Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Does Quail Mean Anyway?

If you asked me what quail means, I would say hunting with my Dad, watching the dog work or waiting for my son and daughter to hit their first bird on a covey rise.  Twenty some odd years ago, someone might have said “the vice-president” when asked what quail means.  What do our youth today say?
Don McKenzie makes the point that kids today do not even know what quail are, not to mention what it means.  Not even kids in a hunter education class.  To help reverse this trend as well as the trend of less habitat for quail, go to Things Today's Kids May Never Know About and read his story.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

First Steps

Most of us remember our first time shooting, for me it was at a clay pigeon with my Dad’s Browning over/under.  Most of us don’t remember our first steps as a baby, but the parents remember it.  I remember my Daughter’s first step.  It caught us off guard, but there she was coming down the hall.  We launched for our camera.  Why do parents always want a picture and a video?  The memory is etched in my mind.

A few weeks ago, Sydnie took her first step with a shotgun.  It’s proud moment for a parent, but just as a baby’s first step, it was an awkward moment for her.  She shot twice at a target and the first time nearly knocked her backwards.  By the second shot, she was steady, held the gun tight to her shoulder and hit the target at 30 yards. 

Of course we don’t expect a 9 month old baby to take off running a mile.  I shouldn’t expect my daughter to hit tough shots now.  Instead, it’s all about safety and learning to shoot.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Bird in the Ravine is Worth Two in the Bush

Quail Season is here in Georgia and things have changed around Johnny's hunting camp.  Two years ago, we were all sitting in deer stands every morning and every evening.  Johnny's son kept that vigil this year, but no one else ventured out of camp with a rifle.  There are coveys around and that's the focus now.

Sydnie and Rube

Some of you may remember that I planted a Dove Field over the summer and that it didn't produce as much as I hoped.  I spent much of the First Dove Season hunting a friend's field and skipped the second season.  Anyway, what the field didn't do for the Doves, it did for the Quail.  This was the area where we found birds over the long Thanksgiving Weekend.  And what a sight to see Johnny's young Brittney working and pointing.

Sydnie and a Brittany Ready to Hunt
The first time we found this covey, it was in an eight year old clear cut heading up to the field.  I was on the road and the Brittany came running down without a care, when it suddenly stopped, turned, locked, and sprinted in the woods with purpose.  Johnny and George headed into the clear cut, but the birds scattered.  Johnny's dad, Rube, did shoot one that made it up to the field, but it landed in the woods and we couldn't find it.  Oh well.

That afternoon, Johnny and I headed back up to the field to see if the covey had regrouped.  The Brittany again was birdy in the field, but headed in the woods at the edge.  As we approached the woods, PURRRRROUGH, a covey rose from under our feet!  Caught off guard we rose and I downed a bird that fell in about the same bush as the bird that morning.  And again, after searching and searching, we had no luck at finding the bird.  Oh Well.

The field gave us another chance the next day.  When we got to the field in the afternoon, the Brittany looked birdy as soon as we got there.  He found a bird at the lower corner and Johnny called that it was a single.  The dog held the point perfectly giving us time to set up.  I stepped in, and the whole covey rose with a surprise to us all.  I was somehow able to hit one, but again it landed in the woods.

As we stepped into the woods, we met a sheer cliff going into a ravine about 25 feet deep.  And at the bottom was the quail.  Johnny’s Brittany was more interested in the single birds in the woods, so a long walk to the bottom of the ravine and back up was the only way to retrieve.  But we at least had a quail in the bag.

