Dove season is the traditional first hunting opportunity in the Peach State, with hunters from the coast to the mountains traipsing to fields and waterholes in hopes of hitting a few of these fast and agile birds.
Georgia has the advantage of being part of the Eastern Management Unit, which, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's 2016 Population Status report, is the only unit that has seen an increase in dove populations in the last 50 years; the Central and Western management units have seen small decreases. Still, mourning doves are one of the most abundant bird species in North America.
In many ways, the dove opener is more of a social get-together, with family and friends gathering for fun and food, all while trying to hit a bird that is extremely fast and sometimes seems pellet proof.
While some hunters gather at personal fields with friends and family, others head to public land to hunt doves or find pay-to-hunt fields, both of which are available across the state.
Located around Lake Juliette between Macon and Atlanta, Rum Creek WMA annually hosts one of the most dependably good draw hunts for doves in Georgia's WMA system. For the last 12 years or so, Rum Creek has been the hunt I usually apply to because it's never failed to have birds on it (at least, in years I've been drawn). Rum Creek actually has two draw hunts — one for opening day, and the second for the following Saturday. Like many WMA dove fields, during the first dove season hunting is only allowed on Saturdays. Opening day typically sees more birds, while the second Saturday is typically a bit easier to draw.
If you missed the application or drew to another dove field, you can still hunt Rum Creek on the third Saturday of the first dove season, which is an open (non-draw) hunt. Traditionally, the application deadline for dove draw hunts in the WMA system is Aug. 15 each year.
Doves are notoriously fickle, but there seems to be a strong local population of birds in and around Rum Creek, and DNR land managers have for years done a good job of planting and maintaining the fields. Last year, as usual, those fields had a mix of crops, including sunflowers. Hunters in most positions on the sunflower field had opportunities for a limit, though of course there's a big difference between a dove being close enough to shoot at and that dove ending up hitting the ground.
The dove fields at Rum Creek are at the "T" intersection where Holy Grove Road gives onto Juliette Road, and if you are on Juliette Road you will see signage for the hunt. The fields cover about 35 acres; the draw hunt traditionally allows 75 hunters. The fields are laid out to provide space for people choosing different stand choices. One roughly rectangular field is on the northeast side of Holy Grove Road; another set of connected fields is on the southwest side of the road and is divided into sections both by topography and a "peninsula" of trees that extends into the fields. There is a lot of shade to hunt under at Rum Creek. In years past, the crop mix has included Egyptian wheat, brown top millet, wheat and sunflowers.
As with any dove field, public or not, the way the doves fly in and out of the field changes every year, especially if the planting in the field changes or rotates. So on years I'm successful at being drawn, I check out Rum Creek's fields the weekend or so before the hunt — I watch them for a while to get a general idea of which plantings the doves seem to be favoring and how they fly in and out of that part of the field.
Incidentally, scouting the field itself can be part of a good day outdoors: after checking out the dove fields, you could launch a boat on Lake Juliette and get some fishing in; if you like to hunt public-land deer you can scout Rum Creek itself (which has a relatively high deer hunting success rate on its draw hunts and also has an archery-only area) or you can drive east a few miles and scout the Piedmont Wildlife Refuge. It also has decent draw hunts for deer and because it's a National Wildlife Refuge, its draw hunt system is separate from the WMA system — you can draw to the Piedmont NWR and to a WMA hunt in the same season. And if you like to squirrel hunt, you'll likely have both places to yourself. — David Johnson
While for the majority of the dove seasons Pine Log is open for all hunters, the opening day is reserved for a quota hunt. The fields — planted with sunflowers and wheat — is located right off of Ga. Hwy. 411 on Oak Street in White, Ga.
Last year, the Georgia Division of Wildlife Resources listed the field as fair, but that estimation might have been more hopeful than real. I was one of the lucky 100 chosen to hunt one of the two fields available for doves on Pine Log on opening day, and the field was a little disappointing. The wheat or the sunflowers didn't do very well, and the field was pretty scarce in regard to the doves, even though the GDWR did cut and bale the fields, providing good hiding places for hunters. The birds that did come into the field seemed to prefer the corners, though a few came to the field from a factory that is quite visible from the northern field.
While I heard that hunters had better luck, and more birds, later in the season, I was unable to make it back in 2016. This was my second attempt at taking a few doves on Pine Log, as I went during the open season in 2015. And while I talked to another hunter whose friend had limited on Pine Log on opening day in 2015, I had another disappointing afternoon on the field.
