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Planting Regulations for Doves Reaffirmed

August 11, 2011
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

With the opening of dove season only a few weeks away, Alabama’s wingshooters are shifting their attention to the onset of the fall hunting season instead of the oppressive August heat.

For those who have prepared a standing crop for dove hunting, there should be little concern about the dove hunting regulations.

A good many dove hunters have enhanced their chances of a successful dove hunt by planting crops that attract doves, which is the best way to avoid any enforcement interpretations.

“Hunting doves over a standing crop is and always has been legal,” said Allan Andress, Chief of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division’s Enforcement Section. “So if you plant millet or some other small grain, you can hunt over the standing crop. You can also hunt over the harvesting of that grain. With doves, you can also hunt over manipulation of that crop. You can mow it, burn it, trample it down. About the only way you can go wrong is if you harvest it, haul it away and then bring it back.”

Andress also said it is legal to hunt over other normal agricultural practices, such as small grain plantings, as long as the field is planted according to the governing agricultural authority, which in our state is the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

“Most small grain plantings, according to the Extension System, not only require a well-prepared seed bed and broadcasting or drilling into the soil, but also covering the seed through culti-packing, disking or raking or something of that nature,” he said. “The only exception to that is one that is commonly used in the fall, and that is top-sowing of wheat. Not just any top-sowing of wheat is legal. It has to follow certain guidelines. On or after certain dates, the Extension System recognizes that top-sown wheat is a bona fide planting practice under conditions where there is good seed bed preparation and the ground is not excessively hard. It must be seeded evenly within a seeding range of no more than 200 pounds per acre. So under certain conditions, dove hunting over top-sown wheat is legal.”

The Cooperative Extension System breaks Alabama into three distinct planting zones – not to be confused with the hunting zones – that determine when the top-sowing of wheat is an acceptable planting practice. The earliest recommended planting date for top-sown wheat in the North Zone is Aug. 25, while the date for the Central Zone is Sept. 1, and Sept. 15 for the South Zone.

See http://www.aces.edu/timelyinfo/ForestryWildlife/2004/September/Dove_Mgt_in_AL_legal_issues.pdf for specific details.

Last year, a difference of opinion on the legality of hunting over top-sown wheat between a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Agent and the WFF Division caused two youth dove hunts to be canceled.

To ensure the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources had a correct interpretation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) regulations, WFF Director Corky Pugh asked Fish and Wildlife for a clarification of the regulations regarding “intent.”

“The regulations have not changed,” Pugh said after receiving the reply from USFWS officials. “If a field is planted according to the Cooperative Extension System guidelines, the determination of ‘intent’ is not relevant.”

Specifically, the USFWS letter read: “With respect to the ‘intent of planting,’ this guidance stated that ‘for the hunting of all migratory game birds, no distinction will be made between agricultural fields planted with the intent to harvest and those planted without the intent to harvest, as long as the planting is in accordance with the official recommendations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Cooperative Extension Service.’ This guidance was re-issued in December 2010 as a Chief’s Directive.”

“As far as planting aspects, some of the more common mistakes, one is they will plant it too early,” Andress said of top-sown wheat. “They will distribute it on ground that’s not suitable, such as broadcasting on a hard-packed soil or distributing it in a grass-covered pasture where the soil would not be receptive to the seed. Sometimes we see problems when the seed is not distributed with a spreader. They might be put out by hand or by bucket or the back of a pickup truck. The seed has to be uniformly distributed.

“Another thing is multiple seeding. The Extension System does not recommend more than one seeding. Therefore, if the field is seeded more than once, it would make the field illegal to hunt doves over. Again, there’s almost no way to get off track with a standing crop if you manipulate it there and never take the grain away from the field where it was grown.”

Andress said the USFWS policy that was confirmed was implemented in the year 2000.

“When you get right down to it, nothing has changed,” he said. “We’ve had the same rules and regulations for a number of years. Last year, it got down to a highly subjective call from one officer on one field.”

With the clarification from USFWS, Andress said Alabama’s dove hunters can proceed with their normal dove field preparation, as long as it abides by the guidance from the Cooperative Extension System.

“In layman’s terms, if you’re planting for dove hunting, you do not have to conceal that fact,” Andress said. “That fact will not be held against you. You don’t have to claim you’re doing it for some other agricultural purpose. That’s the principle we have operated under since 2000.

“That was one of the issues raised on the fields prepared for youth dove hunts last year. But we have affirmation that intent is not a factor that should be considered. We considered the fields to be well within accepted tolerances for normal agricultural practices. The Fish and Wildlife agent differed with us, and rather than subjecting ourselves, our guests and cooperators on the fields to conflict with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we suspended the hunts until those matters could be determined.”

Now that the “intent” issue has been resolved, Andress encourages Alabama’s wingshooters to enjoy a safe, successful hunt and to be sure and follow the other rules and regulations regarding hunting doves.

“This was a situation on only a couple of particular fields and the average hunter should not be overly concerned,” he said. “I would recommend they continue to follow the rules like they have for the last 11 years and enjoy a good hunt.”

Dove hunters also need to remember that shotguns must be capable of holding only three shells; hunting licenses are required for anyone 16 or older or under 65; all dove hunters must have a HIP permit; hunters must have landowner permission to hunt; and no hunting is allowed within 100 yards of a residence without permission of the owner. The daily bag limit is 15 in both zones.

The seasons for the North Zone are: Sept. 3-Oct. 2, Oct. 22-Nov. 5 and Dec. 10-Jan. 3. The South Zone seasons are: Oct. 1-Oct. 30, Nov. 24-Nov. 27 and Dec. 3-Jan. 7.

Visit http://www.eregulations.com/alabama/ to view or download the Alabama Hunting & Fishing Digest for a complete guide to hunting and fishing regulations.

Be sure to catch the next episode of “Outdoor Alabama Live,” which will include questions and answers on doves and dove hunting. Watch at www.outdooralabama.com/webcast on Tuesday, Aug. 16 at 6:30 p.m.

PHOTO: (By David Rainer) Dove hunters in Alabama’s North Zone are only weeks away from the opening day of the first season, which runs Sept. 3 through Oct. 2. The South Zone opens Oct. 1.


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