A flock of dipping and darting doves flew into the field near Stonewall, heading toward Scott Davis.
They didn’t get far.
Davis took a fine bead on the lead dove and squeezed off a shot. The dove crumpled instantly and the others sped off, dipping and darting even more erratically.
The 2016 dove season was just underway and the shooting had already started. Another volley of shots rang out as another flight of doves descended into the field intent on getting an easy meal. Several didn’t make it out. The action was fast and furious as doves descended on the field from all angles.
Buddy Davis and his sons had a great afternoon knocking down quite a few doves. My chosen stand was a prime landing zone, and the birds were coming in with their landing gear down by the time they got to me. I finished my limit with a couple of ring necks — non-native collared doves — added for good measure in a mere 30 minutes. While the hunt was limited to a few hunters, the shooting was red hot and almost everybody got their limit before the first hour was over.
That the shooting was so good was no accident.
For thousands of Mississippians, the fall hunting season begins with the opening day of dove season, usually the Saturday prior to Labor Day. While many hunts are successful, most opening day hunts are social events centered featuring food and fellowship but the hunting leaves something to be desired. The days of just showing up and shooting doves at any field are few and far between now.
Hunters, farmers and landowners must put in a lot of work and strategic planning like any good farmer does with their crops. Successful dove hunts just don’t happen, but rather they are a result of strategic planning with a lot of hard work and preparation.
First and foremost you must have birds to shoot for a successful opening day hunt, and preseason preparation is imperative to attract doves. You can shoot clays all summer, but if you don’t have the doves, all the practice in the world won’t do you any good.
Davis, of Quitman, is a successful outdoorsman who likes to hunt birds, ducks, deer and turkeys. Dove season is really a special time when he can sharpen his wing shooting skills and work his Labrador retrievers. To him, there’s nothing as fun as shooting doves and watching his dogs working the field retrieving birds. He takes a lot of enjoyment in providing his guests with a quality hunting experience and he spends a lot of time preparing the field for the season.
One poor hunt is all it takes to get Davis motivated.
“I guess when you have a bad dove hunting season you really want to ask yourself what did I do wrong?” Davis said. “Maybe I can do something different next year to make things better and have plenty of doves to hunt.”
Davis does a lot of things to put the odds in his favor for his annual dove hunts. Most of the time he’s very successful.
“I actually try to have some type of feed available for the doves on a year-round basis,” said Davis. “While there are a few things I’ll do in getting my property ready during August, it actually starts much earlier in the year and continues right on through the fall and winter hunting seasons.”
Davis likes to utilize all of his property to attract doves and that includes providing food and water in a natural setting.
“I’m bush-hogging some old rye grass and wheat fields that I planted last fall and disking some areas around the farm to give the doves something natural to eat and get to easily in preparation for the fall season,” Davis said. “If you have the time and equipment and the weather cooperates, you can start by planting grain crops that will mature at different times from late summer through the fall hunting seasons and have something for the doves during all of the seasons.”
Davis has a menu of wildflowers and wild plants on his farm that doves love to eat, including wild millet and other wildflower species that produce small seeds throughout the growing season.
“Doves like a lot of the seeds that grow wild and I’ll fertilize and nurse some of those areas that have that and promote growth of the desirable wild seeds,” he said. “I’ll bush hog and disk different areas year-round too.”
Dual purpose planting
While a lot of the preseason dove preparation does occur in August — including crop harvesting and manipulation — the crops must be planted much earlier in the year. Different crops provide food for the birds and cover for the hunters, and Davis is a master when it comes to maximum utilization of his land and crops.
“I’ve planted some Biologic called WhistleBack, which has millet and Egyptian wheat as well as a few other things and a lot of it comes back each year,” Davis said. “I’ll bush hog some, leave some and burn some strips and then till it.”
WhistleBack is a blend for all species of birds, providing massive amounts of seeds for food. It is also great for creating borders on the edge of food plots or road frontage. When fully mature, the varieties in this blend can create a 6- to 10-foot wall of cover and thousands of seeds that will be there throughout the fall and winter season.
Through the years Davis has planted a variety of crops that provide seeds to the doves, ducks, and deer, and I’ve been fortunate to experience the results first hand.
Davis has planted grain sorghum, brown top millet, pearl millet and corn with equally good results over the years.
“I like to plant different things all around the farm and sometimes plant multiple species like corn and millet next to each other and leave some clean ground beside the corn as well,” said Davis. “Doves like to fly into the clean strip and walk over into the millet and corn for food and shade. Sometimes a lot of wild millet will come up in the corn and it really attracts the doves too.”
Davis likes to bush hog a strip of corn, sorghum, or millet every few days leading up to the season to keep some food out there to attract the doves.
“I really like to wait until the last few days prior to the season to bush hog some things to give the doves something new to feed on,” Davis said. “I don’t know why they do it but they’ll leave some areas to go to a new feeding ground just before the season starts.
Stands and their placement
Davis picks out stands that will be good ambush points to harvest doves, while placing the stands far enough apart to avoid hunters shooting each other. Safety is the first order of business and Davis keeps that in mind when planning stands and how many people he can safely hunt in the field.
“I’ll cut the hay and leave the round bales in the field a few days before the season so we can have some shade and concealment from the doves throughout the field,” he said. “The bales are more for hunter comfort and safety but they do make good ambush points that the doves get used to.”
