Hunting Those Lonesome Doves of the Late Season

Plenty of big, fast-flying birds arrive in Georgia by December, and hunters don’t need a prepared field to get some late- season doves for the grill.

Opening day dove shoots are long over, but if shooting doves is still high on your list, you can find some birds and some good shooting throughout Georgia in December. Whether it’s farms, food plots, clearcuts, or powerlines, doves can be found in good numbers, especially the migrating birds flying down from up north to spend the winter in the southern states. Often, you can find more doves in late season than you’ll see on opening day because of the southern migration.

No need to wait until next September. It’s very likely there is land nearby that is well-suited for some late- season dove hunting.

Here are some recommendations for finding dove hotspots in the late season.

Doves in Clearcut Land

Areas where clearcut harvesting of timber has taken place make ideal dove hunting sites. The young growth of seed-bearing plants and the open landing sites make clearcut land tempting to passing doves. Native plants such as pokeweed, ragweed, Johnson grass and foxtail mil- let are some of the first plants to make their appearance once a forest has been cleared. The seeds of these plants remain on the ground into late season and provide plenty of forage for doves during the winter months.

In clearcuts, you will find a few dead snags still standing. These make a great perch for doves. They will rest there during the day between feeding and watering. Dead snags also provide an ideal spot for setting up decoys. Doves have extremely keen vision and can spot a decoy in a dead snag hundreds of yards away. In addition, the snags help break up the shooter’s outline, and a group of snags serves as an ideal ambush site for incoming doves.

Finally, on areas where timber harvesting has taken place, there will be plenty of puddles of water in the access roads, and sometimes small ponds form in the low areas created by the use of heavy equipment. Once these puddles fill with water, they serve as popular drinking stations for doves. Setting up late in the evening near one of the watering holes can be especially productive for good shooting before the doves go on roost. (Don’t forget that dove shooting hours close at sunset, which is usually a good 30 minutes before dark.) Setting up a couple of decoys near the watering hole gives the doves assurance as they come in for a landing.

If you see unoccupied, open clearcut areas as you drive down the road, don’t automatically assume you can hunt this field.

“A lot of people see a clearcut field with no hunters present and think they can hunt it,” says Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Law Enforcement Sgt. Brian Keener.

“You have to have written permission by either the timber company or private landowner,” Sgt. Keener said.

Powerlines: Dove Magnets

With speeds reaching 55 mph, getting off a clean shot at a dove can be difficult. Hunting near a resting zone for the doves throws the odds in your favor. Powerlines are great resting spots for doves.

Also, the doves use the powerlines for flyways. This gives the dove hunter an extra shotgunning range for doves coming in around mid-day during the winter. The open ground along the powerline right-of-way also contains insects and seed heads that draw doves. Setting up along the field edge near border trees can give you a quick shot at passing doves.

Farm-Country Doves

Whether it’ s a 2,000-acre farm, a 200-acre cattle farm, or a 20- acre goat farm, plenty of doves can be found foraging for food in these areas. The trick is getting access, but it seems that farmers are often more likely to allow access to shoot birds than they are for deer hunting.

Once row crops such as corn, sorghum and soybeans have been harvested, there is plenty of grain lying around for the doves to feed on. Something to keep in mind is that you have a short window of opportunity to hunt doves on open cropland because once the seeds that are left over get rained on, they begin to mold and become undesirable to doves.

Scouting these areas before your hunt is productive because this gives you a chance to determine the flight zones of the birds and where they are landing. Doves will hold similar flight patterns, so it’ s possible to pattern them. When you are scouting large, open areas such as cropland, check their flight pattern by going out in early morning or late evening just as the sun rises and sets. A pair of binoculars is critical for doing this. Check both the morning and evening flight patterns of the doves and make a note of the times.

Pastureland

With some scouting, you can find many food, water and other dove-drawing features on farms. Dove hunting along grown-up fence rows can be productive because of forage along the fence, and the fence itself serves as an ideal landing site. Place a few decoys along the fence row to draw dove to within shotgun range. These over- grown fence rows also serve as nesting spots for doves, especially if there are mature cedar trees along the line.

During late season, pastureland is often planted in cool season grasses such as ryegrass, rye, winter wheat and oats. Once the doves spot these newly seeded pastures, they will dine regularly in the open pasturelands especially if there’s a roosting or perch site nearby. There will be enough grain residue left over to hold doves in the area for quite a few days during the winter.

