Even though dove season will not open for almost two months, Matt Petersen of Alamance County is preparing for the first shoot on Labor Day weekend.
Petersen, 28 and a lifelong sportsman, is not buying shells, honing his shooting skills or thinking about the traditional feed on opening day; hes planting and nourishing food plots designed to attract doves.
From a young age he has considered wildlife food plots magic.
I watched my Paw Paw plant food plots before there was such a thing, he said. Now its my passion, sewing seeds, watching it grow as food for wildlife such as doves, deer and turkey.
Petersens full-time job with his familys monument business in Burlington has not hindered him from starting a side venture, Petersens Wildlife Management and Consulting.
He snagged his largest customer, the Alamance Wildlife Club, in early spring when commissioned to plant crops attractive to quail, deer and dove.
Petersen inherited his love of the outdoors from his grandfather, the late Buck Saul, and his dad, M. Eugene Petersen. Both hunted and fished and tended the land.
My parents purchased a 36-acre farm in Northern Alamance County when I was 4 years old, he said. My Paw Paw worked in a textile mill all his life and hobby farmed, a big garden and a little tobacco.
Petersen watched his grandfather plant imperial white tail clover for deer. He hunted beside his dad and witnessed his grandfather harvest a buck every opening day for 10 years in the same small clover field.
For two years I sat in a 4-foot stand without a gun with my dad in a bigger stand beside me, he said. When I was 10 years old I shot my first deer from that stand with a single shot shotgun. That stand is still there. We left it as a reminder of my first deer.
Petersen said the family moved to the farm when he was 13.
That is when the magic took over, he said. I began planting food plots, which brought deer to the field. Nobody else I knew did that. That really got my wheels turning. The first plots were trial and error. We had a small tractor and I borrowed equipment. Then Id stand back and see what happened.
Each year his planting skills improved even though he had no formal training in wildlife crop management. He managed food plots for friends and started buying equipment in his early 20s.
It all centered around deer, Petersen said. I planted a little for doves and turkey especially a field for our annual dove hunt when we invite 30 people. Now Im looking how to benefit other wildlife, how to promote habitat and native vegetation. At the end of last year, people started calling and now Im planting for others.
Petersen describes several factorswhen planning a dove field including amount of sun light and rain, general health of soil and type of vegetation already growing.
He starts by taking a soil sample in February, which reveals fertilizer needs and best crops to plant. By late April, when the soil temperature reaches 60 to 65 degrees, he kills existing vegetation before turning the land into a fine texture without clods. Next he spreads seed making sure hes sewing the proper seed to soil contact.
Then I let it grow and pray for rain, Petersen said. It will be ready in August for bush hogging two weeks before dove season opens.
Among his favorite dove crops are German Millet and grain sorghum.
Both are easy to grow, drought tolerate, hardy and compete well with weeds, Petersen said. Doves love sunflower seeds, but they can be expensive and need to be planted with a special tool, not to mention that deer might consume the sunflowers before the dove.
Petersen is enrolled in a wildlife stewardship program that will take him to upstate New York for study in early September.
It will cause me to miss the opening day of bow season for deer, he said. It will be only the second time Ive missed it; the first was because of a family illness. But its worth it. This stewardship degree will enable me to be a land inspector and adviser on how to promote wildlife management.
In the meantime Petersen will keep busy building monuments and aiding his wife, Lisa, with the care of their 10-month-old daughter. His mind, no doubt, will wander afield, dreaming of hunting and fishing and how to improve tending the land for wildlife.