The Mystery Dove Field – Why Birds Came There
Day 1: Why Doves Came to a Field that Had No Food
Editor’s Note: All hunters look forward to the opening of dove season each fall throughout the country, since dove season officially starts the year’s hunting season. I’ve relearned this year that you never can judge a book by its cover, and you can’t evaluate a dove field solely by what you see. Often what you don’t see at a dove field may cause you to be fined for hunting over bait, or you may enjoy the very-best dove hunt you’ve ever had and still not know why the doves are flying to where you are. This dilemma is one I faced on opening day of dove season, when a new/old friend, Keith Tate of Dora, Ala., invited me on a dove hunt. Tate’s family had hunted this property for about 100 years, and the only time I’d met Tate was as a youngster, hunting doves with his dad and granddad, when I interviewed them for my outdoor radio show 35-years ago.
Often, one of the problems a journalist has when he goes on a dove hunt is that the host wants him to be successful and will do whatever he has to do not only to help the writer be successful as a hunter but also to get a good story. So, the first question I asked Tate was if the field where we hunted was baited, which is illegal. “No,” Tate replied. “You won’t see any grain on the ground, and we haven’t planted any crops for doves. But believe me, the doves will just be there.” On most dove shoots there’s a reason for the birds to come to the field where the hunters are - either cut corn, cut millet, sunflower seeds, wheat or some-other type of small grain the birds will eat. “Our family has been shooting doves on this field for close to 100 years, and we’ve never planted grain,” Tate said. “The farmer on the left side of the property plants and cuts millet and also has an opening-day dove hunt. The farmer on the right side of the property cuts sunflowers and corn every year to have a big dove shoot. But this property where we’ll be hunting has the only source of water between those two fields. We hope that both fields and the other lands around us will be hunting doves today, so that the doves will come to our field for sanctuary and water.”
This secret will help you enjoy productive dove hunting. To take the most doves on opening day, you don’t have to hunt where everyone else hunts, if you pre-scout and learn the travel routes the doves take between grain fields, water and areas where they get the grit for their craws, so they can digest the grain they eat. The other-two less-obvious dove attractants for this no-dove dove field were a power line and a gravel road that ran through the property. The power line offered the birds a place to sit, rest and study the landscape to see where danger, food and water were. The doves had been sitting on that power line all year long, so they felt comfortable and safe there. Too, the gravel road provided the grit for their craws. So, when hunters took stands all around this seemingly-unproductive place to hunt doves, there was plenty of shooting all day long. Not only were the birds traveling from one grain field to another to feed, but they also sat in the shade of oak trees on the edges of the property and the hardwood bottom by the creek. If you’re looking for a great place to hunt doves during the early season, overlook the obvious – the grain fields – and search for the other key elements that doves need to survive, like water, grit, shade, sanctuary and observation points.
Observation points not only can be power lines, but also tall dead trees, tall live pine trees and towering oaks where the birds can light and look in all directions. If you identify a property like this one in-between two agricultural properties where food has been planted for doves and where the doves, can fly between these two food sources, then look for one of those no-dove dove fields that other hunters rarely, if ever, hunt. Sit in the shade in your camouflaged hunting wear on a dove stool, wearing gloves and headnet, and being sure you have plenty of shells and a cooler full of water and sports drinks. You’ll enjoy and have a great day afield.