A Craw full of Sesame

Cleaning this bird showed a craw full of the Sesame I had planted for doves.   Johnny added four others to the meal that night of fried Quail.  The best things about these quail hunts: watching the dog work, getting a shock at a covey rising at my feet, a craw full of Sesame, my daughter refusing to let someone else carry her heavy gun, and listening to Johnny and his dad argue over the value of the dog.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Back in the Field

It has been well over a month since my last post and I could make some excuses. Busy at work, few doves in the field, procrastination, etc. etc.  With the field full of weeds and the drought keeping us from burning, the field did not look that attractive to the doves that we hoped for.  Enough of the excuses, the season is in for crying out loud. 
Labor Day Weekend - There were birds flying over, so we set out open day weekend to have some fun, hang out and shoot the field.  To sum it up, we saw plenty of birds, but all flying high or around the field, and most in the same direction.  We checked the craw of the few doves killed and found them full of sunflowers, something not in our field.  So, a field close by was the primary feeding field and ours was simply a place for the occasional seed.
But all was not lost, we did have some fun and I got to:
Watch my daughter take her first shot with a shot gun

Watch my friend Jonny and his son claim one bird they both shot at

Eat well

Watch Johnny's dog work

Spend hours sitting in the field with my daughter

Shoot at a few birds

Here are some pictures, I’ll write more about the three hunts I took in Georgia’s first season in upcoming posts.
Sesame still in bloom

A hand full of Sesame seed

The Dove Field before the first shoot

My daughter getting ready for her first shotgun shot.

A happy first shot

Finally, Hunting!
(Remember to change the date on my camera next time)


Monday, August 1, 2011

Dove Field Update

Finally, after waiting for the dove field to grow, it’s about time to start mowing, burning and preparing for a hunt.  Dove season is only one month away.  We took a look at the field last week to plan what we would do for mowing.  The Millet was a little stressed and suffering from a drought, over planting and weeds.  But there is still plenty of seed production, so not bad.  The Proso Millet is coming along, not shooting up seed heads yet, but definitely growing.
Sesame in Bloom

In the upper part of the field, the sesame was doing the best.  This area was full of healthy plants and lots of flowers with more flower buds ready to open.  It’s a little over crowded, but producing a lot.  The Sesame in the lower half of the field is struggling, though.  Deer browsing, weeds, and drought have caused this stand to be low with few flowers.  It’s funny how the lower portion of the field suffered more from the drought than the upper portion. 
After viewing the field, I started with the plans.  There’s a lot of information on the internet about mowing, burning and preparing the field for a hunt.  Doves like a field with easy access to seed.  Open ground with lots of food.  The Sesame requires no mowing or burning, but we will need to thin the stands out a little to provide an open area.
For the Brown Top Millet, which is already producing seed, I am hoping we can burn it.  This will surely provide open ground with seeds.  Plan B will be to mow it close to the ground if we can’t get a burn permit.

More Sesame

By the time the Prose Millet is ready, the first dove season will be here, and I don’t want to spend too much time in the field, except to hunt.  So we will mow this seed and maybe disc some bare areas in the field.

That’s the plan anyway, but I’ve learned that the field doesn’t always go as planned.  We’ll be up to the field this weekend to start the work on preparing the field for doves.
Millet Going to Seed

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Economics of Dove Hunting

Years ago, my father and uncle would walk out their front door, head down the creek and hunt ducks, quail or some other game.  Before then, people depended on fish and game to help feed the family.  Even today, I see folks with cane poles lined up at the river to catch a meal, and I hear about families depending on squirrel hunts to provide food.  My father actually justified the purchase of a nice Browning shotgun by telling my mother that he would be putting meat on the table.
But times have changed since then, and fishing and hunting is a sport rather than a necessity.  We no longer kill game, rather we “harvest.”  We spare no expense in this recreation, spending money on top dollar guns, clothes, gear and anything else we think we need or would help us in the field.  I recently took a look at what I’ve spent planting the dove field and getting it ready to hunt, and I wonder what the costs per dove will actually be.
When I was in college, I took a recreation economics class, and I remember the professor saying something about including a person’s time in the models to determine how much a trip is worth to the person.  So, trying to remember the concepts the professor taught, I set out to estimate the value of this dove field to me.
Let’s see, I’m lucky and there isn’t any cost for the land, but there is the cost of fertilizer
and seed, and weed kill;
 oh I shouldn’t forget the cost of the soil test.
There’s the time I went to test the soil, I think it was 1 hour, and the time plowing, and
time planting.
Let’s see, time in the field times my hourly pay rate;
carry the 1.
Oh, what about travel costs?  Number of miles times the government mileage rate;
cost of the hunting license, shells, water ….;
total the factors.
How many dove will I take?  How often will I hunt? OK, maybe I’ll hunt four times in the first season, three in the second; 
Maybe I’ll average 8 birds a hunt, hopefully more.  56 birds divide by the total.
That comes out to about $583.60 per pound.  Wow, I could buy a lot of Kobe Beef with $583. 

