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Woods & Waters with Zack

Dove Field Planting Guidelines Established By The Alabama Cooperative Extension System

September has finally arrived. This month signals the beginning of college football, cooler weather, improved fishing and most of all, hunting season. Dove hunters will hit the fields on the 7th for the opening day of the season. This month, we will look at some tactics that will improve your odds of harvesting these speedsters, as well as tips to help you select the best spot to set up on a dove field. If you are lucky, a dove breast barbecue may be right around the corner.

First of all, hunters need to be aware of the new dove field planting guidelines that have been

established by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. They are as follows:

1. Winter wheat can be top-sown from August 1 - November 30 statewide. This planting practice requires a well-prepared seedbed.

A well-prepared seedbed involves adequate tilling of the soil so when the seeds are planted there will be good soil-to-seed contact and the soil will not be excessively hard (i.e., it can easily be penetrated by the developing root of the germinating seed).

2. Up to 200 pounds of wheat can be top-sown per acre.

3. Doves can be hunted over top-sown wheat when planted for a wildlife food plot, a cover crop, an agricultural crop or as supplemental livestock grazing.

In this part of the state, most counties fall into the North Zone of mourning dove season. This zone has a split season, actually 3 seasons, in which you can hunt dove. The first season runs from September 7 to October 6, the second from October 19 to November 2 and the third from December 7 to December 31. Shooting hours are from one-half hour before sunrise until sunset except for opening day, when you can’t start hunting until 12 o’clock noon. If you shoot a repeating shotgun, it must have an internal plug limiting it to only holding three shells. Remember too, that all licensed hunters who hunt dove are required by Federal Law to obtain a HIP permit prior to hunting. HIP permits are free and are available at and all hunting license vendors.

Too often hunters show up at a dove field and simply sit in the first patch of shade they find. They give little or no thought to a number of factors that could ensure the time is occupied with more shooting than waiting. It’s happened to most dove hunters at one time or another. There you are, through poor choice or luck of the draw, at the wrong place on the field. Frustrated, you watch other shooters enjoy fast and furious action as you sit there, lamenting your fate and praying that one or two birds may unwittingly blunder close enough to afford a shot before the end of feeding time or legal shooting hours.

So make your own luck! When it comes to having action on a dove field, there are many factors to consider. First, it pays great dividends if you have done your “homework” and familiarized yourself with the specific nuances of the field. This is the only reliable tactic that can tell you such vital things as where the birds are coming from, when they start arriving, and where they concentrate their on-the-field activities. Why waste time sitting in spots where doves aren’t flying? They are creatures of habit, so a little scouting goes a long way in patterning doves. Birds frequently fly along tree lines and field edges as well as across the middle of fields, where terrain features help them navigate.

Also keep in mind that doves like to be able to see, and feel protected at the same time. Once you’ve identified their “flyways,” look for spots that satisfy their need for security, and your need to get off a shot. Key on gaps in a tree line, a saddle on a hill, converging crop fields, a dead tree, windrows and even a high spot, such as a lone dirt mound in a field.

Often hunters are invited to a first-come/first-served shoot on the field. In such instances, the trick is to be prepared to recognize certain strategic set-ups on the dove field that can work to your advantage. If it’s permissible, get there early. When picking a set-up spot on a dove field in this situation, take several factors into consideration. Let the sun and its relationship to where you are setting up be high on your list. Keep the sun to your back whenever possible. Doves are tough enough to hit under ideal circumstances. Don’t handicap yourself by having to stare into the glare of a blinding morning or afternoon sun. And, as mentioned earlier, look for features like gaps in a tree line, a dead tree, a power line, anything that may act as a attractant for dove entering the field.

When it comes to being hid, the best camouflage pattern in the world is generally worthless if the person wearing it can’t keep still. Breaking your outline is very important, but sitting still should definitely be your main concern. A smart dove hunter remains perfectly motionless until the very moment he decides to stand and shoot. And carry all the supplies you need when you first leave your vehicle. Don’t be running back and forth to the truck during a hunt.

You can hedge your bet even more by putting a few dove decoys on fence wires, bare limbs or anywhere else they can be seen by flights of birds coming into the feeding area. Over the past few seasons, dove hunters have added another tool to their hunting arsenal. The spinning-wing decoy is, just as the name implies, a dove decoy with a battery-powered motor that causes the wings of the decoy to spin, thus imitating a flying dove. Place it on a raised stand, and its spinning wings can be seen from quite a distance. This motion captures the attention of the doves and lures them near to the decoy. While the birds’ eyes are fixed on the decoy, the chances of them spotting the hunter are diminished.

You'll find most successful dove hunters are not necessarily the greatest shooters in the world. Rather, they are the ones who show up the day of the shoot having done enough studying beforehand. They have learned – often the hard way – that the right tactics and preparation go a long way toward compensating for those occasional missed shots. Shooting inaccuracy notwithstanding, these are the hunters who still leave a field with a respectable number of birds in their game bags.

Next month, archery season takes center stage. Early October is also the best time to plant your food plots. We will look at ways to help you grow better plots, as well as offer some tips on helping you find that perfect spot to hang your tree stand. Good luck with your dove hunting and always be safe in the field. Take a young person hunting this fall, or introduce someone new to the outdoors.


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