Days left to avoid baited fields

Facts are facts, and fact is, on average, state and federal wildlife enforcement agents make a dozen of what they call “baiting cases” during the first days of the dove season.

Labor Day is Sept. 1, and federal regulations allow the season to open on that date, but that takes the traditional Labor Day Weekend opener for dove season off the table in Louisiana. The dove season opens Sept. 7 in the state’s North and South zones.

That means hunting’s first opening day is 13 days away, and when it comes to being “legal,” hunters and landowners have three days to make sure their prepared fields are huntable.

It’s called the “10-day rule” in U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations: “A baited area remains off limits to hunting for 10 days after all salt, grain, or other feed has been completely removed.”

This regulation applies to all migratory birds and waterfowl.

Almost every dove hunter in Louisiana knows someone who has been involved in a baiting incident.

The scenario usually plays out when hunters are invited into a dove field they’ve never hunted.

The word to the wise is check the field you’re going to hunt before you heft the shotgun to your shoulder.

Because doves are not good “scratchers,” a term for birds that use their feet to expose food, they feed in open fields — the best fields are plowed, bare dirt and void of cover — so piles or broadcast grains and other food sources should be visible.

The language in the baiting regulations gets sticky for hunters in the USFWS “What is baiting?” paragraph that reads: “You cannot hunt waterfowl by the aid of baiting or on or over any baited area where you know or reasonably should know that the area is or has been baited.”

Substitute “migratory birds” for “waterfowl,” because the same rules apply.

The federal regs allow for “normal agricultural practices.” The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has Technical Services Program staff that offers fee-free help to private landowners interested in managing their lands for wildlife.

For hunters, the pluses for the dove season are that mourning doves are among the most abundant species in North America. The annual count estimate is near 350 million birds. The LDWF’s estimates are dove numbers have increased during the past 10 years and are above the long-term average of the past 48 years.

With one more weekend between hunters and the dove-season opener, hunters need to start a countdown checklist with items such as:

make sure shotguns function properly.

buy the right shotshells.

have a current state license.

make sure to get a no-fee.federal Harvest Information Program certification that’s available from all state license vendors. All hunters need to have the HIP certificate before entering the field for all migratory bird and waterfowl hunting.