Of course, you are probably not paying this much to hunt nor spending as much time to prepare for a hunt.  But if you spend 3 hours in the field to take your limit of 15 doves, you’re not only a good shot, but you’re also valuing the hunt at least from $25 to $50 per pound.  (Sorry Dad, your gun is not going to pay for itself with meat on the table).
That is a hefty price, but it’s not the point.  The point is that I’ve enjoyed working on this field, and I can’t wait for this fall season.  There’s time spent with family and friends, trying to figure out what I need to do to get dove’s to fly in the field.  I’m not sure we will go as far as to call it “harvesting;” I still call it dove hunting, and it’s worth it!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Little Bragging

A little over a week ago, Johnny, his son George, Sydnie and I met at the fields to plant a couple of quail plots.  Afterwards, we shot a few clay pigeons.  George was on, I was off and for some stands, way off.  I need a lot of time on target before the seasons start.  Even so, I do have some bragging to do.
A couple of years ago, some friends of ours visited us from out of town.  Jay is a golf pro, so I took a day off work and arranged for us to play a new course in the area.  I don’t golf and I didn’t learn much, but I did take Jay’s advice on bragging.  When a golfer returns and someone asks how he did, the answer is always a brief mention of what he did best.  Jay got a birdie on the fourth hole, I one putted the 8th green.  Get the picture?

Who Shot That Bird?

Despite my bad day at skeet, I do have some bragging to do.  Every time I’ve shot at a bird on Johnny’s land, a bird has fallen.  Sure, I haven’t done much wing shooting there, just a couple of quail hunts and two duck hunts, one of which I didn’t get a shot.  Sure there was the quail when both my father-in-law and I shot at the same time, and no one knows who hit the bird.  But so far, each time I’ve shot while bird hunting on Johnny’s land, the bird has fallen.
OK, enough bragging.  I’m sure my streak will end on the first dove hunt this season.   I’ll need a lot of time on targets this summer in preparation for that hunt.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Rain is a Good Thing

I know floods have devastated parts of the country and the folks affected by these floods don’t want to see any rain, but in Georgia a drought over the past few months has ruined lawns, crops and the Dove Field. Finally, the rain has started to fall here, but when I go to the radar on the internet, it seems as if there is a black hole around Johnny’s land. Storms approach only to break apart just before they reach the Dove Field I’ve planted. It seems there is a black hole above the field sucking all the moisture out of any cloud that could provide the much needed water.
Over this past weekend, my daughter Sydnie and I took the trip to Johnny’s land just to see how the field was progressing, as well as to formulate a plan for replanting the drought stricken crop. I’ll admit that as we drove up to the field my thoughts were centered on where I might be able to purchase more millet seed over the 4th of July weekend. I fully expected that we would need to replant most of the field. The fun of imagining multitudes of doves swarming in to waiting guns had vanished from my thoughts, and the concerns of growing a crop in a drought weighed heavy upon my mind.
First view, things are progressing nicely

So we arrived, and after some minor equipment repairs to Johnny’s truck and catching up with him and his son George, we checked the rain gage. Two inches; thinks were looking up. But had the field sustained itself enough to recover? Sydnie and I hopped on a four-wheeler and headed to the field for the answer. Much to my delight, things were progressing nicely.

