Gearing up for late season dove hunting

David McCracken and his American Water Spaniel walk a South Carolina field hoping to scare up doves during a hunt.
David McCracken and his American Water Spaniel walk a South Carolina field hoping to scare up doves during a hunt. photo by Jim Lasley

Now is the time to gear up for the late dove season. Regardless of your success with the Labor Day opening, the late fall and winter can bring great fun.

First of all, it is not so dang hot and humid. Secondly, the serious dove hunter will tell you the second season, which runs from Nov. 23 through Jan. 15, often offers more shooting and a dandy harvest.

Begin now looking for cut-over corn fields or scout the many gameland fields manicured for feeding doves. The Wildlife Resources Commission offers some 20 fields in the coastal plains, Piedmont and mountains.

The hunting pressure during the late season is much less. The vast majority of dove hunters only go afield around Labor Day. So if the birds are flying, you may experience your best hunt ever when there is a nip in the air and your buddies are off stalking deer.

What is it about a dove that interests so many hunters? The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission offers some interesting dove tidbits. Here is a sampling from the website:

▪ Often seen migrating in large flocks.

▪ Considered a migratory game bird.

▪ Only game bird found in all the lower 48 states.

▪ Member of the pigeon family.

▪ Flight swift and darting and timed at 35 to 55 mph.

▪ Tend to return to same area year after year.

▪ Largest dove population of the year seen in August and September during fall migration.

▪ Large flocks of up to 150 birds/doves known to disappear from one day to the next.

▪ Do not scratch for food so seed must be plentiful and visible.

▪ Feed primarily on weed seeds, corn, pokeberry, a few insects and waste grain such as buckwheat, cowpeas left from cultivated fields.

▪ 55 to 75 percent of young do not survive first year. Adult mortality about 55 percent annually.

▪ Surveys show population in eastern United States relatively stable.

▪ Habitat generally readily available.

▪ Overhunting will reduce population.

▪ One of most common birds in North Carolina except in higher elevation.

▪ Hundreds of thousands harvested annually by Tar Heel hunters.

▪ Population reasonably stable for many decades.

▪ 62 percent of doves are harvested in agricultural fields often over cut corn.

▪ 17 percent hunted in areas with such crops as sunflower and millet sewed specifically to attract doves.

▪ Majority of hunters shoot doves for two weeks or less.

▪ 80,835 N.C. hunters harvested 1,075,833 doves during the 2013-2014 season, with a 13.3 mean harvest per hunter.

▪ Dove hunters number second behind deer hunters(258,000) then followed by squirrel, turkey, rabbit and duck hunters.