Feeding birds/baiting laws:
If possible, provide a food source for doves most of the year; either by planted crops (preferred) or supplemental feeding. This serves two purposes: 1) it keeps doves in the area, and 2) it may keep the local birds in better condition (which could result in better reproductive success). If you provide supplemental feed, it is recommended that you stop all supplemental feeding a minimum of 45 days in advance of opening day. Also, you should check your field at least 17 days prior to opening day to ensure any grain on the ground is not a result of seed being brought into the field from outside sources. If any grain (that wasn't grown in the field) is left in the field, it should be completely removed. No field manipulation should begin until the field is free from seed that was not grown there (a "clean field").
According to Title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 20.11 , baited area means, "any area on which salt, grain, or other feed has been placed, exposed, deposited, distributed, or scattered, if that salt, grain, or other feed could serve as a lure or attraction for migratory game birds to, on, or over areas where hunters are attempting to take them. Any such area will remain a baited area for 10 days following the complete removal of all such salt, grain, or other feed". The only way to legally prepare a dove field is by using "standard agricultural practices." These practices are defined by the Commissioner of Agriculture, and vary state by state. In Florida, as long as the grain was grown in the field, and is there as a direct result of mowing or silage chopping, it is perfectly legal.
The top sowing of seed, without disking it in, is not considered a "normal agricultural planting" in Florida. So, make sure when you do any planting, you keep this in mind. Have any seed planted and disked in, well prior to ten days before any hunt. For this reason, it is recommended that you avoid planting during the season or split. If you must plant during the season or split (because your field flooded or army worms totally destroyed your field), then you should make sure all seed is completely covered.
When planting a dove field, never put all your eggs in one basket. Always stagger your plantings and plant a variety of crops if possible. If you only have one planting, you are not going to have many good shoots. Any good field is probably going to deteriorate quickly if many birds are using it, especially if the field is only planted in millet. Never hang your hat on one planting.
You should pull a couple of soil samples from your field every other year and send them to the Extension Soil Testing Lab for analysis and a recommendation for Lime and Ph ($3.00/sample). Don't worry so much about fertilizer recommendations, as in Florida, you will always have to fertilize, and this bumps the cost of the test up to $7.00/sample. Use the cheapest fertilizer you can get, and spread it at a rate of 300 to 400 pounds/acre. Directions for pulling the samples, fee schedules, etc., are on the Extension Soil Testing Lab website (listed below). Note! The soil lab doesn't take credit cards! So, you will have to pay using a purchase order or a personal check.
The Extension Soil Testing Lab is located at:
UF/IFAS ESTL PO Box 110740
Wallace Building 631
Gainesville, FL 32611-0740
Tel: 352-392-1950 Ext. 221
First, plant some sorghum, corn or sesame, trying to time the maturity to about 1/2 -2/3 of the way through the season (usually 1st week of October - early January). Then, you will be able to mow a few rows, as needed, to "sweeten" the field. Corn, sesame and sorghum maturation all vary by variety and growing conditions. However, for dove fields, use 110 days as a good bench mark for all three. Important, if you don't fertilize, you will be behind the eight ball. Plant them in at the first of June and they will be ready by mid September, plant them at the first of July and they will be ready by mid October. However, there is a bug that is really hard on Sorghum, and from what I understand, it is best to plant it in May to keep the bugs off. It will be mature well before the season, but seed will stay on the stalk for a long time. Also, sorghum takes drought better than anything else, so if it does go dry for a month or so, you still might have a few shoots just off sorghum.
Next, plant your millet, which matures in 30-45 days (usually closer to 35-40). Plant your first planting of millet in late July-early August, then again around late August-mid September. Always plant your millet in at least two plantings, so it doesn't all mature at once. Once again, if you don't fertilize, you will be behind the eight ball. Plant dove proso or brown-top millet at a rate of 30 lbs/acre. So, for a 50-acre field, you would use 1,500 lbs of seed. Additionally, if possible, purchase the seed in bulk mixed with 400 lbs of fertilizer/acre (10-10-10 or something cheap as possible) and 30 lbs of dove proso/acre, and have the vendor spread it for you all at one time. Then, all you have to do is lightly disk it in. If the vendor will not spread it, have them deliver it to you (or pick it up) in a spreader buggy, and you can do it. The empty buggy can be pulled with a 1/2 ton truck when empty, 3/4 to 1 ton when full.
Count on your millet (dove proso is preferred) early and a mixture of little millet and a little sorghum, corn or sesame later. For the first shoot, mow alternating strips in your millet. You also may mow, or silage-chop (preferred), a small number of rows of sorghum, corn or sesame at this time. After the first shoot, disk in the strips you previously mowed, and mow or chop some new rows. Continue this pattern throughout the season. Finally, mow or silage-chop every thing you have left in the field (unless you need some foliage for cover) 3-10 days before the last scheduled hunt (as it won't do you any good after that).
In a field that is known to be "wet" at times, plant mainly Japanese millet. Dove proso and especially brown-top don't take being flooded well. If the seed is mature, or close to it, it will rot or deteriorate quickly when it is wet. Additionally, brown-top is not a very "erect" plant. A good storm or heavy rain will blow it flat down on the ground and the seed will rot in days. As is the case in most things, never put all your eggs in one basket. Plant some sorghum or corn in the high spots, trying to time the maturity to about 1/2 -2/3 of the way through the season. Then, mow a few rows as needed to "sweeten" the field. Count on millet early and a mixture of little millet and a little sorghum or corn later.
Baskett, T. S., M. W. Sayre, R.E. Tomlinson, and R.E. Mirarchi, eds. 1993. Ecology and management of the Mourning dove, a Wildlife Management Institute Book. Stackpole Books, Inc., Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 567 pp.