Planting a Dove Field - What I've Learned

      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 – I was surprised to find out how many people I know have planted a dove field or are planting one now.  I didn’t even know they were hunters, but just by mentioning the fact that I’m going out on this endeavor brought me a lot of advice.  I’m not certain all of it was good advice, but it gave me some ideas and started me in the right direction.  Maybe its because I’m from Georgia, but no one has asked “How can you shoot those beautiful creatures” and everyone has a least shown interest in what I’m doing.  Surprisingly, a lot of people have the expertise to help me out.  Be sure to let people know that your planting a dove field, just don’t tell them where it is.

2.   Create a Plan For Your Dove Field - My Scout Master growing up always said that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  I have to agree and spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to plant, when to do certain things, and how to lay the field out.  The plans for my field have changed from time to time, and if my original thoughts aren’t working, I don’t worry about switching things around.
      Part of this plan is the type of seed you will plant.  Everyone raves about Sunflowers and how all the best Dove Hunting takes place over a field of sunflowers, but for a small field in the middle of a deer haven, sunflowers will never produce.  A 10 acre plus field may be OK with Sunflowers, but unless you’re going to put up a six foot fence to keep deer out, a small plot could be destroyed. 
      You also have to look at the time between planting and harvest.  If you want to plant in July and shoot opening day, better go with Brown Top Millet.  If you have time between planting and hunting, your choice of seed becomes so much broader.
      I chose to plant a couple of varieties of Millet with some Sesame.  That way if one doesn’t produce so well, I have the others to fall back on.  If you’re planting more than one variety, will you mix it together and seed, plant alternating strips of the seed without mixing, or plant whole sections of the field in one or another seed?

3.   Make a Budget – Let’s face it, this project is more expensive than I originally thought it would be.  There is the cost of fertilizer, seed, gas, etc and then there is the cost of time.  Try to get an idea of what your field will costs.  Look at some wildlife seed websites, call the local farm and garden store for fertilizer costs – think 60 lbs of Nitrogen per acre, and then create a budget.  Want to go cheap, try getting the native grasses of a fallow field and find out what you can do to promote these grasses. 

Don't forget to budget time for the work
     Don’t forget to budget your time.  It takes some work managing a Dove Field.  Besides the time doing research, there is plowing, prepping the soil, fertilizing, seeding, mowing, discing, setting rules for the field, weed control, etc.  This is not a weekend project, it will take time throughout the summer.  Be sure to budget some time.

4.   Get A Soil Test – This lesson I learned by accident.  After looking at the costs of fertilizer, I decided to get a soil test because I wanted to make sure I was putting down the correct amounts.  I could have taking the recommendations from the seed websites, or asked a nearby farmer what to put in, but I decided to get the State of Georgia to tell me.  For 10 minutes in the field and $8 to the extension service, I found the exact rate of fertilizer to spread.  More importantly, I found that the pH of the soil was a little on the high side, meaning no lime is needed.  Without a soil test I probably would have spent hundreds in cash on lime.  By spending $8.00 I saved both myself and Johnny some much needed cash. 

      On the other hand, if the soil test had shown that we needed to spread a ton of lime, I could have ordered it and had good plant production.  In other words, a soil test would have kept me from throwing money on the fertilizer and seed away because the plants aren’t producing in a field with too a low pH.

5.   Read About Baiting – There are a lot of ideas about what constitutes baiting and what is allowable.  In general, normal agricultural practices are allowed in a Dove Field.  According to a publication by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, anything that is not normal is illegal.  The publication describes in detail what you can and can’t do.  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.  Read about baiting in your area, or ask a Game Warden what can and cannot be done.

6.   Hire Someone to Spread Fertilizer/Lime – If you want to spend a lot of time and money on fertilizer, you can ignore this lesson.  Fertilizer off the shelf at a Big Box store or wildlife seed website is expensive.  Find a Farm and Garden Center that will spread the fertilizer for you and then purchase their farm grade fertilizer.  I contacted a place not far from our field and they mixed the fertilizer just as the soil test recommended.  It was less expensive than anything I could buy off the shelf and they spread it at no additional costs as long as I ordered a minimum of 2,000 pounds.

7.   Calendar Your Dove Field and the Work You Will Need to Put In to It – I have a lot going on this summer.  Work, Vacation, Children’s activities, etc, etc, etc.  To have the time to work on the field, I’ve scheduled out when I need to be there.  Understanding that this schedule could change, but it has set a priority with me and my family that I need the time to work in the field.  Again, this is not a weekend project, it will take several visits to the field to have the hopes of producing doves.

8.   Read About It – I’ve spent several nights either surfing the web or reading outdoor magizines to find out how best to plant a field.  There is a lot of good technical advice out there and I’ve gained some knowledge from reading.  Field and Stream had a great article in April about planting a one acre field to shoot 1,000 doves this season.  I’m not sure I can accomplish that, but it gave some great information about how to set the field up, how much open ground to leave, and how to arrange the hunters.  Most state DNR’s produce a publication about attracting doves, and all this information can only help.  Take some time to read from the experts and get some knowledge about planting a Dove Field.

9.   Create a Backup Plan – This is really a way of saying, don’t get upset if things don’t go the way planned.  I tried to arrange for the fertilizer truck to spread our field the week before we planted.  But the truck broke down and the orders for spreading backed up at the Farm and Garden Center.  We chose to plant anyway and have the field spread a couple days later.

      Early on, I had planned to plow, but the tractor wouldn’t start.  Thankfully, Johnny had some time the next week to plow.  We didn’t go over the field as much as we would have liked, but we did get the seed growing.

     We are also in a drought in Southern Georgia and I’m worried that the lack of rain will hurt the production of what I’ve planted.  The good news is that I’ve still got Proso Millet to plant.  If that doesn’t work, I’ll wait until rain starts falling and replant with Brown Top Millet.  We may miss the first couple of weeks of Dove Season, but hopefully we will have the seed production to attract birds.  Things will always deviate a little from the plan, but with a little thought, I’ll overcome it.

10.  Enjoy It – I have to thank Johnny for this one.  I expected to do nothing but work during the first few trips to work on the field.  Luckily Johnny brought some quail to train his dog.  We had a blast watching the 8 month old Brittany learn to hunt and did some work in between.  I’ve also taken some time just scout out the property, look at the quail plots, and sit and talk with my children when I’m there to work.  Sure there is a lot of work to be done, but we always get enough of it accomplished even after all the breaks.

     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.

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