I love this time of year! Your college football team of choice is still undefeated, there is the anticipation of cooler weather fast approaching (well maybe not fast approaching), and the opening day of dove season is about a month away! It is time to clean your shotgun and take inventory of your hunting gear. I ran across an article that was written last year, by Michael Bolton, concerning legal dove fields. It is one of the best articles that I have seen that clearly explains how to make sure you do not end up with an expensive ticket for hunting over an illegal field. I hope that you find this informative.
Getting caught dove hunting on illegally baited fields costs Alabama hunters a small fortune in fines each year. Those purposely hunting on illegal fields pay the fines and go on with their lives. Many times, however, hunters believe they are on legal fields only to find out differently when conservation officers get out the ticket book.
Like a lot of things in law enforcement, it can be a judgment call. That was evident last year as two youth dove hunts sponsored by the state were canceled after U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers said the fields were illegal. Wildlife and Freshwater officials from the state maintained the fields were legal.
My best recommendation is that before you have a hunt that you invite your local conservation officer to come inspect the field. I’ve done that before and they were more than willing to do that.
That said, many hunters still need a starting point as to pointing guidelines. Here’s a synopsis:
To avoid any chance of problems hunting doves over a standing crop like millet is and has always been a legal method of hunting. Those crops can also be “worked” as to better increase the chances of attracting doves. According to Allan Andress, Chief of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division’s Enforcement Section, those crops can be mowed, burned or even trampled. About the only way to make it illegal is to harvest the crops and bring them back to the field and scatter them around.
It is legal to hunt over other common agricultural plantings as long as the field is planted according to Alabama Cooperative Extension Service guidelines.
Those guidelines may include a preparing a seed bed, broadcasting seeds or drilling into the soil to plant the seeds, depending on the crop. Seeds may also need to be covered. Once again, guidelines apply.
Most problems for well-meaning hunters in recent years have involved hunting over top-sewn wheat. Those guidelines are more complicated.
A few years back the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service announced that top-sown wheat is bona fide planting practice in Alabama. Many dove hunters were ecstatic over that announcement believing it meant that they could just scatter wheat on top of the ground and then hunt. Their billfolds found out differently.
To be a legal field, top-sewn wheat must be scattered over a well-prepared seed bed on ground that is relatively soft. In other words wheat couldn’t be sewn on a grassy field or on a chert pit site.
Seeds should be scattered evenly at a rate of not more than 200 pounds per acre. Problems have arisen in the past when hunters scattered seeds out of a bucket or the back of a pickup truck. The seed must be uniformly distributed.
Another pitfall is when hunters try more than one planting of top-sewn wheat. The Extension Service does not recommend more than one seeding, thus if the field is seeded more than once, it would make the field illegal to hunt doves over.
It gets more complicated. The Cooperative Extension Service breaks Alabama into three planting zones with instructions as to when the planting of top-sewn is acceptable. Some dove hunters run afoul of the law when they plant too early.
The earliest recommended planting date in the northernmost zone of the state is Aug. 25, the middle zone Sept. 1, and the southernmost zone is Sept. 15. To see the boundaries of those zones, check out the service’s web page.
The disagreement between U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries arose last year over the word of “intent.” Is planting crops only to attract doves and not to harvest as a crop a bona-fide farming practice?
Yes, according to both agencies this year. If a field is planted according to the Cooperative Extension System guidelines, the intent is not relevant, says Corky Pugh, Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries director. U.S. Fish and Wildlife issued a similar statement.
Mike Bolton’s outdoors column appears on Sundays in The Birmingham News. Write him firstname.lastname@example.org.