By Marina D'Abreau Denny, Extension Associate
Mourning doves can be found throughout the year in Mississippi, but they become a particular favorite of Mississippi hunters and birdwatchers alike during fall and winter when dedicated food plots produce enough seed for them to gather in large numbers. Dove fields can provide a supplemental source of income for small landowners, requiring as little as 2 to 10 acres.
According to Dr. Jeanne Jones, Wildlife Ecologist at Mississippi State University, doves “really depend on a lot of foods that are in agricultural fields and in open meadow fields. They’re weak scratchers, so they need a certain amount of bare ground.”
Mourning doves are granivores, meaning they feed on grain and seeds. Their diet consists of millet, legume seeds like partridge pea, vetches, sunflowers, and grain crops like corn and wheat. See Mourning Dove Management for Landowners for a full list of the plants preferred by doves.
The greater the diversity of food in your plots, the longer the doves will stick around. Plant crops like millet, legume seeds like partridge pea, vetches, sunflowers, and grain crops like corn and wheat.
Browntop millet (Panicum ramosum) is a favorite choice for dove fields because it produces a lot of seeds per acre. It can be planted from April through August at a broadcast rate of 25 to 30 lbs. per acre and requires about 60 days to reach maturity. It does best in sandy-loamy soils with a pH ranging from 5 to 6.5.
Determine your soil type(s) and fertility needs before investing in seed. The Mississippi State University Extension Service Soil Testing Laboratory analyzes soil for fertility recommendations. Visit http://extension.msstate.edu/agriculture/crops/soils for more information.
Be sure to leave some bare ground in your dove fields, since doves need a certain amount of bare ground to be able to look for food. An alternating sequence of planted strips and disked strips will work well for mourning doves. Alternately, you can cut or burn your food plots prior to September in order to remove the vegetation and expose the seeds and grains on the bare ground.
Size of the Plot
You’ll need at least 2 acres of land to dedicate to food plots to maximize the number of doves you can attract.
When to Plant
Prepare and plant your food plots in the spring, so that the plantings have time to mature prior to the start of hunting season (September 1st).
Costs for preparing and managing dove food plots as a wildlife enterprise or even for personal recreational enjoyment are roughly $700/10 acres but will vary greatly, depending on several items. These include:
Depending on the services and amenities provided, as well as whether the hunt will be on prepared land or simply a harvested field, current prices for a half-day dove hunt in Mississippi can range from $10 to $150 per hunter.
When opening your fields to fee hunters or bird watchers, be sure to consider safety issues, federal and state regulations, quality of the field, amenities, liability issues, and other concerns.
For detailed information about these factors, read our publication Mourning Dove Management for Landowners.
Mississippi has three established dove hunting seasons, starting on September 1st for the entire state. Specific dates and permit requirements for dove hunting seasons may be found on the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks web site at http://www.mdwfp.com.