Photo by Mike Marsh.
North Carolina lost thousands of acres of open space during the latest real estate boom, and unfortunately, much of that land was agricultural cropland. Some estimates place the amount of open space recently lost to subdivisions and golf courses at 100,000 acres, or nearly the size of a small county.
Despite such a drastic loss of farms and timberland, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and one military base ensure some of the demand for places to hunt doves is met. No other type of hunting rivals dove hunting for bringing family participation to the forefront of the sport. In fact, dove hunting may foretell the future for hunting, now that hunter recruitment and retention are the watchwords of the day.
There are three basic public lands options for hunters who may have lost their access to private property for dove hunting or who may have never had permission to hunt doves on private farms. These options include generally open hunting fields planted specifically for doves; fields farmed under lease that provide dove hunting as an incidental opportunity; and fields that are open for hunting only by a lottery permit drawing or a point-of-sale permit. Those hunters who did not apply for a lottery permit hunt this year can obtain a Commission Permit Hunt Opportunities booklet or view opportunities online next summer and apply by Aug. 10. A few permits may remain for any lottery dove hunt, and hunters can buy these leftover permits online or from license dealers for the price of the application fee.
Every August, biologists get together via telephone and e-mail to compile information about fields their crews have been preparing for doves on the commission’s Web site. Hunters can access the data on the Web site, which includes maps and directions showing the locations of the planted fields, location of parking areas and grain crops that have been planted and their acreage.
Sometimes other important comments from the biologists are included, such as how well the crops have prospered and whether or not there are any doves feeding in the fields. Weather can help or hurt crops planted for doves as well as affect the number of doves using any particular game land or any particular field on a game land. Therefore, viewing biologists’ reports increases the odds for a successful hunt.
The state is divided into four regions where the commission’s field crews conduct their activities under the oversight of management biologists. These are the Northern Coast, Southern Coast, Piedmont and Mountain regions.
NORTHERN COASTAL REGION
Dale Davis, the commission’s Northern Coastal Management Biologist, supervises the work crews in Edenton and Williamston in District 1.
“We’ve got some excellent dove-hunting fields in the coastal region,” he said. “In the Northeast, the Edenton crew manages four fields with a combined total of 50 acres at Lantern Acres Game Land in Tyrrell County. We are going to try some sunflower there this year. In the past, bears and deer ate the sunflower. But Ducks Unlimited donated some sunflower seed so we’re going to try it again.”
Lantern Acres is also planted with browntop, German and proso millets. Davis had high praise for long-stemmed German millet because of the amount of seed it produces.
“If we burn German millet, fire exposes hundreds of seeds on each stem,” he said. “The seed has a hard coat, so it survives fire. Without fire, the seed stays on the plant a long time, unlike the seed of browntop millet, so it continues to attract doves. Browntop matures first, with German millet maturing shortly thereafter, followed by proso millet. If weather conditions are right, our crews may mow a millet field and burn it to expose the seed. We leave some standing grain crops strips to provide winter food.”
Lantern Acres is a six-day-per-week game land open to dove hunting all season. If hunters want to hunt inside the posted waterfowl impoundment, they must use non-toxic shot.
Dove hunting at Lantern Acres is better by the second or third week of the season. The hunting is best when morning hunting is allowed.
“There are other crops on nearby farms,” Davis said. “You’d think doves would utilize those fields. But they head for our fields later in the season because of the small grains we plant.”
Gull Rock Game Land in Hyde County has a 15-acre dove field. It is located near Highlands behind a school. The field is planted in millet and is open six days per week, with no permit required for hunting.
The Edenton crew also manages J. Morgan Futch Game Land in Tyrrell County, located 8 miles east of Columbia on Highway 64. It is a recent addition to the commission’s public dove-hunting areas.
“Five years ago, we opened J. Morgan Futch to dove hunting,” Davis said. “The game land is a waterfowl impoundment and is farmed under a contract. The quality of the dove hunting depends on whether the corn has been harvested. We offer dove hunting there during the first four days of hunting season. Approximately 600 acres of farmland and moist soil units are impounded for waterfowl. The farmer usually harvests the corn in August and the harvested corn fields are the biggest draw for doves. Our feeling is that as long as dove hunting doesn’t conflict with waterfowl uses, it’s a good use of the impoundment, so we wait to flood the impoundment until after the dove hunt.”
