- The mourning dove is the most hunted and the most harvested migratory game bird in North America.
- There are about 450 million birds in the continental population.
- The overall harvest in the U. S. is 45 million birds.
- In Tennessee, some 100,000 dove hunters harvest an estimated 2 million or more doves annually.
The migratory bird hunting regulations are established under the authority of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This is a strict liability statute which means that guilt may be established without having to prove that the hunter had knowledge of or intent to violate the law. Unfortunately, a number of hunters may find themselves shooting on a baited field without knowing it is baited. The hunter has the responsibility to determine if the field is baited.
What can the hunter do to carry out this responsibility?
Become familiar with the migratory bird hunting regulations prior to the hunting season.
Before beginning to hunt, make the host or owner aware that you are concerned about hunting in a baited situation. Assure yourself that the field has been prepared in a legal manner. Make sure that no additional grain, salt, or other feed has been added to the field to attract doves. Pay particular attention to pay-to-shoot hunts.
Look before you hunt. Prior to entering the field with a gun, look over the hunt area. Learn to identify situations which might indicate a baited field: presence of grains not normally sown in the fall (such as corn, sunflower, milo or millet, which are there not as a result of a harvesting operation); piles or long rows of grain; presence of rock salt; grain present in several different stages of growth (example: some sprouts 3" tall, some sprouts 1" tall, some freshly sown grain); an unusually large number of doves coming to a freshly plowed field. If so, look closely under the soil for grain that is not part of a bona fide agricultural operation or procedure.
Baiting means the placing, exposing, depositing, distributing, or scattering of shelled, shucked, or unshucked corn, wheat, or other grain, salt or other feed so as to constitute for such birds a lure, attraction or enticement to, on, or over any areas where hunters are attempting to take them.
The regulations governing the hunting of migratory game birds are found in Part 20 of Title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The regulation specifically dealing with baiting is found in 20.21(I). This regulation states: No person shall take migratory game birds by the aid of baiting, or on or over any baited area. Hunting doves can be a problem if hunters do not understand the federal baiting regulations.
A baited area means any area where shelled, shucked, or unshucked corn, wheat, or other grain, salt or other feed, whatsoever capable of luring, attracting, or enticing such birds is directly or indirectly placed, exposed, deposited, distributed or scattered.
The regulation further states that such area shall remain a baited area for 10 days following complete removal of all such corn, wheat, or other grain, salt, or other feed. Thus, an area is considered baited for 10 days after the bait has been completely removed because birds habitually return to the same area for several days after their food supply no longer exists. Hunting over a baited area is illegal throughout the 10-day period following removal of the bait.
What Is Legal?
Good dove hunting is frequently found where grain and other feed is distributed in the ordinary course of farming activities. The federal hunting regulations recognize this fact. Doves may be legally hunted where grain, salt or other feed is found scattered solely as the result of normal agricultural planting or harvesting and distributed or scattered as the result of bona fide agricultural operations or procedures. Additionally, doves may be hunted over crops or other feed raised for wildlife management purposes and manipulated in the field where grown.
Bona Fide Agricultural Operations & Procedures
There are many agricultural operations and procedures that normally occur in Tennessee in late summer or fall. The Latin words "bona fide" included in the hunting regulations mean in good faith or without fraud. Normal agricultural planting or harvesting includes many factors such as time of year, rates of application, methods, seed source, equipment efficiency, etc. Federal Court rulings define normal agricultural planting or harvesting as having as its primary goal the growth and harvesting of a crop - not the enticement of migratory birds. Merely imitating agriculture as a ruse to circumvent the regulations is not acceptable. Questions about what constitutes normal agricultural planting or harvesting practices should be addressed to the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service.
The harvest of such grain crops as corn, wheat, milo, sorghum, millet, sunflower, buckwheat and others may attract doves. During the harvest, seeds may fall to the ground and become available to wildlife. Hunting over normally harvested fields is legal. However, a field would be considered baited for doves if harvested grain is redistributed on the field after harvesting.
Livestock can enter a field and feed on either harvested or standing crops. This practice is known as a hogged down field , and may involve several different grain crops. Livestock also can feed on grain or salt provided in feed lots. A feedlot is a small enclosed area where farmers feed livestock to increase their weight. Feed which has been scattered or wasted by the animals around the feeding receptacles may also be attractive to doves. Dove hunting is legal on these areas as long as these are bona fide agricultural operations or procedures. However, deliberately depositing grain, salt, or other feed to improve dove hunting is not legal.
Planting To Establish A Cover Crop On A Harvested Field
Many conservation-minded farmers establish a cover crop on harvested fields to prevent soil erosion, suppress noxious weeds, and help build the soil over the winter. Harvested grain fields and tobacco fields often have winter wheat or rye sown on them to establish a cover crop. Winter wheat or rye is often overseeded on soybean, corn silage, and cotton fields prior to harvest. Agricultural cover crop plantings should follow seeding guidelines published in the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service's publication #PB378, Field Crops Seeding Guide. For example, the earliest seeding date recommended for winter grains (wheat, barley, rye, oats) is August 15.
