The Rich Culture of Dove Hunting in the American South
The opening of dove season is a cultural event like no other in the American South.
In Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi and other surrounding states, the opening of the season marks the coming of autumn—and more hunting seasons to follow. Thousands of hunters, their families and their hunting dogs gather to set out in pursuit of (primarily) mourning doves, white-winged doves and collared doves. Family and friends who hunt together have traditional locations they visit each year. Cut corn fields are ideal because the birds will flutter into the fields to feast on the remaining kernels. Recently harvested grain fields, along with sunflower, rice, bean and cotton fields are also favorites. Some locations are so popular that state wildlife management offices will set quotas and hold a lottery for first-day access.
It’s a challenging task because doves are small and nimble, flying up to 55 miles an hour with sharp dives and quick changes in direction. It takes quick reflexes and a keen eye to bag these birds. The hunt usually begins at noon, but among many groups, the season “officially” kicks off when the first hunter fires.
As the sun sets, the day’s harvest is grilled up—often wrapped in bacon—for the group to enjoy alongside southern favorites including barbecue and sweet tea.
Here are a few areas you might want to check out if you’re thinking of joining this time-honored tradition. Dove hunting season begins on Sept. 1, 2018 in most states, though there are some exceptions. In most locations, the daily bag limit on mourning and white-winged doves is set at 15, while there’s no daily limit on Eurasian collared doves (though they must be easily identifiable as collared doves). Beware of variations in regulations: Double check bag limits, dates, timing and species regulations by searching on the FarWide app and in-browser experience.
Tennessee’s dove fields are divided among four regions. In Region 1, highlights include two areas along the Wolf River that allow hunting, featuring sunflower, millet and wheat fields. Laurel Hill WMA in Region 2 contains vast acreage of wheat, millet and sunflowers. Hiwassee Refuge WMA in Region 3 includes corn fields, and more can be found in Buffalo Springs.
In Mississippi you’ll find WMAs with dove fields including sunflower fields at Howard Miller and Muscadine Farms. Some fields like Mahannah and Hell Creek have special dates and youth hunting opportunities, so check regulations carefully.
In Georgia, visit Pine Log Wildlife Management Area in the city of White, which offers deer, bear, turkey, small game and (of course) dove hunting across more than 14,000 acres. McGraw Form WMA on the Etowah River is a beautiful location with opportunities for hiking, camping and cycling in addition to hunting. Georgia also has a number of dedicated fields including Appling County Dove Field and Anderson Farms Dove Field, though due to late planting of the crops at Anderson, you might want to wait until the second dove season (Oct. 13-31) to visit.
Alabama’s dove hunting season starts a bit later than seasons in other states—Sept. 8 in northern Alabama counties and Sept. 15 farther south. It’s divided into five districts, each of which has at least one prime location for dove hunting. In Bibb County you can hunt mourning and white-winged doves along the Cahaba River, and Jackson County has more flexible hours than many other locations in the region.
In an unusual opportunity, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will issue 20 permits for each weekend in September for a managed dove hunt on a landowner’s private sunflower field in Lonoke County. Hunters who are issued permits will be allowed to bring one guest. The application period ends tonight at midnight—apply here.