Tired of relying on your local farmer to cut his corn in mid-August? Had enough of that crowded public hunting area where inconsiderate hunters skybust doves before they get to you? There’s a better solution, one that not only can offer you a relaxing, stress-free dove hunt, but a pile of birds for you and your favorite hunting buddies: Plant your own dove plot. It’s really no different than planting any other food plot. If you have the tools to plant clover, wheat or brassicas for deer, you have everything you need to put in a field of sunflowers or millet for doves.
What about corn? More doves are shot over corn than any other type of grain, but that’s because there are millions of acres of it planted throughout dove country.
Outfitter Chris McClellan, however, says corn requires a lot of expensive fertilizer and it can be difficult to plant and grow without the right equipment. Sunflowers, he says, are the best-all purpose choice for a dove plot.
“They are easy to grow and doves love them,” says McClellan, owner of Sailors Creek Outfitters in southern Virginia.
They do have at least one major drawback: Deer love them, too. It can be virtually impossible to raise a field of the big yellow flowers to maturity in areas with lots of whitetails. They will nip the plants as soon as they grow a few inches above the ground, effectively killing it before the plant has a chance to get started. Even a small herd of deer can wipe out a field of sunflowers in a matter of weeks. McClellan learned that last season. In fact, he noticed a small amount of deer damage one day only to return a few days later to find much of a one-acre plot gone. He says you can spray the outer edge of plants with a hot pepper-based spray or erect a temporary electric fence.
Another choice is to plant some other small-seed grain like millet. McClellan planted browntop millet the first year he started offering dove hunts and had fantastic success. Birds poured into his plots and the action was red-hot. Limits were plentiful and every hunter burned through lots of shells. Because of his deer problem, McClellan plans to plant more millet this year.
“You should do at least two different plants anyway in case something doesn’t go right with one of them,” he suggests. “If they both do well you have two great dove attractants.”
Proso millet is an excellent choice, as well. Both millets are fairly inexpensive and easy to grow and produce a high number of small seeds that doves devour. However, since both are grasses, they can become choked with invasive grass like fescue or wire grass. McClellan first sprays his plots with Roundup and then uses a seed drill to plant the seeds. A drill can reduce weed growth significantly because it doesn’t turn the soil and expose a new crop of weed seeds. Few hunters actually own a seed drill and instead rely on a disk to get seed-to-soil contact. That’s okay, but broadcasting seed will require a heavier seeding rate and more herbicide to control unwanted plant growth.
How big your plots are depends mostly on how big you want them to be. McClellan says there is no formula for how many doves will use a field, so he lays his out to accommodate one hunter every 60 to 75 yards. This year, he’s planting about 50 acres, but an acre or even less will be more than enough for the average guy who wants to invite a couple of friends over. What matters more than anything is the availability of the seed to the birds. In other words, doves won’t use a field if they can’t get to the seed lying on the ground. Doves are ground feeders and need bare dirt in order to land and feed. That’s where weed control prior to and during the growing season can be critical. McClellan will also hit his sunflower plots with a dose of Roundup a month or so prior to opening day. That dries up the plant and allows the seed to fall to the ground.
“I’ll mow a few strips as close to the ground as I can just to make sure there is plenty of seed scattered,” he says. “That usually brings them in good.”