For years, my brother and I used the wrong tools to plant our dove field each spring. It lead to frustration, far too much sweat, and needless amounts of stress trying to get seed in the ground. Finally, we figured out the quickest and easiest way to prepare and plant our small 1-acre-plus dove plot. It takes some key pieces of equipment, but if you have the right farming implements—or can borrow them—planting is a snap.
The Key Ingredients to an Easy Dove Field
Sunflowers are what most hunters plant for doves, but it’s expensive. If you want to spend less money (and time), broadcasting red spring wheat seed is the way to go. Sunflowers take more time and money. To plant them, you will need to apply a chemical burn down on the field before the seeds germinate. This helps keep the field clear of weeds, which will stunt the growth of your sunflowers or choke them out altogether. Doves also like feeding in a clean field, not a weed patch, so you must use a burn down to have good hunts in September. You also might have to round up your sunflowers in August to dry them out so the seeds will drop from the heads. That’s another added expense.
With spring wheat, all you need to do is get the field worked, spread the seed and some fertilizer, and cover it with dirt sometime in March or April. Then in August, you burn the field so all the seeds drop to the ground—doves love it. But you will need the right tools to get this done. Here is what we use to get our field planted:
Get Your Field Ready in the Fall
In the fall, you need to burn or mow the field you intend to plant in the spring. This makes it much easier to work the soil in March or April. If you didn’t do either in the fall, find a dry day and burn it now. You can also run a brush mower through the field or have it bush hogged. Tilling dirt is impossible with long grass in the field unless you have a commercial-grade disc. So, you need to get the weeds cut down as low as possible.
Roundup is also an option to kill weeds, but it needs to be between 65 and 85 degrees to apply and will take at least a week to kill everything. It’s also expensive, and you can get your field ready without it if you plant wheat, which grows thick and chokes out any weeds that don’t get uprooted by the disc.
Working the Soil in Spring
Getting your field prepped is the most difficult part of the planting process. Most folks make the mistake of waiting too long to get their field ready. You need to get it disced when the ground is soft, even if it’s slightly muddy. We use a field disc made by King Kutter that’s four feet long and weighs almost 400 pounds (we can add another 125-pound weight to it), towing it behind an ATV. Typically in March, we drag it through the field to get the soil turned over. It rips large chunks of dirt from our plot so that we have dirt to work with as it dries out, which happens fast with a day or two of sun on it and some wind.
When we first started planting dove fields, a farmer tilled the soil with a commercial disc, but it was on his timeline. You can do the same if you don’t have access to a disc like ours, but you will likely be at the mercy of whoever you hire. You can also buy one of these discs used for a few hundred dollars, which is likely what you will have to pay a farmer to work the field one time.
Pull behind motorized tillers are a pain if you have rocks in your field. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t advocate buying one. You can easily sheer a bolt off the blade mount and spend more time fixing breakdowns than working the field.
The Final Step in Field Preparation
After the field is disced and it dries out, you will need to harrow it. Harrows come in all kinds of sizes and weights. They are essentially a square steel frame with steel spikes that drive into the ground and evenly work the soil. You will likely need to add weight to the harrow to smooth out the field. We put a wooden pallet on top of our harrow and ratchet strap cinder blocks to it, which breaks up large dirt clods and fills in deep ruts.
Once you have worked a strip of dirt with the weighted harrow, try not to go over it again because it will dig in to the dirt, and your ATV will get stuck. All you need to do is dig out the harrow, but you don’t want to be doing that multiple times during this process. Also, depending on the softness of the soil, you may have to run your ATV in 4×4 low gear.
Planting Your Dove Field
Every field is a different size and made up of varied soil quality, so the seed and fertilizer amounts will differ field-to-field. Before you plant, talk to a local seed vendor about the amount of fertilizer and seed you will need for your dove plot. Do some online research if you want to, but talking to a farmer or seed salesman will give you a better idea of what you need. In our case, it helped us find seed for a good price. After calling around, I was able to secure three 50-pound bags for $21 per bag.
To plant, we use a tow-behind spreader. Triple-13 fertilizer is broadcasted first, followed by the wheat seed. Before you get started, plan out how you will drive the ATV through the field to get the best coverage. If you don’t, it’s easy to put more seed on the ground than needed. Once the seed is in the dirt, we take the weight off the harrow and run it through the field one last time to cover the seed. After that, we don’t have to do anything until the August burn.
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Burning the Field
By August the wheat will be mature, and you can burn it 10 days or a week prior to the dove opener. You may have to get a permit for a prescribed burn, so check with local officials beforehand. Burning comes with inherent risk so you need to take precautions. I keep the edge of our field mowed short, so that when we burn it will fizzle out as the fire reaches that point. You can also till the dirt up around your field edges to act as a fire break. And be sure to always burn into the wind. This helps the fire burn slower, but it will also burn more of the wheat (a fast-spreading fire won’t burn as efficiently). Also keep pump sprayers of water and shovels handy during the burn. The more people you have helping you during the burn, the safer it is.