A couple of days after August ends, dove season arrives for wing-shooters across the Southeast. With the exception of the Aug. 15 opening of deer season in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, the Labor Day dove pursuit marks the debut of hunting season for most hunters in the Carolinas.
Traditionally, the opening of dove season over Labor Day weekend comes with huge cookouts, social ranting and a day full of action-packed dove hunting over a field of cut grain. The opening day hunt can be one of the most productive of the year, but hunters must prepare early in August to ensure an action-packed experience over Labor Day weekend.
The mourning dove is the most widely-distributed bird in all of North America. Doves are considered a migratory species in that they travel south for the winter and then north to the breeding grounds during the spring. While they breed throughout the summer in most regions of the United States, the Carolinas harbor huge breeding populations throughout the summer months. Doves will have five to six clutches of young, with two to four chicks per clutch; one breeding pair can produce as many as 24 new doves in just one breeding season.
Doves begin their annual southern migration when the photoperiod shortens to a critical level, and in the Carolinas, doves usually arrive on their journey from early October through November. So any dove hunts scheduled during the opening week of the season are completely resident flocks. Hunters can get these birds conditioned to eating, sleeping and drinking in the right places before the opening day.
To start off, doves are suckers for rich food sources, whether temporary or permanent. The annual corn harvest from mid-August through the end of September probably draws in a huge portion of the birds. Hunters looking to improve their opportunities should coordinate with local farmers this month to encourage harvest at least a week to 10 days before Labor Day weekend. Harvesting practices will scatter grain across the ground in ideal spot for doves to find and eat.
Beyond the timing of harvests, farmers can improve the attractiveness of their fields and hunting opportunities in a few other ways. Farmers can leave 10-foot strips of grain throughout the field to provide cover for hunters and retain some food to be later mowed for the later seasons.
Selective disking is also a good option to expose mineral soil and grit for the doves. Field edges or paths that are sporadically disked provide these areas that doves will love. However, the entire field should not be disked in; for too much of the crop- residue seed will get buried and out of reach.
A good combination of disking and leaving rows of crops will provide the perfect conditions for doves in an agriculture setting. Often, landowners and farmers plant small fields of sunflower, millet, sorghum and buckwheat specifically for doves. These fields can be treated the same, with the exception of harvesting. Rows can be mowed to scatter the grain and bring in the doves. Around 30 to 40 percent of these fields should be mowed to provide the most seed on the ground and then enough left standing for later hunting opportunities.
Water sources are also important for doves in August and September. Doves will seek out good water sources that lack extensive weedy edges. Ponds with heavy growth around their perimeters invite predators, and doves will steer away from these water sources and seek others with cleaner edges. Ideally, doves prefer ponds or creeks where the banks are significantly-exposed. These margins also provide small pebble and grit they desperately need for their digestive systems.
Landowners with ponds can create watering areas for doves by mowing and/or disking the pond edges and dropping the water level to expose the pond margin. While two to three feet may be sufficient, margins up to 10 feet are preferred to allow doves to feel safe from aerial and terrestrial predators.