Sydnie standing next to a thick patch of Millet

You know I’m not a farmer and the field is by no means perfect. But the Millet we planted three weeks ago is coming up, the Sesame is flowering, and the Brown Top Millet is starting to produce seed heads. There are a lot of weeds, but for me, that’s okay. Most of the weeds are grass, which will produce seed for the doves as well as the millet and the sesame. The good news is that I didn’t have to find a place to purchase more seed.
Rain is a good thing and has made everyone happy.

The best news is that the rain has brought my thoughts back to what the field will be. There’s a song by Luke Bryan called Rain is a Good Thing because rain makes corn, and corn makes whiskey. For me, rain is a good thing because rain makes Millet, and Millet feeds doves, and friends and family will pile in the field for a good southern dove shoot this fall.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Monday, June 20, 2011

Planting a Dove Field - Should I Bait

Now that the dove field is all planted, my thoughts have turned to managing the field.  There will be work to do this summer; fertilizer to add, weeds to spray, crops to mow, landing zones to make bare, and countless other tasks to complete to prepare the field for dove hunting.  Fortunately, I’ve received some advice from a few people I know who have done this before, and part of that advice has been about baiting.

Surely, the Georgia DNR would consider this
pile of corn an act of baiting

I am not sure where most people fall on this issue.  I do know that baiting a field is illegal, but there is a general question of what is considered baiting.  Most DNR’s and Wildlife Commissions will state that a person can perform any normal agricultural practice to prepare a dove field.  That includes plowing, planting, mowing, disking, and all the other practices it takes to grow a crop.  It does not however include spreading seed on top of the ground to attract doves.  Georgia’s DNR states that a field is considered baited for 10 days after all the “bait” is completely removed.  Since doves are migratory birds and covered by federal regulations, most states have the same rules for preparing a dove field.  Georgia provides a detailed brochure on their website.
Some of my friends have told me that it is perfectly ok to get doves familiar with the field by spreading some wheat seed on disked areas in June and July.  This would give the doves three weeks in August to clean the field as well as then the 10 days required by Georgia before hunting over it.  The Georgia brochure claims that this type of activity is not a normal agricultural process, thus it could be considered baiting.
Too much work?
Get some help!

There are also those who question the whole idea of baiting’s illegal status.  What is the difference between throwing corn on the ground and growing corn, mowing it, and leaving the corn scattered on the ground?  In both cases there is corn placed in a condition attractive to doves.  I guess the biggest difference is the amount of work and money that is required to grow the corn.  This supports the argument of some who claim the baiting rules are unfair because the person who can’t afford to plant and grow a crop, does not have the same opportunity to attract birds.  I have to give credit to this point of view, it isn’t cheap to plant and manage a dove field, but I believe that the person with a little ingenuity can find ways to keep the costs down as well as others willing to share the costs.
I’ll admit that I’ve considered the advice to throw some wheat out periodically this summer.  So far I’ve ignored it and don’t plan to do anything that isn’t a normal agricultural practice.  My mind may change if the millet and sesame are not producing like I think it should.  I’ll start mowing in mid to late July, hopefully in time to start attracting all the resident doves to the field.
What are your thoughts?  Please take the poll.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Planting the Dove Field - Again

Some of the best memories of my childhood are of my father taking us hunting and fishing.  I remember when it was hot, I remember the long walks to that far covey, and I remember wading through countless briar patches.  But I don’t remember anything bad, just the fun we had sitting in a field or watching our dog point.  And I remember the enjoyment of being in the field with my father.  Fun despite the hard work it was sometimes.

Before the workday

Our latest trip to the dove field was filled with hard work.  It had been four weeks since we first planted the Sesame and Millet, and the first time I had been able to get to the field since planting.  I was a little worried about the lack of rain in Georgia, but Johnny had put me at ease with a picture of the growing food plot.  Still, as we drove past corn and hay fields dry from the drought, my expectations were that the field would be dry as well.  And after backing the tractor up the grade to the hill, I saw what I expected.  Yes, there was millet, and yes there was sesame growing, but not nearly as developed as it should be.  And the field was choked with other grasses and vines.

