There was a movie a few years ago having to do with a farmer somewhere in the mid-west building a baseball diamond out there in the middle of nowhere. The idea was that if he built the ball field properly, the players and spectators would come to it. Similarly, properly building and managing a farm field for the expressed purpose of attracting mourning dove and wing shooters will bring in the birds and the hunters.
When this year’s dove season opened a few days ago a group of 33 hunters gathered in northwest Bertie County to hunt on the farm of John C.P. Tyler. This hunt has become quite an affair over the years and is as good an example as I know of how to entertain visiting hunters with not only as a wing shooting sport but a social affair as well. This year’s hunt was no exception.
You’d think that with 33 hunters taking part in the hunt you’d need more land to hunt on than the 8 acres of cultivated sunflowers that were available to us. Due to the careful planning of the opening day hunt. This was quite enough land for that number of hunters to safely and effectively hunt on.
Specially managed hunts for mourning dove aren’t just for sportsmen who have access to these special dove fields. Such hunts are available on the Game Lands administered by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and private hunts for a fee as well. The special hunts of the opening day are a southern tradition that has served as an introduction to hunting for many of today’s veteran dove shooters.
After an early lunch was served to all hunt-master Fred Luck from Richmond, Virginia gathered the hunters around ice boxes filled with cold water and other soft drinks for a pre-hunt briefing on hunting safety and this year’s laws and regulations. Some of the hunters were old-timers at dove hunting but some were relatively new at this type of hunting. During all the pre-hunt proceedings anxious eyes were cast at the 8-acre plot of sunflowers as flocks of morning dove flew in and out of the field like bees over honey. Obviously this was to be another good hunt.
While it’s illegal to knock down a standing agricultural grain crop to attract ducks and geese, you can manipulate standing grain crops over fields where you hunt mourning dove. Crops suck as millet are sometimes use to attract dove but, without a doubt, the best crop I’ve ever seen raised to attract dove is sunflowers.
The farmer has managed the crop of sunflowers much the same as he’d manage any other crop. The fields were properly sprayed for weed and grass control, fertilized and several rows were mowed to the ground well before the opening day’s hunt.
Surrounding the dove field were woodlands consisting mostly of grown pines a favorite place for dove to rest or roost. The nearby Roanoke River and its tributaries offered a source of water to the birds in this warmer weather. The birds had a place to rest, feed and water-up, the three essential elements to keep the birds around.
Since there had not been that much corn harvested in this area before the opening of the dove season, the dove were really flocking into the readily available sunflower seeds that were on the ground. All the hunters had to do was to position themselves in or along the perimeter of he sunflower plot and carefully choose their shots.
Some hunters filled their 15 bird-per-day bag limit and were back sipping on cold drinks within 15 minutes of the start of the hunt. Even with the shooting as “hot and heavy” as it was during the very height of the hunt, not one incident of shooting at low-flying birds was seen or reported and all rules of gun safety were observed.
By about 3:00 in the afternoon all hunters were back at the hunt headquarters for more food and liquid refreshment. These treats were supplemented by one hunters cooking of several pounds of wild duck breast that he’d saved in the freezer from last year’s waterfowl season. Cooked on a charcoal grill this was a treat indeed.
Over the years careful records have been kept of just how many dove are harvested on the opening day’s hunt at this particular location. The tally for this group of hunters was 444 dove harvested for the 33 hunters attending.
As the festivities began to wind down and sundown drew near dove were still flying in and out of the sunflowers. As if in a salute to the success of the hunt, just at sundown, a flock of eight Canada geese flew overhead just out of shotgun range. If anyone had had a duck stamp and the proper non-toxic shot for their guns, a Canada goose would have been a great supplement to the bulging bags of mourning dove.