If you’re interested in hunting, then you know that mourning doves are one of the most exciting and challenging game bird species to hunt – which is why dove fields are so valuable.
Even if you’re not a hunter yourself, good dove hunting can up the worth of your hunting land.
In this blog, we’ll explain everything you should know as a landowner whether you’re interested in hunting in dove fields or managing them for profit.
Let’s get started.
1. What should you know about mourning doves?
Mourning doves are the animals found in a dove field.
They are the 300 species of the Columbidae family (which also includes pigeons).
Doves in this group feed almost exclusively on seeds.
They are specifically adapted to feeding on grass seeds in open areas.
Westward expansion boosted the dove population because they thrive on crops like corn, millet, wheat, sunflowers, and more.
In general, mourning doves prefer food sources that are located near roosting and nesting sites.
These are most often dead or isolated trees.
Water is also important to doves.
Doves are often found in high numbers near roosting sites that have a prime location near both food and water.
Doves are most vulnerable when feeding on the ground.
As a result, they choose open areas with little ground cover.
Here, they can store seeds in their crop and feed quickly.
Then, they’ll return to roost sites without spending too much time out in an open and vulnerable position.
2. How do doves find their favorite feeding sites?
When you’re planning a dove field, it’s critical to have a basic understanding of dove ecology.
This will allow you to create a productive dove field.
Doves have a marked affinity for their favorite feeding sites, which means that they’ll appear there again and again if they’re not driven away by overhunting.
This is critical for you to know as both a landowner and hunter.
3. How do you select the site for your dove field?
One of the most important factors that you’ll encounter as a landowner is choosing the right site for your dove field.
Here are the criteria you should consider:
A dove field must be large enough to regularly catch the attention of doves.
While one acre can work, this size field won’t hold a large number of birds.
Additionally, when you only have an acre, you have to be careful to limit the number of hunters and hunting days because you can drive birds off the field.
We recommend a field that’s between two and six acres.
It provides birds with ample food, and it’s also large enough to accommodate more hunters.
If you have more space, that’s even better!
Dove fields that are located in an agricultural landscape tend to receive higher use than those that are surrounded by extensive woodlands.
Additionally, fields in hilly terrain or ridges seem to be better utilized than those in bottomlands.
We also recommend finding a field with a readily available water source as it attracts and holds more birds.
If you have the option, choose a pond with clean edges and/or mudflats.
These are better because doves tend to avoid grassy and thick vegetation.
The landscape is also important to mourning doves.
They prefer open, disturbed ground with plenty of seed plants available.
You’ll want to have seed-producing plants on your land that are usually first in succession in areas that have been naturally disturbed (by fires, floods, human mowing, cultivation, etc.).
Doves are sensitive to stubble and plant overgrowth that impedes their ability to move along the ground.
When landscaping and planting on your dove fields, you should ensure they are as clean as possible.
These birds prefer open space which helps them feel comfortable while feeding.
Clean sightlines should also be a priority in your dove fields.
This helps to minimize the risk that predators like foxes, cats, and coyotes pose to mourning doves.
If your land has rolling terrain, then you should prioritize land with the highest fields.
These often produce the best results and can be seen better by passing birds.
Your dove field will be extra attractive if there are roosting sites nearby.
Mourning doves prioritize roosting sites that provide them with a secure location to spend their non-feeding hours.
Otherwise, they aren’t super picky.
Their typical locations are dead trees.
Because of this, some hunters will kill trees along the edge of their fields by girdling so birds will have an attractive roost that is close to the food source.
When you’re selecting the location for a dove field, consider where you’ll set up your blind.
Hunters can choose to sit either on the edge of the field or inside unmowed rows of crops.
In both cases, you should consider the location of the sun when establishing the blind.
For example, if you plan to hunt in the evenings, you want to set up the blind so that hunters are facing the east with the sun at their backs.
This will make it easier for hunters to see incoming bids while also making it more difficult for the birds to see the hunters.
If you decide to create multiple blind sites in a single field, make sure that all hunters know where their shooting lanes are.
Otherwise, you could create an unsafe environment.
4. How do you prepare a dove field?
There are several required steps that go into creating a successful dove field.
Here’s a brief rundown of what you should expect:
Eliminate weeds either through chemical means or by burning to achieve a flat ground attractive to birds
Lime and fertilize the ground as needed
Make sure there is sufficient drainage to prevent standing water
Choose a crop that will produce large amounts of seeds
Offer a variety of different seeds as well as plants that seed at different times to keep the birds coming back
Consider sunflowers for your dove fields as they’re a traditional choice that is likely to provide enough food
5. How should you plant a dove field?
Before you plant a dove field, you should first treat your field for weeds.
The fertilizer and lime should then be added to your fields.
After that, plant your dove fields in mid-to-late spring through early summer.
The timing will be determined based on your location (north to south) and the length of time necessary for plants to mature.