Sydnie and Dylan spraying weeds

The summer grasses would be tolerable, they can produce seeds that dove will eat, but I wanted to control some of the other weeds.  So we got straight to work and I put my children on weed detail.  I quickly showed them how to identify what we want in the field versus what to spray and gave them the hand sprayer.  In the meantime, I started plowing the remaining portion of the field for the Proso Millet.

Thirty minutes later, they were done spraying and two hours later I was done plowing.  Sydnie and Dylan had not done enough to control most of the weeds, but were tired of working and I was tired as well.  We had a long lunch, and then spread the seed and disced it into the plot.  Hopefully we get some rain to start the new planting and to kick the rest of the field into gear.  It was a hot, dry, and dusty day in the field, and we were dirty and tired.  The long trip back to camp about did us in, but we made it.

After the workday

Driving home, I was sure that this had not been a fun day for my children.  What 8 and 9 year old wants to spend all day sweating and working in a field?  But I asked anyway, and to my surprise they were both quick to answer about the fun they had.  Hopefully, this is the start of some good memories that they can later reflect upon…memories about when they helped grow a crop and later hunted on it.  I can’t wait for the next few years of taking my children in the field.


Resting in the shade

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Planting a Dove Field - What I've Learned So Far

It’s that time of year.  Dove Hunters are starting to think about the next season and a few are wondering if they should plant a Dove Field this year.  I was amazed to find that Google has this Blog listed in the top 15 sites when you search “Dove” “Field” and “Planting.”  Then I realized that a few people looking for information about planting their own Dove field had somehow stumbled onto this blog.  Hopefully they’ve read the part about my inexperience as a farmer, wildlife manager and wing shooter.  But you yourself may be interested in a planting a Dove Field and may gain some valuable knowledge from what I’ve learned so far.  So here it is:
1.      Tell People What You Are Doing  - Get some advice.

2.      Create a Plan For Your Dove Field - It's more work than throwing some seed on the ground.
3.      Make a Budget – This includes budgeting time for work in the field.

4.      Get A Soil Test – At a mimimum this gives better soil for plants to grow.  In our case we saved a bunch of cash when we found out that no lime was needed.

My son creating his own plan for the field

5.      Read About Baiting – I don’t want to ruin a good hunt for myself, family and friends because the Game Warden shows up to tell me that the field is considered baited.

6.      Hire Someone to Spread Fertilizer/Lime – It takes a lot of time to do it yourself, and we found someone to spread it for no additional costs than the fertilizer itself.

7.      Calendar Your Dove Field and the Work You Will Need to Put In to It – I have a lot going on this summer, placing the Dove Field on the calendar gives it priority over some other things.

8.      Read About It – There is a lot of good technical advice out there.

9.      Create a Backup Plan – This is really a way of saying, don’t get upset if things don’t go the way planned.
10.  Enjoy It – Sure there is a lot of work to be done, but we always get enough of it accomplished while having a little fun.
There isn’t much technical information in this post, but these things are worth knowing.  Dove season is about 3 months away, and if you’re planting a field, keep this advice in mind.  I’m sure I’ll learn a few more things on the way and try to include them in later posts.  In a couple of weeks, I’ll be up to the field to plant the Proso and hopefully to look over some growing Millet and Sesame.

