As the days get shorter, the anticipation of fall hunting season becomes more prevalent. For many, mourning doves kick things off and can provide memorable wing-shooting opportunities for all ages as well as top-notch table fare. What better way to ensure success — or at least the opportunity for success — than to sit over a dove field? Here we provide some considerations for managing dove fields in Louisiana.
The mourning dove’s primary food sources are grains and seeds from naturally occurring plants (weeds) and cultivated crops. Plants such as barnyard grass, foxtail grass, wooly croton (goatweed), ragweed and pokeweed are often used as forage by doves. Commonly planted crops for doves include browntop millet, proso millet, grain sorghum, sunflowers and buckwheat. Native plants can often compliment cultivated crops when competition doesn’t significantly reduce the crop yield (Figure 1).
Doves are considered fleshy or weak-beaked with weak legs, which can limit their ability to forage and scratch for food. As such, they require bare ground to maximize their use of dove fields. There are several mechanical and chemical techniques (e.g., silage chopping, mowing, burning, disking, herbicides) you can implement to create bare ground and provide doves with more foraging opportunities, but the methods you use to create the bare ground will depend on the crop you planted and how much you managed the field throughout the growing season. For example, if you planted millets and used chemical herbicides or row cultivation to keep unattractive broadleaf weeds to a minimum, then simply mowing the field should sufficiently scatter the mature, dried millet over the open ground. If you were less successful controlling broadleaf weeds, then mowing followed by burning should accomplish your goal to make grains and seeds available to doves.
Mechanical techniques may be necessary to create bare ground and scatter food if your dove field is composed of multiple and interspersed crops (Figure 2). One common practice is to strip plant multiple crop species to increase food diversity across your field. For example, you might allow native species to grow along the edges of your field, then plant a strip of millet, followed by a strip of grain sorghum, which is then followed by another strip of native plants, and repeat the process across the field. In this case, you many need to use a disk to break up plantings from one another to create or maintain some percentage of bare ground throughout the growing season. This method is advantageous because it provides a variety of food sources and because the newly mowed crops will have adjacent bare ground to scatter grains and seeds. The long, linear lines produced by disking also provide clear lines of sight doves can use to avoid predation when feeding or while searching out grit.
Finally, if you planted your dove field to sunflowers, your early season management may have left you void of significant weed pressure. However, if this is not the case, you can apply a desiccant to assist in cleaning up the weeds and drying out sunflowers. This will help increase the seed’s ability to shatter and increase the amount of bare ground you have in your field before you mow it. You will know your sunflowers are mature when the outer bracts turn brown, and the back of the head turns yellow. Some example desiccants are glyphosate and paraquat. Glyphosate should be applied at least 14 days prior to mowing the field and paraquat can be applied as little as two to three days before mowing. Both products will do a good job of cleaning up weed pressure and exposing bare ground before mowing or silage chopping the field. You can find more information about these products in the LSU AgCenter 2021 Weed Management Guide.
Whether you spent the summer managing for native plants, cultivated crops or a healthy mixture of the two, your final improvements to your hunting area can lead to success or failure. Please note your federal, state and local laws before you implement final field prep and enjoy the season!
Luke Stamper is the LSU AgCenter area wildlife and forestry agent for the Northeast Region.