In an ideal scenario, dove field vegetation should be mature by early August.
You should begin mowing the fields to provide open cover and drop seeds on the ground so the doves can begin feeding.
To encourage doves to land, farmers will often rake or windrow open lanes to ensure they have a secure place to land.
These areas can also help the doves feel comfortable returning to the area to feed time and time again.
Keep in mind that federal laws restrict hunting birds over dumped seed.
That said, in most cases, mowed fields are legal and provide habitats and nutrients to a variety of wildlife.
At the opening of dove season, half of the field should be mowed or disced.
By cutting shooting lanes parallel to the suspected flight path of the doves, you’ll bring birds into the shooters instead of across their faces.
This makes it easier to see oncoming doves.
It also offers a few additional seconds to prepare for the shot.
We recommend mowing around the perimeter of the field.
This makes the doves feel more protected and limits cover for predators.
Blinds can be created along this open edge or within standing cover.
6. What mistakes often occur in a dove field?
Overhunting is one of the largest mistakes hunters make when attempting to establish a dove field.
Overhunting drives birds away, so you want to avoid this if you’re attempting to create a fun and lucrative setup.
Here are some critical tips to remember to prevent your land from being overhunted.
The best fields only accommodate one hunter per acre
These fields won’t continue to produce if they are hunted daily
Hunting should be limited to 1-2 times per week for only a few hours for best results
Limiting hunting allows birds to return to feed and flocks to build in numbers after the hunt has ended
A dove field is a resource that shouldn’t be overused or exploited
When a field is properly managed, it lasts longer and will come back week after week
Consider having a “sanctuary” nearby.
Some dove hunters do this by having two or more fields located in close proximity.
They’ll post one or two hunters in each field.
This not only provides more shooting opportunities for the hunters, but it also allows the birds an area to avoid the hunters.
Hunters are able to switch from one field to the next on different days.
Because birds know that they always have a safe place to feed, they’re unlikely to leave the area.
7. What laws exist around dove fields?
There’s a general perception that dove baiting laws are confusing.
Yet, it’s worth taking time to understand them, so you’re not the person who inadvertently baits a dove field and sends everyone home with game violations.
Fields must be planted according to standard agricultural procedures.
Unlike waterfowl hunting, dove fields can be manipulated (i.e., sunflowers can be sprayed and mowed, wheat can be mowed)
For a complete overview of dove baiting laws, visit here to see what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement has to say
You should also check with your local agriculture extension office to understand the standard agricultural practices for standing crops in your area.
If you stray from those recommendations too much, you can flirt with a baiting violation.
8. What is the hunter’s responsibility when using a dove field?
As a hunter, you have responsibilities when you step onto a dove field.
Here’s what you should do.
Determine whether a field is baited
Familiarize yourself with federal and state migratory game bird hunting regulations
Ask the landowner, your host or guide, and your hunting partners if the area has been baited
Suspect the presence of bait if you see doves feeding in a particular area, especially in unusual concentrations or if they’re displaying a lack of caution
Look for grain or other food in the area and reflect on whether it is present solely as the result of an allowed normal agricultural operation
Check closely for seed and grain on prepared agricultural feed and reflect on whether it is present solely as the result of a normal agricultural planting or a planting for agricultural soil erosion control
Know what planting, harvesting, and other agricultural practices are recommended for the areas that you hunt
Abandon the area if you find grain or feed in an area or feel uncertain about why it’s there
Remember that the rules for hunting doves and waterfowl are not the same — additional restrictions apply to waterfowl
9. What other considerations should you have when creating a dove field?
If you’re ready to start planting your dove field, you may wonder if there are any other components you should consider.
Here are some additional factors that may help you find the most suitable location on your property.
Perching – Perch sites are a great addition to any dove field.
We recommend dead trees or power lines if possible.
Water – A water source with bare ground next to it is not absolutely critical, but it is a bonus for a field location.
Disturbance – During late summer, the disturbance of doves should be minimized.
If it occurs, it may result in your birds moving to another field.
Pest Control – You should monitor your crop plantings for weed and insect invasions.
If you notice pests, you should take the appropriate steps to control them.
Armyworms are an example of a pest that can ruin a field.
You should spray your field with the appropriate insecticide to help control them.
To ensure you’re using the appropriate pesticides, make sure you consult your local Country Extension Agent for recommendations on using pesticides.
Crop Rotation – Rotate wheat and millet plantings so millet volunteers back into wheat.
This can also be accomplished with sunflowers.
Planting – You should plant spring and summer crops within two days after the soil is harrowed to aid in weed competition.
You may consider planting corn, sorghum, and sunflower in rows.
Then, cultivate them and keep the ground clean as this encourages the use of the field by doves.
Dove fields are fairly low maintenance but can pay big dividends if the landowner or hunter is willing to spend some time and effort preparing for the hunting season.
If you’re interested in using your land in this way, use our tips above to get started.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.