Cornfields also offer great stand concealment and Davis typically leaves strips of corn through the field where hunters can hide in between the corn to ambush the doves when they fly in. They’re been proven year after year as well.
Faux power lines for doves
Just how far you want to go depends on your passion and your commitment, and Davis is extremely passionate and committed.
How much? Well, he installed his very own power lines for the doves.
“There’s a big power line on the property right next to us and I noticed that the doves lit on it before flying into the fields,” Davis said. “There were hundreds on those high-wire transformer lines so we put up a 330-yard double line right down the middle of our field alongside a lake. We keep the ground under the line clean and disked up and the doves use it just like a real power line, but this one doesn’t have electricity running through it.”
The doves will light on those wires and then fly about 80 to 100 yards to the feeding area when they are ready.
Decoys and Mojos
Davis knows doves feel secure when they see more birds in a field, and fooling them with decoys can work to the hunter’s advantage.
“They like to see their buddies light in the field first and when they see some of the other doves flying in they’ll really pile in there,” Davis said. “That’s the reason decoys work, because they’re watching that ground for doves and activity. At first we had the wind powered decoys and then we got the Mojo doves when they came out.”
He recommends experimenting to see what works best for you, but decoys will work in the right situation.
“They may not light right next to the Mojo decoys but they’ll usually make a pass where you can get a shot on them,” Davis said. “That’s what you want anyway.”
Cleaning shotguns and gear
While practice makes perfect, you can’t wait until the week of the season to inspect your hunting equipment, and that starts with your shotgun.
Even single-barrel pump shotguns and double-barreled shotguns need cleaning and inspection each year before the season. Although new modern semi-automatic shotguns are very efficient and more dependable, they are more prone to jamming and malfunction, and need an annual inspection and cleaning.
Hunters should thoroughly clean their shotgun or take it to a local gunsmith for a professional cleaning long before the season begins. There’s nothing any more frustrating than having fast paced dove hunting action and experiencing mechanical malfunctions with your firearm.
It’s also a good idea to locate and inspect decoys, especially ones with mechanical parts. A squeaky decoy is a worthless tool.
Honing shooting skills
After your guns are cleaned and all of your gear is inspected, then it’s time to go the shooting range.
“There’s nothing like honing your shooting skills on a round of 5-Stand, skeet, or sporting clays before dove season,” said Ken Kercheval, the executive director of the local Boy Scouts of America who oversees the Camp Binachi Shooting Sports Range 8 miles south of I-20 off Mississippi Highway 19 near Meridian.
“We started the shooting sports complex as a way to subsidize our Boy Scouts efforts while also giving the scouts and shooting enthusiasts a place to improve their skills and enjoy the shooting sports,” Kercheval said. “I prefer the 5-Stand for doves because it’s an open field setting and the birds are coming at you from all directions, including overhead and banking, while sporting clays are held in the woods.
“Both the 5-Stand and skeet are fast, and you can complete a round in 25 to 30 minutes. You can come out after work and shoot a round or two.”
The Binachi Shooting Sports range also hosts an annual shoot each year and usually includes an expert shooter giving instructions on improving your shooting skills while demonstrating some of their expertise.
“Our annual Sporting Clays for Character shoot is held just before dove season opens, and acts as a warm up for dove season,” Kercheval said. “It’s a way for hunters to sharpen their shooting eye and get their timing back while also helping a good cause. You can check out our website at www.BinachiShootingSports.com for range hours and upcoming events or call us at (601) 693-6757.”
Don’t wait until opening day to shoot or you might waste a few boxes of shells and miss out on a chance to harvest a limit of birds.
Delta dove preparation
Chuck Cage of Hollandale has been guiding dove hunters for 38 years and he’s learned more than a few things during that time.
“We’re basically old school in that we plant sunflowers the first of April and they come off about Aug. 10 to 15,” he said. “That’s when we like to have our first cutting because the first guy to get the doves coming in generally has the doves on opening day. We don’t use any wheat because we want to be 100 percent legal and that means planting early or hunting over natural crops and foods during the fall season.
“My experience is that if you’re not where the doves want to be you’re not going to have a good hunt on that field. We hunt several ancestral dove and duck spots where they have been coming in for generations and they keep coming to the spot because we have the food for them too.”
Cage cuts eight rows of the mature sunflowers and skips 24 rows and cuts 8 more and continues throughout the field until his first cutting is completed. Then it’s simply a matter of keeping enough food in the fields to keep the doves coming through the fall and that means cutting at the optimum times.
“Scouting is the key to our success and I scout every day to see where the doves are and determine where we are going to hunt the next few days,” Cage said. “I guide over four or five counties in the Delta so I try to keep the hunters on the fields where the doves are feeding at that time.”
Cage has about 35 dove hunts a year and last year they had about 30 good hunts. Last year, his hunters killed three doves that wore bands placed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Two of his hunters harvested banded birds on the same afternoon within 100 yards or each other. Two weeks later Cage also killed a banded bird in the same area.
“We kill a lot of doves over natural rice, milo and corn fields throughout the fall,” Cage said. “And you have to know when they’re feeding on those spots to be successful. I have some fields that don’t have doves early in the season but later on they’re swarming with birds. You’ve just got to put in the time to scout to consistently be on the doves.”
While everybody can’t have multiple fields to hunt, Cage said that it is always wise to have a backup spot or you’ll come up empty handed sometime in the future.
If you’re looking for a place to shoot a few doves this fall, contact Chuck Cage at (662) 820-3134.