-By Rich Miller
Labor Day weekend always marks the start of hunting season for me. It is when one of my favorite pastimes occurs. Opening day of dove season is when my friends and family come together for fellowship and hunting. Dove season is just a couple of weeks before deer season and it seems to be a perfect release for everyone young and old. These hard to hit, fast flying, ducking and diving little birds provide a challenge for even the bests shots.
We hunt a field owned and planted by my cousin Greg Hart. He starts by planting the field in November with wheat. Usually he will wait until the end of November so the wheat will last longer once it matures. We will usually start burning some of the wheat around the end of July. Sunflowers are another great seed-bearing plant that the doves love. Doves don’t just like the taste of sunflower seeds; the seed contains oil that the birds are after also. We usually plant the sunflowers around the end of April depending on how much moisture we have been getting or how much is in the forecast. Sunflowers take around a 120 days to reach maturity. The seeds are usually starting to mature during the last few weeks of August. This way when the wheat is about gone, the sunflowers are becoming mature so the birds never miss a thing. There are several different types of millet that work really well and are the easiest to plant. We normally plant brown top millet that takes 90 days to reach maturity. We will plant the millet mid-May and then cut it about two weeks before the season.
By planting everything at the right time we are able to feed the birds from the first of July until opening day. If you can keep feed available all year it will keep a lot of birds in the area so that you can get a head start on attracting birds. Where we are here in the south there is a lot of competition for birds. We don’t have a very good migration of doves and everyone around us is competing for the same resident birds. During the winter and early summer, we keep programmable wildlife feeders out with wheat and sunflowers in them to supplement the birds until the feed we planted starts to come in.
Monday was opening day for us and everyone had a great time. We went to the field around 2:00 and the birds weren’t flying at first, but they started really getting with it around 4:30. I think the heat was a major reason for them not flying well earlier in the day. We were lucky in one aspect though because there was a good breeze blowing pretty much all day. Everyone had their children and grandchildren there retrieving birds, the ones that weren’t big enough to carry a gun. Dove hunting is one of the best ways to introduce kids to the outdoors. You don’t have to worry about them having to be quiet or be still. It is real easy to make it fun for them and teach them at the same time.
I can still remember some of my first hunts when I was a kid. I remember shooting at every dove whether it was in range or not. I had a Topper jr., model .410, single shot shotgun. I don’t recall hitting very much with it, but I really thought I was doing something. After I ran through my box of shells I would act as retriever for my uncle and dad. These dove hunts were not the greatest in the world by any means, but you could not have convinced me otherwise. I was getting to hang out with the guys and I never wanted it any other way. I just hope my son gets as much enjoyment out of hunting as I have over the years. It is a small thing for us to take a child hunting or fishing, but it can make memories that will last a lifetime.