The basic ingredients for a good dove field are no secret. Plant plenty of food, give ‘em a little water, provide grit, open ground, and a handful of places for the birds to sit. Then, carefully manage the hunting pressure. But a great dove field has more. More planning. More forethought. And, of course, more expense.
If I were king for a spell with a fat budget, this is the dove field I’d design and build. For practical purposes, I’ll omit the automatic chilled Gatorade and water dispensers at each shooting location, as well as the shaded dog blinds. There will be time for those things later; after all, I am the king, and this is but a work in progress.
Our plot begins with roughly 9 rural acres of decent farm ground. A gravel road runs along the northernmost edge before turning south to border the west. A working power transmission line stands along the north/south gravel road.
A 2.75-acre sunflower patch makes up the southern portion of the plot; a 1.8-acre cornfield adjoins the sunflowers, running north/south along the eastern border. In the center is a quarter-acre shallow pond with sand and bare ground banks and several dead elms/oaks on its northwestern shoreline.
To the northwest and adjoining the pond is a 1-acre wheat field. A 1-acre grove of Russian olives stands as a potential roost site. The remaining ground, roughly 2 acres total, is left as set-aside, and consists of ragweed, foxtail and pigweed. This set-aside can be mowed prior to the season to provide additional seed food sources.
- The Sunflowers The sunflower patch lies east-to-west along the southern edge of the plot in order to allow all-day hunting without worry of sun blindness. Seed is planted in early May, depending on the agricultural zone, at an application rate of 6 to 12 pounds per acre (be sure to check standard farming practices for sunflowers in your area). Apply herbicides and cultivate as necessary. Sunflowers can be sprayed with herbicide two weeks prior to manipulation, as dry, brittle heads promote better ripe seed distribution when mown; however, mowing is not a necessity, particularly in cases of heavy preseason dove use. Ten days prior to the opener, approximately 75 percent, or 2 acres, of the crop can be mown; the remainder can be cut midseason to provide additional food and hunting opportunities.
- The Corn The 1.8-acre cornfield serves many uses, a dove attractant being but one. Shooting can be fantastic over corn that’s chopped for silage in late September, but cut corn provides an excellent food source for migrating doves through mid- to late season. With roughly 30 percent left standing, the cornfield sets the table for bobwhite quail, pheasants, whitetails and a wide variety of nongame birds during fall and winter.
- The Wheat Spring wheat should be planted in mid- to late April, and needs to be manipulated or disturbed in some way prior to the season opener to make the seeds available to the birds. Wheat as a dove attractant is commonly burned, 10 to 15 days prior to the season, either with or without prior mowing, windrowing and baling. Raking and baling does have its advantages, leaving bare or clear ground patches that doves favor. Bales can serve as blinds for one or two guns.
- The Pond Sand-heavy shorelines provide a source of grit for doves, while the water obviously has its natural draw. It’s important to keep the shorelines clean and free of weed growth; doves are more comfortable in the open. Several tall, dead trees line the northwestern shore. Birds light on their snags before dropping to water or pick grit. The bare limbs can also hold lightweight decoys.
- The Roost The stand of Russian olives serves as a roost site, or as a staging area between outlying properties and the dove field highlighted here. Russian olives are very adaptable, reproductively aggressive, and exhibit rapid growth, sometimes 4 to 6 feet per year. They are, however, considered in some locales an invasive, and therefore, undesirable species. Here, evergreens can be substituted should there be an ecological and/or environmental concern. Where the water table is high, willows and/or cottonwoods might make a good alternative.
- The Blinds Three simple seat blinds, with optional camouflage netting are located on the southern and eastern edges of the pond – (1) backing the sunflowers; (2) in the corner facing to the northwest; and (3) backing the cornfield. Fields of fire should be established at the start of the hunt; fire discipline, as is always the case, should be rigidly maintained. Should birds prefer to work the corn or sunflowers, hunters need simply turn 180 degrees. Optional blinds might be posted at any of the dead trees lining the pond. These provide shooting opportunities both over the water, as well as at doves coming into the trees or the burned wheat.
- The Decoys Two permanent dove poles – 12-foot four-by-four posts with 1/2-inch PVC “perches” inserted through drilled holes near the top – are planted along the southern and eastern pond shorelines. Portable MOJO doves can be placed near the water’s edge directly in front of each individual shooting post or blind. MOJO spinners can also be staked in the mown sunflowers or wheat, or the chopped corn. Lightweight (foam) decoys or homemade silhouettes are an option on the bare tree branches between the pond and wheat.
Want more on doves? Check out Stephanie Mallory's 10 Tips for Better Dove Hunting.
Make it Legal
You don’t want to be the guy who inadvertently baits a dove field and subsequently sends your guests home with game violations. There’s a perception that dove baiting laws are confusing, but they’re really not. Fields must simply be planted according to standard agricultural procedures. In addition, dove fields can be manipulated. Sunflowers can be sprayed and mowed. Wheat can be burned. (Crop manipulation is not, however, legal for waterfowl hunting.)
Standard agricultural practices not only include what’s done with a standing crop, but also how and when a crop is sown. Your local agriculture extension offices give advice for sowing dates and rates for wheat, for example. If you vary from those recommendations, especially by sowing too much wheat too late in the season, you’re flirting with a baiting violation.
For a complete overview of dove baiting laws, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement page on the subject.