J. Morgan Futch Game Land offers dove hunting by a point-of-sale permit with an unlimited number of permits available. Anyone who wants to hunt a field with a point-of-sale permit can buy one for $5 at any license dealer or online. Because it is a waterfowl management area, the use of non-toxic shot is required.
“It’s a good time to shoot all of your old waterfowl loads or you can buy some new ammunition specifically for dove hunting,” Davis said. “Most hunters use No. 6 or No. 7 steel shot for doves. The cost of non-toxic shells makes hunters more selective of their shots and probably keeps many hunters from participating at Futch.”
Davis supervises the commission’s Williamston crew, which manages the Lower Roanoke River Wetlands Game Land. The Conoho Farms Tract has 60 acres of dove fields that offer a draw permit hunt. After the first two weeks, the fields are open two days p
er week during the remainder of early dove season by point-of-sale permits.
Gull Rock Game Land has three fields off Hydeland Road totaling 15 to 20 acres planted in small grains. Gull Rock offers hunting six days per week without a permit.
The commission’s New Bern crew plants dove fields at Croatan National Forest. One dove hunting area is located at the commission’s field depot on Brice’s Creek Road.
“Brice’s Creek has several fields totaling 50 acres planted with millet, milo, corn and sunflowers,” Davis said. “These fields offer draw permit hunting on initial high-use days.”
Croatan’s Hill Fields also require draw permits for the initial days of dove hunting. They are located off N.C. 58 and have a total area of 20 acres.
The rest of Croatan is open as a six-day-per-week game land with no permits required for dove hunting. The New Bern crew plants millet, milo and sunflowers for doves at several locations. They also plant wheat in the fall, which produces seed that may attract doves the following year. A large field at Haywood Landing near Cape Carteret sometimes offers good dove hunting.
SOUTHERN COASTAL REGION
Vic French is the commission’s Southern Coastal Management Biologist. He said several game lands have good dove fields in the Southern Coastal Region.
“In Bladen County, Suggs Millpond Game Land has several dove fields,” French said. “All dove hunts require draw permits. One of the best dove fields is at the McFadden Tract off Live Oak Methodist Church Road. The Owens Tract on the northern end of the game land off Old Fayetteville Road is also planted for dove hunting.”
The Suggs Millpond Game Land airstrip and another nearby field are also planted for dove hunting. Suggs Millpond fields are planted with browntop millet and sunflower.
“Bladen Lakes State Forest Game Land has a 10-acre dove field located off N.C. 242,” French said. “This field is open to general hunting.”
In Pender County, the Holly Shelter Game Land crew plants several dove fields. A total of 20 acres of dove plantings are scattered throughout the game land. Several fields off Lodge Road on the eastern side offer good dove hunting. On the western side, the crew plants the airstrip and another field at the boat ramp on Shaw Highway Road. The fields are planted with millet and mowed or disked before dove season. No permits are required for hunting doves at Holly Shelter.
The Huggins Tract of the White Oak River Game Land in Onslow County is open for dove hunting by draw permit. It has one 8-acre field planted with browntop millet.
A recent acquisition is the Folkstone Tract of Stones Creek Game Land in Onslow County. It has an 8-acre field off Everette Road planted with small grains. No permit is required for dove hunting this field.
Caswell Farm Game Land in Lenoir County was removed from the game land program this year because of encroaching development.
Fort Bragg Army Post has several fields planted for doves. The number of hunters is limited, with hunters allowed to enter the fields on a on a first-come, first-served basis. When a hunter shoots his limit, another hunter is allowed to take his place. Hunters must sit through an orientation course specific to the post and must also buy a Fort Bragg hunting license in addition to a state hunting license.
Kip Hollifield is the commission’s Mountain Region Management Biologist in districts 7 and 8. He said the most popular game lands for doves in the mountains are Perkins and South Mountains.
“At South Mountains Game Land, the dove field is in Burke County near Morganton,” he said. “We plant 20 acres with millet and sunflowers.”
