Tar Heel dove hunters, the second largest segment of hunters in North Carolina, are counting down the days until Labor Day weekend and the opening of the season.
Prospects look good for a bountiful dove season with some observers reporting a better than usual number of doves. But as it is with every year the elusive dove can be plentiful today and gone tomorrow.
It all depends on the weather.
“It’s a crap shoot,” says John Shipley of Winston-Salem. “A cold snap or rain can push them out.”
His work designing wildlife management plans and appraising timber puts him in touch with landowners and farmers across North Carolina.
“The dove population looks good this year,” Shipley said. “Maybe better than normal. Doves had a good nesting season.”
Shipley describes a good dove field as open bare ground with no weeds and an abundance of seed. He says lots of surrounding agricultural land will lure more birds. He also says dove need water and grit for digestive purposes.
“The best fields I have hunted over have been a big cucumber field and a burned over sunflower field.”
Few hunters are aware of the bounty found in cucumber fields. Those who do tend to keep it a secret.
“The best are commercial cucumber fields where discards are left after harvest. They bust open and produce massive seeds on the ground,” Shipley said. “A June crop will be just right for Labor Day weekend.”
Bobby Glenn Kimbrell, who owns and operates a hunting club in northeast Alamance County, has 30 acres planted with a variety of grasses, corn, winter wheat, buckwheat and Japanese millet.
As for the approaching season he said, “I’ve got high hopes. Right now it’s looking good. We’ve set the table and hope they will come to dinner.”
His main concern is a cold front near opening day. “That will drive the dove out. They will just pack up and leave.”
Dove are migratory birds found in all of the lower 48 states. They dart above fields flying 35 to 55 mph. They do not scratch for food. Seed must be plentiful and visible.
Dove are one of the most common birds in North Carolina. Tar Heel hunters harvest hundreds of thousands annually and usually hunt two weeks or less.
The North Carolina Wildlife Commission reports that 62 percent of doves are harvested in agriculture fields over cut corn. Other fields are cultivated with crops specifically to attract doves. The commission maintains 20 such fields with each site listed on its website.
The 2016 dove season runs from Sept. 3 until Oct. 8. The second season opens on Nov. 21 and closes Jan. 14. The daily limit is 15.