DAN KIBLER COLUMN: Dove-hunting opener just over the horizon for North Carolina hunters

Dan Kibler

A couple of months ago, my father and I were sitting on the front porch of the farm house where he grew up in Georgia, watching a half-dozen or so deer wandering through a stand of sawtooth oaks he had planted 15 years ago, tiny seedlings that are now 30 feet tall and drop bushels of acorns every September and October.

But once upon a time, that 20-acre plot of land was something much different. As my father told me repeatedly — hey, he’s 92, gimme a break — that was a cornfield for much of the year.

When August arrived, my grandfather would turn his 30 or 40 hogs loose in the field, and in the space of a month, the rooters would have knocked down and eaten most of the corn, hence the farmers’ old term, “hog corn.”

Then, my father related, that “hogged-over” corn field became the family’s dove field, what with all that grain scattered about on the ground. My father said he spent many hours sitting in the same chairs we sat in in late May, watching the doves come into the field and leave, watching the direction they came from, where they landed, the direction in which they left.

Having a complete knowledge of the way the doves worked that field, it was pretty much child’s play, even for a teen-aged boy to knock down his limit of 12 — or close to it — most any afternoon he chose. He liked to slip up on doves feeding in a big group, kick them up and shoot them on the rise like a covey of quail.

But when he sat down under a big, dead tree, or in front of a hole in a fencerow where no trees were growing, he always had a few goals: to knock down at least one double, and to make at least one “hip-pocket shot” — killing an incoming dove at just the right time so that he could catch it before it hit the ground on its way to dove heaven. That was sort of a point of pride for a tenant-farmer’s son.

Set aside the confidence of a crackerjack, wing-shooting teenager and you pretty much have the blueprint for a great dove hunt. Make sure there’s plenty of grain on the ground — legally, of course — to attract doves, spend a few hours watching how and when they fly in and out of the field, then figure out a place to intercept them, and be there on a dove stool when they arrive. There are, he once told me, 1 o’clock dove fields, 3 o’clock dove fields and 6 o’clock dove fields: each one might hold its maximum number of birds at a different time every afternoon — back when you had to wait until noon to start shooting.

The big day’s a comin’

North Carolina invites its hunters to take to the fields 30 minutes before daybreak on Sept. 2 to empty their wing-shooting vests of all those 12- and 20-gauge No. 8s in hopes of filling their 15-bird limit of doves.

The state splits the season into three parts: Sept. 2-Oct. 7, Nov. 11-25 and Dec. 9, 2023-Jan. 31, 2024.

The daily limit is 15 birds. Hunting is from 30 minutes before sunrise until sunset. Hunters must have guns that will hold a maximum of three shells, and of course, they must have a North Carolina hunting license.

Labor Day weekend is the centerpiece of dove hunting almost everywhere, with landowners setting up fields specifically for an opening-weekend dove hunt or seeing to it that the right kinds of grain crops are harvested just in time.

I’ve heard that more shotgun shells are fired on Saturday and Labor Day (there’s no hunting on Sunday for migratory birds like doves) than the other 363 days of the year combined.

I have an opening-day hunt lined up, and my son and I (and his two Labs) have a couple of good options for Labor Day.
Normally, we plant a 6-acre dove field, but this year, with my son building a house, I could never get him on the tractor enough to make that happen. So we’re depending on the kindness of friends.

For hunters who don’t have access to their own field — or a good friend’s — the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has a bunch of fields planted on its public game lands around the state. Locally, the Perkins Game Land in Davie County has four dove fields; the Uwharrie National Forest has one, the Pee Dee Game Land has two, Second Creek Game Land has one, the Johns River Game Land just west of Morganton has four.

For the adventurous who can stomach a long drive at $3.49 per gallon, the Sandhills Game Land in Hoke, Moore, Richmond and Scotland counties, features 41 planted dove fields.

The fields are generally planted in grains — corn, milo, millet, sunflowers — and the crops bush-hogged down a couple of weeks before the season opener, in order to give the doves enough time to find them.

Dan Kibler has covered the outdoors since 1985 as outdoors editor of the Winston-Salem Journal and later as managing editor of Carolina Sportsman until his retirement in 2021.