The dove hunting is usually good. But in the mountains, the doves may leave a field during the first cold weather, so hunters should check the fields before opening day. The South Mountains hunt requires no permit. Hollifield said he has also been trying to manage the South Mountains field for late-season dove hunts.
“We get more doves in December and January,” he said. “We’ve had some success by leaving standing crops for the late season. But that hunting is always contingent on the weather. You might have a drought and can’t grow a crop, or a really cold spell of weather can move the doves out before the hunting seasons.”
Perkins Game Land is located off Highway 801 near Mocksville in Davie County. There are four dove fields at Perkins totaling 18 acres planted with sunflowers and millet. Dry weather has an adverse effect on the Perkins Game Land fields, so hunters should visit the fields ahead of hunting season to see if any doves are using them before they show up to hunt.
Another Mountain Region dove field is located at Sandy Mush Game Land. The game land is located in Buncombe and Madison counties.
Isaac Harold is the commission’s Piedmont Region Management Biologist. The Piedmont Region includes districts 3, 5 and 6.
“We have 30 dove-hunting areas with a total of about 300 acres,” Harold said. “Falls of the Neuse, Jordan, Caswell, Sandhills and Uwharrie game lands dove fields.”
Harold said the dove fields are planted close to one another. Some of the largest are located at Butner-Falls of the Neuse Game Land. They are much larger than other Piedmont game lands fields, with some as big as 20 acres. Piedmont game lands fields are planted with winter wheat, buckwheat, millet, sunflowers and corn.
Butner-Falls of the Neuse Game Land is typically the best Piedmont dove-hunting area. It is a six-day-per-week game land with no special permits required.
“Brickhouse Road Peninsula is one of the best places,” Harold said. “But if it’s a good year, any of the dove hunting fields are good places. We plant nine or 10 fields each year. Besides the large sizes of the fields, their proximity to Falls Lake with all of the timber management on the Falls Lake property produces lots of doves.”
Sandhills Game Land, which is located in the southern Piedmont, has some good dove hunting at 10 fields scattered throughout the game land. Since the soils are sandy, soil moisture is a key component for producing grain crops that attract doves. Most summers, the dove plantings grow well.
But hunters should check the fields for doves before hunting if drought conditions occur during the summer. Sandhills Game Land is a three-day-per-week game land with no special permits required for hunting.
Caswell Game Land in the northern Piedmont attracts many doves. But it is not as consistent at holding doves as some of other Piedmont areas.
“Some years have good hunting, and others do not,” Harold said. “We’ve had lots of doves using the Caswell fields ahead of the hunting season that have disappeared before opening week.”
The crops planted at Caswell are typical of the other game lands. There are usually good shooting conditions at Caswell because it has large fields so hunters have room to spread out. Some Caswell fields are as large as 18 to 20 acres in size, with a few even larger.
“There are two particularly big fields at Caswell,” Harold said. “The Scott Tract is about 30 acres and the Barker Tract is about 45 acres. The Barker Tract has been really good for doves over the past several seasons. We rotate crops around in those larger fields, leaving some of the field areas fallow from the previous fall. Sometimes we leave winter wheat standing from the previous fall that also attracts doves. We mow strips in all of our dove-hunting fields three to four weeks ahead of season, with a goal of mowing about half the crop by the time the hunting season opens.”
A new District 3 dove-hunting field is located at Tillery Game Land off Gravel Pit Road. The field is a 25-acre dove area, which can be hunted without a permit. It is planted with corn, sunflowers and millet.
Jordan Lake and Uwharrie National Forest game lands do not offer dove hunting opportunities that are as good as other Piedmont region game lands. But there are some small fields planted for doves at these game lands. The thinner, rockier soils do not typically produce the large quantities of small grains needed to attract large numbers of doves. However, hunters may find clearcuts or controlled burns on these tracts and have some good hunting. It’s more of a chance opportunity hunt. But hunters who find dove concentrations and use tactics such as jump-shooting or decoying can have good hunts.
For more information about NCWRC dove hunting opportunities, visit www.ncwildlife.org. For more information about Fort Bragg hunting opportunities, visit www.fortbragg. army.mil/wildlife/regs-permits.