Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Director Chuck Sykes wants to make sure dove hunters are not caught flat-footed this September when the season opens earlier than usual.
The North Zone dove season will open on Labor Day weekend this year, a week earlier than most people are accustomed to. Sykes wants to get the word out well ahead of the season.
“Most people, me included, typically think dove season opens in the North Zone the first Saturday after Labor Day,” Sykes said. “That’s the way it’s been most years. There have been a few times since 2000 that the season has come in the Saturday of Labor Day weekend.”
Because of a variety of opinions about when Alabama’s dove seasons, North and South zones, should be set, WFF officials decided that a survey inviting public input would be the best way to accommodate the majority of dove hunters.
“With anything we do, you’ve got some people who want the season to start early,” Sykes said. “You’ve got some who want to start late. Some want to hunt in October. Everybody has their own idea about what they want dove season to be, or any season for that matter. What that survey showed was that the majority of people wanted it to come in as early as it could in September. They wanted as many weekends and holidays as possible included where they would have opportunities to go. With Labor Day falling later this year, we had to decide if we wanted to push the season to September 12 in the North Zone or if we wanted to have it Labor Day weekend. There’s pros and cons to both sides, but we looked at what that survey said. The majority said they wanted it early, so we gave them the earliest date possible. We were also giving them an extra weekend and giving them a holiday. Those were all three things that ranked extremely high on our survey.”
The North Zone 2020-2021 season is set to start on September 5 and run through October 25 for the first segment. Hunters on opening day can hunt from noon until sunset. After opening day, hunting is allowed from one-half hour before sunrise until sunset. The daily bag limit is 15 birds of either mourning doves or white-winged doves or a combination of the two. The second segment is November 21-29, and the final segment is set for December 12 through January 10, 2021.
In the South Zone of Baldwin, Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Escambia, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Mobile counties, the 2020-2021 season opens on September 12 and runs through November 1. The final two segments are the same as the North Zone.
“We know we can’t make everybody happy,” Sykes said. “This isn’t something we took lightly. This isn’t something we didn’t deliberate. And it definitely wasn’t something where we didn’t listen to the hunters’ opinions. Basically, this is what the majority of the people who took the survey said they wanted. My biggest concern is that I didn’t want people to be caught off-guard. I wanted them to have plenty of time to make their plans for Labor Day weekend or vacation.”
Sykes also pointed out that hunters don’t necessarily have to plan a hunt on opening day, but it is available if wanted. Some may choose to wait until the following weekend.
Sykes and WFF Migratory Bird Coordinator Seth Maddox said the window for planting crops like corn, grain sorghum or sunflowers for doves has passed, but there is a short window for browntop millet remaining.
“You might be able to get some browntop millet in the ground in the next couple of weeks, but the time for other crops has passed,” Maddox said. “If you don’t have anything planted, the best thing to do is to bush-hog or burn off a field and prepare it by disking so that you have a well-prepared seed bed, and then top-sow some winter wheat. You can begin that as early as August, and you are allowed to plant up to 200 pounds of wheat per acre on a well-prepared seed bed.”
Anyone with questions can visit the ACES (Alabama Cooperative Extension System) website at https://www.aces.edu/blog/topics/forestry-wildlife/mourning-dove-biology-management-in-alabama/ to learn more about allowed agricultural practices for dove hunting are listed.
“We see it every year,” Sykes said. “Yes, you can plant for erosion control. You can plant for winter grazing. There are agricultural practices that are legal, but simply going into a pasture and top-sowing wheat is not an accepted agricultural practice. Disking a field and spreading cracked corn is not an accepted agricultural practice. The ACES website explains in great detail what agricultural practices are allowed so that you will be legal and have a successful dove hunt.”
Landowners and dedicated dove hunters sometimes make the extra effort by adding fake power lines to attract the birds. Maddox recommends giving the birds as many places to roost and loaf as possible.
“Don’t cut down dead trees near a field,” Maddox said. “They like to have those loafing trees to sit in and check out the field before and after they eat. If you can provide a water source for them, that can make a big difference. And make sure your seedbed is disked well. Doves don’t have strong legs to scratch at the ground like turkeys do to uncover seeds. Doves are also attracted to freshly turned soil. It exposes seeds that didn’t sprout and bugs they eat as well. They pick up bits of grit for their crops to help grind the seeds. Doves are definitely attracted to a freshly plowed field.”
Dove hunting is one of the most popular outdoor activities in Alabama and the nation.
“Most people wouldn’t know that doves are the most hunted and harvested game in the United States,” Maddox said. “In our most recent survey, we had about 36,000 hunters with 200,000 days in the field and a harvest of more than 1 million birds. Most hunters don’t hunt but five or so days a year, so that’s a lot of birds harvested in the first couple of weeks of the season.”
Maddox said the annual harvest has no impact on the overall U.S. dove population of about 250 million birds.
“Doves nest seven or eight times a year here in Alabama,” he said. “They are a short-lived bird with a high rate of reproduction, so we’re not hurting the population at all. This renewable and sustainable resource continues to offer abundant opportunities to Alabama hunters.”
David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.