mourning doves are migratory birds and their management is strictly controlled by the USFWS. This year they allowed State wildlife officials to set their season within a Sept. 1-Jan. 15 framework, with a maximum of two zones and three season splits per zone.
The Conservation Advisory Board approved the following dates for Alabama’s dove season this year:
North Zone – Sept. 6-Nov. 9
Dec. 7- Dec. 31
South Zone – Sept. 20-Sept. 28
Oct. 11-Oct. 26
Nov. 12-Jan. 15
The highly social aspect of dove hunting makes it a great way to introduce kids or first-time hunters to Alabama’s great outdoors, and individuals who have not hunted in several years will appreciate an invitation to a good dove shoot as well! It is critical that Alabama’s avid hunters do their part to invite kids and adults who may not hunt every year to be more involved in our rich hunting heritage. Anyone who dove hunts knows how much fun it can be. There is a lot of interaction with other hunters and everyone wants everyone else on the field to have a good time. With this in mind, the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries sponsors special youth dove hunts throughout the state each year to give adults and youth participants quality time together enjoying Alabama’s great outdoors. Visit http:/outdooralabama.com/huntingyouth-hunts/ for more information about these special dove hunts.
Dove hunting doesn’t require a high degree of discipline or extravagant equipment to have a great time. For instance, like to talk? Great! No need to worry about whispering here. You can talk to the person next to you without fear of reprimand or scaring away the game. Like to sleep in? No problem! Most dove shoots don’t get started until 2-3 p.m. Stomach growling? Feel free to grab a snack. The smell won’t chase away the birds one bit. Have a hard time sitting still? No worries there; you can fidget all you want without fear that the slightest movement might mess you up for the day. You can even walk to the next stand to talk to your neighbor if things are slow.
Dove hunting is also less secretive than other forms of hunting. Ever have another turkey hunter hem haw around about where they saw that big gobbler yesterday? That won’t happen on a dove field. On a dove field, other hunters will give you a heads up when doves fly in your direction to make sure you see them and have an opportunity to shoot them - or at least shoot at them as the case may be. Some of the fun at the end of the day is hunters ribbing each other about the ones that got away, or what an incredible shot someone made.
Many dove hunters in the past have worried about being legal due to variable interpretation of federal regulations. The USFWS allows for hunting doves over or around normal agricultural operations. Because these practices vary considerably among states, the USFWS defers to individual state Cooperative Extension Systems as the experts for establishing these standards. Last year, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System established new guidelines for planting top-sown grains such as wheat. The guidelines state, depending on the application, winter wheat can be top-sown from Aug. 1-Nov. 30 statewide at a rate of up to 200 pounds per acre. According to the USFWS, doves can be hunted over top-sown wheat planted for wildlife food plots, cover crops, agricultural crops and supplemental livestock grazing as long as the plantings are in accordance with the Extension guidelines.
However, the best dove fields are those planted in the spring or summer. Browntop millet, dove proso millet, grain sorghum, sesame or sunflowers are some crops beneficial to mourning doves. Planting portions of large fields in different grains and varying the planting dates will help attract doves early and hold them throughout much of the hunting season.
Once these plants mature, mowing, disking, or burning them will make the seeds accessible to doves on the ground. Doves prefer seeds that can be easily found on open, bare ground with very little debris. If you plan to have more than one hunt, it may also be beneficial to knock down only portions of the standing plants within each field at one time, allowing the rest of the field to be managed just before hunts conducted later in the season.
Doves are also attracted to commercial agricultural fields planted in corn, soybeans and peanuts. These crops should be harvested at least two weeks before planned hunts to allow doves time to locate the food before the hunt begins. Again, shooting opportunities may be extended by leaving portions of the field unharvested so they can be harvested later in the hunting season. For more detailed information about plantings for doves, visit ACES’s website for guidelines: http://outdooralabama.com/hunting/game/doves.cfm. If in doubt as to the legality of any dove field, contact the appropriate District Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries office before the season begins.
Don’t forget about safety while hunting on a dove field! Never shoot at low-flying birds, keep the muzzle of your gun pointed in a safe direction at all times, always wear eye and ear protection, and take plenty of water for you and your four-legged friends.
Dove hunting is a great way to spend quality time with family and friends in the outdoors. If you have never tried dove hunting give it a shot this year (pun intended). And if you are a die-hard dove hunter who goes every year, make this the year you take someone new with you. You are guaranteed to make memories that will last a lifetime.
Chuck Sykes is director of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.