Hopefully, with a good planting and rain at the proper time, this season will be better, as I will probably be putting in for the Pine Log opening day quota hunt once again, though I may look into other draw hunts across the state. — Paul Rackley
Smith Dove Fields near Cartersville (Taylorsville, Ga.; 770-386-6364) hosts hunts on opening day and through the season. For $100, I hunted the first Sunday of the season and found a lot of birds and a lot of hunters as well.
The best part was a steady stream of birds that came over the rolling hills from north to south for most of the day. Decoys — we used spinning-wings and clip-ons — did not seem to help much in attracting birds, or even changing flight patterns to draw them closer to my muzzle. But the birds few low and fast, mostly on their way with a place in mind, rather than looking for a place to set down for gravel, seeds or water. However, if they had been in a feeding mood, this field would have given them a fighting chance for forage. The Smiths had planted ample sunflowers and millet, and had knocked down more than 80 percent of the grains and flowers and left standing sections for cover. The lowest section of the property saw the most action where a dry creek bed ambled from north to south.
The down side to this hunt was the group of hunters on an adjacent property cared much more for dropping birds than they did for avoiding raining lead on other hunters. After some shouts, the shooters left either after filling their bags or getting their fill of the verbal discouragement.
In the end, we had more than ample opportunity to get a limit, although I was short by more than I'd like to admit.
One memory was made that day that I will never forget: I watched my 15-year-old son swing his over/under on a wicked-fast, left-to-right crosser. He dropped it at our feet before I was even on it. Something like that makes a dad proud and was worth each penny of a $100 bill. — John Geiger
MAKE A DOVE WIRE
DRIVE TWO 2-foot pieces of 3/4-inch metal conduit into the ground. A 10-foot section of 1/2-inch conduit slips into each section of 3/4-inch pipe, with wire stretched between them. Clip 6 to 8 decoys on the wire with a spinning-wing on one of the uprights.
Dove hunting at South Fork (Danielsville, Ga.; 706-255-9524) has been on again, off again. Sometimes there just aren't a lot of doves flying at the preserve northwest of Athens. They plant about 100 acres with sunflowers, proso millet and sorghum. Luckily, they keep the price of an opening-day hunt low — $100 — and even serve up lunch, which is included in the price. Owner Colby Phillips also said that he'd give a refund if it is not a good bird year.
"If you aren't too far away, drive up here and scout a week before the season. If you don't see any birds, that's fine, I'll refund your entry fee," said Phillips. "We're easy to work with and I want everyone to have a good time."
You can also hunt doves throughout the season for $200. Just call the preserve, and they will let you know which fields are available for doves. South Fork's main business is upland birds. But they open some fields for doves, according to demand. — John Geiger
Another private-land hunt open to the public in northwest Georgia takes place at SpringBank Plantation (Adairsville, Ga.; 770-773-7480) near Barnsley Gardens. SpringBank usually plants sunflowers and millet. They sell a "dove hunting membership" for $500. It includes unlimited dove hunting at the 1,800-acre property in northwest Georgia. You can bring a guest for $25 per day. — John Geiger
Sidebar: Barnsley & SpringBank
SpringBank Plantation conducts much more than just doves hunts. In fact, it is much better known for quail and pheasant hunts, including a Continental pheasant hunt that it holds monthly from fall to early spring. It also has sporting clays and conducts guided fly-fishing trips for visitors.
Even better, SpringBank is associated with Barnsley Resort, a Southern estate containing cottages, two upscale restaurants, as well as a beer garden that serves a more casual menu, and a variety of activities for all ages, such as golf, hiking, biking, paintball, horseback riding and even a pool. It also has a barnyard for the kids, amazing gardens and a history museum that explains the interesting history of the resort, which was originally created by Godfrey Barnsley for his bride. — Paul Rackley
Burnt Pine (Newborn, Ga.; 706-557-0407) is southeast of Atlanta, south of Covington. They host a dove shoot each year. For $150, you get access to the fields and a lunch on opening day before lead flies. Although they were not sure what they would be planting this year and in which fields, they did confirm they would host a hunt and encouraged hunters to call a few weeks before season for details.
The 4,500-acre Burnt Pine is a preserve that hosts upland bird hunts through fall and winter. There is a modern lodge, full-time guides and dogs, and all the tradition you might expect at a Southern bird planation. — John Geiger