Labor Day weekend really gets Mississippi hunters’ blood flowing, as thousands of hunters head for dove fields to blast away at those quick, gray darters. It can be close to a religious experience for some.
Traditionally, hunting seasons kick off every year in Mississippi with the opening of dove season on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. It’s one of the most-anticipated hunting days of the year, as hunters look forward to the hot weather coming to an end and cooler fall temperatures arriving shortly. This year’s opener is set for Sept. 5; hunters can start shooting 30 minutes before sunrise in both the North and South zones.
Finding a place to hunt
Serious dove hunters start preparations in the spring, planting crops such as sunflowers, corn or millet for fast wing-shooting action in September. Most dove fields with these kinds of crops have matured and are mowed or disked, leaving strips standing for hunters to hide in and saving some of the crop for later in the season. They are usually 5 to 20 acres in size.
If you haven’t planted specifically for dove hunting, farms with grain fields are the places hunters customarily seek out. This could be crops like browntop millet, corn, sunflowers, milo or wheat that are normal agricultural plantings. After the harvest, no strips will be left, but wide-open acreage will draw birds with spillage left by combines and harvesters. Agriculture is abundant throughout the Magnolia State, and most hunters should be able to find places within an hour’s drive of home.
Other agricultural fields that attract doves are those planted in grasses for cattle. Rye grass, winter wheat and oats are just a few. Farmers will break up these fields by disking and harrowing. Plantings are usually occurring by the first part of September.
Cut hay fields can be productive. The crop will be cut and bailed, with smaller square bails removed for storage. Sometimes round bales will be left in fields, giving hunters excellent cover to hide from flying birds. Lots of seed will be left on clean ground, and this will attract doves consistently, especially if there is water and roosting areas nearby.
Some Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) offer dove fields for Mississippi hunters. Not every WMA has a dove field, so a little research will have to be done. By looking online at www.mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/wma/dove-fields, hunters can find rules and regulations for each WMA and a phone number to contact personnel with any questions.
Find an outfitter. Lots of times, outfitters or hunting services that offer waterfowl, deer, or turkey hunting also book dove hunts.
“We planted 30 acres of sunflowers specifically for dove hunting; we will mow down every other section,” said Phillip Cagle, owner of White Oak Hunting Service of Dundee in Tunica County. “There is also cut corn all around, as well as planted wheat.”
White Oak books dove hunts throughout the season, can house 80 plus hunters and offers high-quality hunts.
“We usually cater in lunch on opening day,” Cagle said, “We will have a good time dove hunting.”
There are a lot of places to hunt doves that never cross the mind of hunters, and with a little planning and a little effort, they can produce a 15-bird daily limit. It doesn’t always take a lot of preparations, out-of-pocket expenses or long-range planning: here are some ideas.
Deer food plots are excellent places. It’s great when the plot is first planted, with bare ground and seed on the ground. Doves are not strong scratchers, and the bare ground and scattered seeds will attract them. Most seed mixes are winter wheat, oats and clovers combined or sometimes sown individually. Either way doves will go for it.
Hunters can take advantage of deer plots where wheat or oats have grown to maturity. Spraying with herbicides targeting other grasses and weeds will leave the mature wheat or oats with bare ground underneath a canopy. Doves like this; it provides falling seeds from the crop, shade when it’s hot and cover from overhead predators. Strips can be mowed or disked, providing open areas and exposing seeds.
Recently burned fields attract doves, and so do fresh, clear timber cuts; these places will hold a lot of exposed natural vegetation seeds. Overgrown fields, especially ones that have an abundance of goat-weed— aka wooly croton, doveweed or skunkweed — is one of the best natural dove fields there is. Mow it clean or leave some strips for hiding; you won’t go wrong either way.
It is the hunter’s responsibility to stay legal and know that the place they are hunting is permissible by state law, even on pay-to-hunt fields. Here is a short list of things that are allowed and what you can’t do:
- Crops such as browntop millet, milo, corn, wheat, sunflowers and other small grains can be planted for the purpose of hunting doves and can be manipulated by mowing, disking, dragging down or bailing. What cannot be done is adding to or broadcasting addition seeds of any type on the ground after the crop manipulation is done.
- Hunting over the same types of crops in agricultural fields after a harvest is allowed. And hunting the spillage is okay, but adding additional seeds on the ground after harvest is illegal.
- Hunting is allowed on grounds that have been planted with wheat, oats, rye, etc., in a manner consistent with normal agricultural practices. An example is winter wheat, which is sown at a rate no greater than 90 pounds per acre. Anything additional seed, even on prepared ground, is considered baiting. These types of seeds cannot be broadcast over bare ground for hunting; the ground must be prepared or no-till drilled.
- Overseeding of wheat or rye before harvesting soybeans, corn or cotton to establish a cover crop is recognized as normal agricultural practices and can be hunted. What can’t be done is broadcasting seeds after the crop is harvested to hunt doves.
- Livestock can feed on grain or salt provided in a feed lot, which is a small enclosed area where livestock are fed to increase their weight. Feed which has been scattered or wasted by the animals around the feeding areas may be attractive to doves. Dove hunting is legal on these areas as long as they are considered a normal agricultural practice. However, deliberately depositing grain, salt, or other feed to improve dove hunting is illegal.
Get ready, do what you must do, make your plans even if you have a few weeks — opening day of dove season is almost here. It’s not too late if you haven’t prepared. It’s a good time to get out and join-in the most social of hunting events we have. Hunters can mix it up with other hunters and get fired up for the all approaching hunting opportunities we have in our great state.
Teal is the September deal
Summer days are hot and long. The last thing hunters are thinking about is duck hunting, but quickly approaching is a special, fall wing-shooting opportunity for Magnolia State hunters.
That’s right; Mississippi has duck hunting in September. The state’s early teal season will open on Sept. 12 and run for 16 days, ending on Sept. 27.
The period from late August to early September is the time that teal, mainly blue-winged teal, start their southern migration and make their presence in Mississippi. Their migration habits are different from any other waterfowl in North America, starting at such an early time and in hot weather.
The sudden appearance of these swift little ducks is a welcome sign of the approaching fall and gives Magnolia State duck enthusiasts a chance at some early season action. They come traveling through, riding the winds of approaching cool fronts, stopping mostly to feed and rest.
Where do you hunt them? Anywhere with good water.
That can be hard to come by in a hot, dry spell. Hunters should target areas like oxbow lakes, big beaver sloughs, lakes and flooded timber. Catfish ponds and any fields that are being flooded or irrigated can hold and attract them, especially if the field is planted in some type of grain.
The purpose for most National Wildlife Refuges and some Wildlife Management Areas is to provide a place for ducks, teal included, a place for rest and solace. A few WMAs offer early season teal-hunting opportunities. Visit www.mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/wma and links for individual WMAs for seasons and regulations.
If you want to get after some early season teal and don’t have a place to go or a WMA near you that offers teal hunting, try an outfitter, especially one that’s located near flyways like the Mississippi River.
“We take hunters out every year and put them on early season teal. We have lots of timber that stays flooded year-round,” said Phillip Cagle, who owns White Oak Hunting Service in Tunica County. “It’s something that’s fun to do and gets you fired up for the upcoming hunting season.”
Here today and gone tomorrow is the best way to describe blue-winged teal. They will be on the move as cool fronts come through.
With a quick-shooting shotgun and an improved or modified choke, using No. 4 or No. 6, non-toxic shot, skilled hunters with a teal whistle and a mallard call, set up over a spread of a dozen or so decoys, can lure in the quick blue-winged ducks for a shot. These early fall ducks are challenging wing-shooting and excellent table fare.
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