Before the ethanol and biodiesel booms made their mark on the upper Midwest and diverse cropland plantings transitioned to the almost exclusive bicultural landscape of corn and soybeans we see now, it wasn’t unusual to have frequent wheat, sunflower and even canola fields interspersed between today’s more common row crops. But with recent shifts in supply and demand for corn- and soy-based fuel products and lower market prices as a result, there’s been a bit of resurgence in the planting of small grain crops and, as a recent tour of the slightly-shifting agricultural landscape will show, this has been a boon to mourning doves – and the hunters that follow them.
Being on the smaller end of the upland game spectrum, doves thrive on eating tiny seeds and grains, spurning the corn kernels and soy beans that pheasants are known to stuff into their crops with each fall. With wheat and other grains at a premium these days due to their still being somewhat scarce on the landscape, these fields are treasured by the camo-clad upland game hunter and the locations of these small grains serve as a great starting point for dove hunting in the early days of autumn.
Locating any of these small grains, or the harvested fields where they once grew, can point hunters in the right direction for mourning dove success. Doves will continue to use intact, harvested and even tilled up small grain fields as feeding locations until colder weather comes in and pushes the birds south. Setting up near the edge of these fields will help hunters catch these fast-flying birds with the challenging bobs and drops in their flight pattern as they make their way from various other points of interest in the landscape which sportsmen should also be aware of.
Hunters can use groves of trees, grassy areas and shelterbelts adjacent to or near small grain fields to provide cover and set up dove decoys. Additionally, identifying those areas of trees that hold doves during the day near these feeding places will provide a good idea as to where the evening feeding flights will begin. Setting a small spread of dove decoys between a wheat field and a likely daytime haunt will help observant hunters intercept the birds as they come to feed.
In addition to these choice food sources and the cover around them, doves will also need hydration. Finding a stock pond, small slough or other water source within a mile of a small grain field will help mourning dove hunters connect with their quarry. A popular set-up is for hunters to sit in brush or other cover located around the water source and post decoys on tree branches or on the edge of the watering hole to draw doves in from afar. Though at this time of year, before the first frost has taken its toll on area insect populations, such a spot might require an extra layer of bug spray or clothing to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
Add in the commonplace gritty edge of a gravel road or an old farm driveway and doves have all of the items they need to keep their energy up and process the tiny grains and seeds they consume before their big flight south. While the secondary need satisfiers – cover, grit and water – might help create a good dove hunting spot on their own; having a small grain field as part of the equation turns good hunting into an experience that can only be described as dynamite for doves…in our outdoors.