Planting For Soil Erosion Control
Timber harvesting operations, haul road construction, and other bona fide agricultural-related projects which expose soil often occur during late summer and early fall. Establishing a cover crop by seeding exposed areas to vegetation as soon as possible following disturbance to prevent soil erosion is a practice recommended by the UT Agricultural Extension Service. To legally hunt doves over, the area being seeded for soil erosion must be part of a bona fide agricultural operation, and normal planting materials, rates and procedures must be followed. Soil erosion control goals can be achieved by deviating outside of the seeding dates recommended for the purpose of establishing a grain crop. However, it is normal that seeding for soil erosion control be done as soon as possible (typically within 10 days) following the final disturbance of the site. Non-agricultural sites such as highway road construction, housing or commercial developments, etc., seeded for soil erosion control would not be legal to hunt doves over.
Use Of Non-Certified Seed
Recommended seed varieties, seeding rates and dates are published annually in the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service publication #PB378, Field Crops Seeding Guide. However, farmers may at times have surplus, combine-run seed available from a previous harvest which they intend to use in seeding operations. As this seed often has a lower germination rate than certified seed, non-certified seed may be sown at a rate up to 50% higher than for certified seed as listed in #PB378.
Manipulation Of Crops For Wildlife Management Purposes
Crops such as browntop millet, sunflowers, corn, grain sorghum, wheat, or other small grains can be grown for wildlife management purposes (which include hunting) and the mature plants then be manipulated to improve dove hunting. This manipulation can include mowing, dragging down and disking and does not have to be related to any type of agricultural process. However, no distribution of additional grain or redistribution of grain once removed from the field may occur. Planting a grain field in the previous fall or spring and manipulating it prior to the dove season is the most reliable way to attract doves over a longer period, and is also the safest way to avoid any question of baiting or intent to bait doves. Many other species of wildlife also benefit from this wildlife management practice. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency recommends this method as the best practice to prepare a dove field.
You Cannot Plant A Dove Field In The Fall
While federal law allows the growing of a grain crop to be manipulated specifically for the purpose of attracting doves for hunting, the sowing of any grains immediately prior to or during the hunting season for the purpose of attracting doves is considered baiting and is illegal to hunt doves over. Provided, it is legal to plant winter grains in the fall to mature and be manipulated for dove hunting the following year's hunting season.
Can I legally hunt doves over top sown winter wheat?
Yes, provided the wheat has been sown as a normal agricultural practice such as a grain crop, cover crop, pasture renovation, soil erosion control or wildlife winter food plot and conforms with the UT Agricultural Extension Service guidelines.
Must wheat be sown on prepared ground?
No. Winter wheat is often no-till drilled into unprepared ground. Also, top sowing of winter grains in certain non-grain producing agricultural situations such as soil erosion control, and overseeding wheat or rye prior to harvesting soybeans, corn or cotton to establish a cover crop are recognized as normal agricultural practices in Tennessee. However, only for these specific situations listed above would it be legal to hunt doves over winter grains sown on unprepared ground.
Can I sow a wheat field several times, say every three days, and shoot over it?
No. It is not a bona fide agricultural practice to sow grain several times in quick succession. In the absence of drought or flood, a planting should be done only one time on a seed bed prepared sufficiently to reasonably ensure germination.
After a corn field is harvested and the entire field or strips are plowed up and planted in wheat, is this considered a legal field for dove hunting?
Yes, if done as a bona fide agricultural practice.
Can part of a field be bush hogged at different times, such as four rows now and four rows later, and so on?
Yes. Manipulating a standing crop in this fashion is the most reliable way to attract doves over a longer period of time and to avoid any uncertainty regarding legality of the practice to attract doves for hunting.
Can standing grains be bush hogged and additional grains be added to the field?
Can millet or sunflowers be top sown?
No. Millet, corn, sunflower, milo, and many other grains are planted only in the spring. Refer to UT Agricultural Extension Service publication #PB378 for recommended planting dates and seeding rates.
Can I top sow (broadcast) wheat over an unprepared pasture?
No. Winter wheat is not normally sown over pastures with adequate vegetative cover.
Can I plant a wildlife food plot in the fall and shoot doves that are attracted to it?
Provided that fall-sown seeds and recommended planting rates and dates as published in the Field Crops Seeding Guide (UT Agricultural Extension publication #PB378) have been used in planting the wildlife plot, it is legal to shoot doves that may be attracted to the plot.
Can I harvest a corn, milo or sunflower field and then redistribute the seed over the field?
No. You cannot distribute or scatter grain or other feed once it has been removed from or stored on the field where grown.
Where can I obtain a copy of the UT Agricultural Extension Service publication #PB378, Field Crops Seeding Guide?
You can obtain a copy by contacting your county UT Agricultural Extension Service office, or by contacting:
UT Agricultural Extension Service Mailroom
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, TN 37901-1071
(865) 974-7208 FAX (865) 974-8850