Set up a few decoys in one area of the pastureland near a stand of trees, and place your setup in shooting distance of the decoys. Be careful not to space the decoys too far apart. In wide open spaces such as pastureland, the key is to draw the doves to your position. A stand of trees in the middle of the pasture works well to draw in lonesome doves for shooting set-ups.

Many farms have a small fish pond or farm pond. During late winter, if the banks of the pond are shallow, late evenings will find many doves crowding around the water’ s edge for that last drink of the day. In this case, pick up a set-up site that conceals your outline and your movements. Doves may visit the watering hole each day, but if they see anything out of order, they’ ll drink somewhere else.

Double-Duty Cover Crops

Any time land has been cleared, cover crops will be planted to prevent erosion. Whether it’ s a farmer or forester, any land cleared will need something to prevent erosion. Browntop millet and wheat have high germination rates, and they provide ideal food sources for late-season dove shooting.

“Most farmers or foresters will plant a quick-germinating plant to stop land erosion,” says Don McGowan, a WRD senior wildlife biologist. “Some of the top erosion-stopping plants are browntop millet and wheat, and these plants happen to be highly attractive to doves because of the abundance of seed heads produced.”

Double Duty Food Plots

As a HOWL Magazine staff writer in rural Haralson County, I had the opportunity to plant a spring-summer mix by Pennington <www.penningtonseed.com>. Part of our assignment as a staff writer for the nation’s only high school, student-produced hunting and fishing magazine is to do field research. During this research, we wanted to take notes on the variety of wildlife brought in by different food plot mixes.

The mix was intended for deer and designed to be planted in spring. We planted the mixture containing sun- flowers, sorghum, cowpeas and buck- wheat in mid-July. With a couple of good rains, this plot was producing well into late October with seed heads still remaining on the plants.

This plot was planted as a bowhunting field. However, it brought in huntable numbers of doves looking for late-season forage. Not only did we witness plenty of whitetail deer using the plot, every visit resulted in many doves coming in to feed. As you design your food-plot strategy, take into account many varieties of wildlife can be attracted with the right seed mixture. Use the time that you are deer hunting to watch the flight patterns of the doves to get ready for a dove hunt in December when the deer hunting is winding down.

Using Aerial Photos and Maps

Your local tax-assessor’s office carries aerial maps of most property in Georgia. You can also visit <www.mytopo.com> and order an aerial map or topographic map. Without even leaving your desktop computer, these maps will help you find watering holes, open fields, croplands, and thick, wooded strips.

On a map, you can sketch out flight patterns, roosting sites, and any other terrain feature that draws birds. Accessing these maps online will add efficiency when you don’t have time to walk the land extensively before the hunt. All the water and land features can easily be seen from a full-size aerial map of your hunting property. If it is not your land, the aerial map makes it easier to describe to the landowner where you will be hunting and any plans you would like to develop for wildlife management.

Taking the Long Shot

On traditional dove shoots, the doves will be flying in a regular pat- tern and often will be in easy shotgun range. On non-traditional dove set-ups where you are in search of lonesome doves, special attention is required when selecting the right shotgun. Make sure you have a choke that will hold together at some distance. Modified chokes are the best all- around choice for open shooting. If you are sure most of your shots will be long distance, you might even consider using a full choke if your aim is accurate. Finally, if you see a bird flying that’s definitely out of range, just sit still. Often they will circle the field checking for food and predators before landing, and this will give you a closer shot. You’re much better off to not shoot at a dove out of range and hope it swings back around than to scare it off with a shot that doesn’t have a chance of bringing the bird down.

Watering Holes

Doves will come to water every day. Any watering holes with clear ground around them provide easy access to the water’s edge, and doves love that combination. When logging equipment comes in and does a major cut, the truckers are often known to make a mess on the dirt roads. After a good rain, the doves will find this standing water and will use this for a quick stop during the day or before going on roost for the night.

If you’re hunting farmland, just about every pasture will have a pond or small lake, obvious spots to set-up on to take advantage of doves coming for a drink.

Finding the only watering hole around the land you’re hunting sets you up in a great area for harvesting some late-season doves.

Many shooters hang up their dove guns after the opening-day shoot, but late season is a great time to take advantage of some good dove hunting. Get out of your comfort zone and try some of these non-traditional dove shooting set-ups. In December, you won’t be able to rely on a jam-up, prepared dove field, but there are plenty of birds out there and some natural features that will attract enough birds to make a late-season trip worthwhile.

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