While the Mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) is the most hunted migratory game bird in North America, it also is a migratory bird that is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. As a hunter in Florida, it is your responsibility to know and obey all Federal and State laws that that govern the harvest of the Mourning dove.
While most people have a general knowledge of what baiting is, there are many people that still have questions about what they can legally do to attract doves in Florida. According to Title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, Chapter 1, Part 20.11 , a baited area is, "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."
Furthermore, according to Title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, Chapter 1, Part 20.21(i) doves may not taken "by the aid of baiting, or on or over any baited area, where a person knows or reasonably should know that the area is or has been baited." Title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, Chapter 1, Part 20.21 (i)(2) also specifically allows the harvesting of doves "on or over lands or areas that are not otherwise baited areas, and where grain or other feed has been distributed or scattered solely as the result of manipulation of an agricultural crop or other feed on the land where grown, or solely as the result of a normal agricultural operation.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) provides dove field managers some flexibility by inserting the word "manipulation." According to Title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 20.11 , manipulation means, "the alteration of natural vegetation or agricultural crops by activities that include but are not limited to mowing, shredding, disking, rolling, chopping, trampling, flattening, burning, or herbicide treatments. The term manipulation does not include the distributing or scattering of grain, seed, or other feed after removal from or storage on the field where grown."
There also is some confusion as to what a normal agricultural planting is. In Florida, the state agronomist establishes all standard agricultural practices, and practices vary state by state. According to Title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, Chapter 1, Part 20.11 , "normal agricultural planting, harvesting, or post-harvest manipulation means a planting or harvesting undertaken for the purpose of producing and gathering a crop, or manipulation after such harvest and removal of grain, that is conducted in accordance with official recommendations of State Extension Specialists of the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture." However, this does not mean that a field is illegal if it was not planted according to IFAS recommended seeding rates, planting dates or planting methods. A person may plant as they choose, but they may not hunt doves over that field until a minimum of ten days after all seed has germinated or following complete removal of that seed.
So, what is legal in Florida?
In Florida, as long as the grain was grown in the field, and is there as a direct result of mowing, shredding, disking, silage chopping, burning, etc., it is perfectly legal. You can plant your field at whatever seed rate you wish, and time the maturation of your fields to coincide with established dove seasons. However, once the grain leaves the field (even if it is grown there) it can never be brought back in, or the field is considered a baited area for 10 days following the complete removal of all such salt, grain, or other feed.
So, what is illegal in Florida?
In Florida, the top-sowing of seed (without disking it in) is not considered a "normal agricultural planting." So, you may not hunt over a top-sowed field until a minimum of ten days after all seed has germinated or following complete removal of that seed. You may hunt over a top-sowed field that has already germinating and is actively growing or matured and was manipulated to enhance the field to attract doves.
The take home message is to make sure when you do any planting, you have any seed planted and disked in, well prior to ten days before any hunt. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC) recommends that you avoid planting during the season or during the 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 or sprouted a minimum of ten days prior to hunting.
Finally, the FWC recommends that if you are unsure of whether or not your field may be considered baited, you should call your regional office to have an FWC Wildlife Officer inspect the dove field prior to hunting it. Remember, as a hunter, you are responsible for determining whether or not a field is baited.