See the full Verision of this Post for more details

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Post Planting - Dove Field Worries

I was a little worried after planting the Millet and Sesame.  Worried because the fertilizer was not down, worried that there would not be enough rain.  There’s not much I could do about the rain, but hopefully, applying the fertilizer a couple days after planting would be fine.
Preparing the Dove field Before Planting
I called the farm and garden center on Monday; they were backed up and could not spread the fertilizer.  “Call back tomorrow” was the only help I could get.  I called Tuesday and finally, they could spread our plots in the afternoon.  So I drove 2 hours to the store to pay and meet the driver at 12:30.  But he was stuck in another county waiting for someone to show up and tell him where to spread his load.  So again I waited until 2:00, then 3:00, then 4:00 and at 4:30 he was finally on his way back.  A few hundred dollars and minutes to mix our fertilizer was all that held us, and then we were on the way to the field.
At the field, I climbed in his truck and pointed down the narrow path towards the dove field.  Johnny isn’t bush hogging the roads because we found out this is bad for the quail. Trees growing beside the road had not been trimmed this year making the path to the plot look like a needle eye for the large fertilizer truck.  The driver complained and told me I was going to damage the truck.  “How much further is it?”  I could only reply the same as I do to my children on a long trip; oh, we’re almost there, it just up over the next hill.”
Climbing the last hill was the worst for him, he got stuck twice and at one point I thought we would have to call in a tow as his complaining led to cussing.  But he made it and I quickly found that spreading a small field takes no time at all and in about 5 minutes we were headed back down the hill to spread some of the quail plots.  I also found that ordering enough fertilizer to spread four acres of field will get you about 3 acres spread. Many of the quail plots were left without fertilizer.
With this accomplished, I didn’t have to worry about the fertilizer, and since it rained just before and after we planted, I wasn’t worried about the rain.  That was until it stopped raining.  While the rest of the country is facing epic floods, I am not asking for rain.  The problem is that South Georgia is facing a drought and some areas haven’t received rain in nearly five weeks.
Sesame and Millet starting to emerge through the Georgia Clay
But as I visited family in North Carolina, the news finally came in.  Johnny was up at the field and sent back a picture with the caption “the field looks better than the picture shows.”  And the picture shows some Sesame and Millet sprouting through the dry earth in Georgia clay.
I’ll be up in a week or so to look at the results and to start on the next planting – Proso Millet.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Planting the Dove Field

Finally, the time came to start planting the Dove field.  I gave Johnny a list and some cash a few weeks before, and he kindly went to the seed store to purchase the seed.  There was a poll on this blog for a few weeks asking what I should plant and I believe the Brown Top Millet won out. I actually chose a combination of Brown Top and Proso Millets with Sesame. The idea is that I can start mowing the Brown top Millet in July giving time for Doves to find and get used to feeding in the field.  The Sesame will be ready for the first Dove Season and The Proso should last into the second season.  This gives us September and October to hunt doves.  By the time the field has stopped producing, Quail season will be under way.
My daughter and I left late Saturday evening after a Cub Scout banquet and stayed in camp.  On Sunday, we woke early, got the tractor and began plowing the field one last time.  It was wet, but broke up nice. Johnny arrived with a side by side 4 wheeler and took over the tractor.  He finished the field with as smooth a surface as a tractor can lay.
While he was finishing the plowing, Sydnie and I started laying out the field.  The plan was to plant a couple of areas of each type of seed so the Brown Top Millet mowing would produce nice open areas for the Doves to land next to either Sesame or Proso Millet.  I taught Sydnie how to drive the 4 wheeler and she followed me around the field with stakes and flags.
The planting was easy, we just broadcast the Sesame and Brown Top plots with a walking seeder.  Sydnie followed slowly with the seed.  The Proso wasn’t planted with the rest, I am waiting until June to put it down.  The idea is to have it ready in September and for it to last well into October.
After spreading the seed, Sydnie and I hooked the drag on the 4 wheeler and drug the field for about an hour.  All the seed should have plenty of contact with the soil to aid the germination and growth.  Now it was up to getting the fertilizer down and a little rain.
Back at the camp, Johnny had finished some chores and we discussed plans for planting the rest of the field and the quail plots.  Later we talked about our future plans for the Dove and Quail seasons and our hopes of Doves weaving and coveys rising.  Hopefully, our hard work will pay off in a way that matches our expectations.