What are laws pertaining to baiting doves and hunting in agricultural areas?
This information is provided by the NCWRC to guide sportsmen/women in the preparation of and hunting over dove fields and agricultural areas.
The mourning dove is the most hunted and harvested game bird in the United States. About 17 million mourning doves are taken annually by U.S. hunters. Dove hunting is equally popular in North Carolina. In 2010-11, approximately 44,300 North Carolina hunters harvested an estimated 686,900 doves. Mourning doves are migratory birds that congregate where food, bare soil and water are abundant. It follows that agricultural areas offer some of the best dove hunting. However, strict laws govern the hunting of migratory birds. Of particular importance are regulations that pertain to “baiting”. Every year, numerous North Carolina hunters are cited for hunting over baited fields. It is, therefore, important that hunters and farmers fully understand how the management of agricultural operations relates to dove hunting regulations.
FAQs about laws pertaining to baiting doves and hunting in agricultural areas
The mourning dove is a migratory game bird regulated under the authority of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as well as state laws and rules. Federal law prohibits the taking of migratory game birds by the aid of baiting, or on or over any baited area, if the person knows or reasonably should know that the area is a baited area. In addition, it is a separate offense to place or direct the placement of bait on or adjacent to an area for the purpose of causing, inducing, or allowing any person to take or attempt to take any migratory game bird by the aid of baiting or on or over the baited area. State statutes are even more restrictive in this case. GS 113-291.1 simply states that “No wild birds may be taken with the use or aid of salt, grain, fruit or other bait…”. In other words, under state law, a hunter’s guilt may be established without having to prove that he or she knew of the bait, should have known of the bait, or intended to violate the law.
It is the dove hunter’s responsibility to ensure that he or she does not shoot in or over a baited field. To prevent becoming involved in a baiting controversy, hunters should: (1) fully understand dove hunting regulations, (2) inspect the area to be hunted for signs of baiting and (3) ask the owner of a field or the host of a hunt if grain or feed has been placed and been present on the area within the previous ten days. Individuals, while hunting, also bear the responsibility of behaving in a safe and sportsmanlike manner.
What the regulations say about baiting
Title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations details regulations governing the hunting of migratory game birds. The specific regulation that addresses baiting is found in
Part 20.21 (i). It states, “No persons shall take migratory game birds by the aid of baiting, or on or over any baited area, where a person knows or reasonably should know that the area is or has been baited.”
NC General Statute 113-291.1 is more restrictive in that: “No wild birds may be taken with the use or aid of salt, grain, fruit or other bait…”. Note, contrary to federal law, there are no conditions or mitigating circumstances defined under this statute.
Part 20.11 (k) of Title 50 offers additional language that defines the terms of baiting and baited area. The code says that, “…baiting means the direct or indirect placing, exposing, depositing, distributing or scattering of salt, grain, or other feed that could serve as a lure or attraction for migratory game birds to, on, or over any areas where hunters are attempting to take them.”
Part 20.11 (j) of the code defines a baited area as, “… any area on which salt, grain, or other feed has been placed, exposed, deposited, distributed, or scattered, if that salt, grain, or other feed could serve as a lure or attraction for migratory game birds to, on, or over areas where hunters are attempting to take them. Any such area will remain a baited area for ten days following the complete removal of all such salt, grain, or other feed.
Since birds often return to a feeding area for a period of time after food supplies are exhausted, hunting within 10 days after complete disappearance of feed from a baited area is illegal.
Normal Planting and Harvesting Operations
There are several situations in which hunting over grain fields is not considered to be baiting. Doves may be taken over crops that are left standing for whatever purpose. Doves may legally be hunted in areas of normal agricultural operations and where normal agricultural planting, harvesting, or post-harvest manipulation has occurred. Doves may also be hunted over areas planted as part of normal soil stabilization practices conducted for soil erosion control purposes. Doves may be hunted in areas that are properly planted and managed as dove fields. Doves may be taken over grain crops properly shocked on the field in which they were grown. Shocking involves the upright stacking of sheaves of grain in a field for drying. It is a grain handling and drying method seldom used on modern farms.
Part 20.11 (h) of Title 50 defines normal agricultural operation “…means a normal agricultural planting, harvesting, post-harvest manipulation, or agricultural practice, that is conducted in accordance with official recommendations of State Extension Specialists of the Cooperative Extension Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
Part 20.11 (g) of Title 50 defines normal agricultural planting, harvesting, or post-harvest manipulation “…means a planting or harvesting undertaken for the purpose of producing and gathering a crop, or manipulation after such harvest and removal of grain, that is conducted in accordance with official recommendations of State Extension Specialists of the Cooperative Extension Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
Part 20.11 (i) of Title 50 defines normal soil stabilization practice “…means a planting for agricultural soil erosion control or post-mining land reclamation conducted in accordance with official recommendations of State Extension Specialists of the Cooperative Extension Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
During the planting and harvesting of crops, small quantities of seed are always lost and scattered. Hunters may pursue doves in these areas if the amount of grain present is consistent with normal agricultural practices. Purposeful attempts to lose and/or distribute excessive grain on a field during planting and harvesting operations would result in the amount of grain present exceeding normal rates and harvest losses.
Normal planting procedures involve the use of specific planting dates, economical seeding rates, effective seeding methods and tillage favorable to establishment of a crop. Acceptable planting dates and seeding rates for some crops over which doves may be hunted are available from County Extension Service offices in each County. For example, fields seeded to wheat in the early fall for a cover crop, for grazing, or for a dove field the following year, will attract doves. A legitimate dove field management technique is to plant small grain in the fall, mow it in the following late-summer to early-fall, and then hunt over the field; provided that normal planting procedures and planting dates were followed. The use of excessive seeding rates on fields hunted for doves may be interpreted as baiting. Most wheat planted for grain is seeded with a grain drill, or if broadcast, the seed are covered by a light disking.
There are a few other legitimate ways to establish cover crops wherein broadcast seeding is not followed by tillage. Current federal regulations “will allow the hunting of any migratory game bird, including doves, over lands planted by means of top sowing or aerial seeding if seeds are present solely as the result of a normal agricultural planting, or a normal soil stabilization practice. Some farmers overseed small grains or winter annual legumes, such as wheat or crimson clover, respectively, into standing cotton or soybeans. In such instances, the crop should be seeded before cotton is defoliated or leaves fall from the soybean plants. Small grains and ryegrass are sometimes seeded in cotton or corn fields immediately after corn and cotton harvest. In those situations, a light disking of the corn or cotton stalks after seeding will constitute a legitimate attempt to establish the cover crop. The mowing of harvested corn, cotton stalks or other crop residues after seeding to form a mulch over the broadcast seed also represents a reasonable effort to establish the small grain or grass. When cover or grazing crops are treated as described above, hunters can be confident that they are not shooting over a baited field.
Manipulation of Agricultural Practices for Migratory Birds other than Waterfowl
Part 20.21 (i)(2) states that for migratory birds other than waterfowl, hunting is permitted “…on or over lands or areas that are not otherwise baited areas, and where grain or other feed has been distributed or scattered solely as the result of manipulation of an agricultural crop or other feed on the land where grown, or solely as the result of a normal agricultural operation.”
Part 20.11 (l) defines manipulation as “…the alteration of natural vegetation or agricultural crops by activities that include but are not limited to mowing, shredding, disking, rolling, chopping, trampling, flattening, burning, or herbicide treatments. The term manipulation does not include the distributing or scattering of grain, seed, or other feed after removal from or storage on the field where grown.”
The above statements mean that standing crops can be managed in several ways to attract doves. It confirms that doves may be hunted over brown-top millet, corn, grain sorghum, sunflowers, wheat and other small grains, and other crops that are mowed, disked, or knocked down. Crop manipulation does not allow one to improperly adjust combines or harvesting machinery for the purpose of distributing grain on a field. Crop manipulation disperses doves over a wider area, benefits other wildlife species and provides quality hunting opportunities for more people.
Other activities that may prove attractive to doves for hunting include the “hogging” of fields or the feeding of livestock in an enclosed feed lot. The handling of grain and feeding of livestock are normal agricultural operations. Accordingly, it is permissible to hunt doves in livestock feeding or grain handling and storage areas. It is, however, imperative to remember that dove hunting in those situations is acceptable only when the feed requirements of the livestock are met and the area is not deliberately supplemented with additional feed, grain, or salt.
Certain situations are clearly inconsistent with normal agricultural planting and harvesting. Commercial crops are normally seeded only once. Hunting doves over a field seeded more than once to encourage high bird populations is not acceptable. Seed lost during grain harvesting operations is scattered; it is not concentrated in long rows or scattered in piles. Hunting over rows or piles of grain may result in a baiting citation.
Planning Dove Hunts
Individuals who seek to attract doves for hunting purposes and those who manage fee hunts should plan for fall hunts in the spring. The spring planting of crops favored by doves allows those crops to be manipulated to attract birds during the hunting seasons. Natural feed may also be manipulated to encourage dove feeding in a given area. Without doubt, dove hunts planned carefully in the spring or fall will improve hunting opportunities while alleviating the fear and public embarrassment of baiting violations.
Often Misunderstood Dove Hunting Regulations
Hunters should be reminded that: (1) doves may not be taken with a shotgun capable of holding more than three shells unless its magazine capacity is limited to two shells by a one piece plug that cannot be removed without disassembly of the firearm, (2) no person can possess more than one daily limit of doves while in the field or while returning from the field to one’s vehicle, hunting camp or home, (3) no one can place doves in the custody of another or leave them at any place unless they are tagged with the hunter’s signature, address, number of birds by species and the dates that the birds were killed, (4) a violation of state migratory bird regulations is also a violation of Federal regulations, (5) killing or shooting at songbirds, hawks, owls, killdeers, nighthawks, swifts, and woodpeckers is illegal. Hunters must make a reasonable effort to retrieve each bird that is shot, even if the bird falls into dense cover.
Part 20.25 of Title 50 addresses the wanton waste of migratory game birds. “No person shall kill or cripple any migratory game bird pursuant to this part without making a reasonable effort to retrieve the bird, and retain it in his actual custody, at the place where taken…”
Anderson, J. R., Jr. and M. G. Wagger (eds.). 1985. Corn production systems in North Carolina. N. C. Coop. Ext. Serv. Pub. AG-347.
Glover, J. W. 1990. Harvesting, drying and storage. In: Small Grain Production Guide. N. C. Coop. Ext. Ser. Pub. AG 419-5.
Green, J. W., J. P. Mueller, and D. S. Chamblee. 1989. Planting guide for forage crops in North Carolina. N. C. Coop. Ext. Serv. Pub. AG-266.
Jarrett, R. E. 1990. Planting methods and planting dates. In: Small Grain Production Guide. N. C. Coop. Ext. Serv. Pub. AG 419-3.
Seamans, M. E., K. Parker, and T. A. Sanders. 2011. Mourning dove population status, 2011. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Migratory Bird Management, Washington, D.C.
Weisz, R. and R. Heiniger 2000. Small grain seeding rates for North Carolina. In: Small Grain Production Guide 2000-01. N. C. Coop. Ext. Ser. Pub.