The opening of the dove season around Labor Day each year marks the traditional start of the hunting seasons. Opening weekend is particularly popular with Fort Bragg’s hunters, and Fort Bragg consistently provides high quality Labor Day weekend hunts by preparing several dove fields each year. Fort Bragg dove hunters have harvested from 2000 to 5000 doves annually since the early 1970’s. Most of the birds are harvested during the first few days of the September season. Hunting effort has been consistent at approximately 300 hunting attempts each year. Annual dove populations vary with climatic factors which influence local production and migration into and out of the area. Dove field harvest is directly related to the amount and intensity of agricultural practices at these sites. Doves are very sensitive to hunting pressure; after the first few days of hunting at the dove fields, many hunters assume that the birds have been shot out. While many of the birds have certainly been harvested, quality hunts can still be had after opening weekend by hunters who take the time to scout out watering sites and feeding locations other than the established dove fields.
Wildlife Branch staff prepares several fields each year that are managed specifically to attract doves for the opening weekend of the dove season. Several dove fields have been farmed for many years, while others were established for the 2007 season, and will likely be planted again in the future. Ultimately, the objective is to prepare from 150 to 200 acres of fields each season. Agricultural crops that are typically planted in the dove fields on Fort Bragg include winter wheat, corn, sunflowers, sorghum, and millet. Beginning a few weeks prior to the season, a combination of mowing, disking, and occasionally burning are used to manipulate the fields to attract doves.
In 1987, the first year accurate records were kept, nearly 300 raccoons were harvested on Fort Bragg. In recent years that number has decreased substantially, as has the number of hunter trips taken. These decreases are at least partly attributable to the decline in the overall raccoon population. In an effort to maintain the raccoon population and their sport, many raccoon hunters refrain from harvesting raccoons once they are treed, leaving them to be hunted again another night.
The grey squirrel, although common outside of the reservation as well as in the cantonment area of Fort Bragg, has experienced a significant reduction in habitat over the years. As a result, they are mostly restricted to forest types dominated by mature hardwood species. Hunters who find mature stands of oaks and hickories can have successful hunts. Unlike their cousins the grey squirrels, fox squirrels prefer more open habitats, but are still heavily dependent upon hard mast producing trees. Fox squirrels often forage in small oak patches, or individual large oaks and hickories interspersed in pine stands. Additionally, fox squirrels are particularly fond of pine mast.
Since 1981, annual rabbit harvest on Fort Bragg has been less than 200, and in most years has been below 100 animals. Small clear cut areas being converted to longleaf pine offer some promise, as these areas provide good habitat for 2-5 years.
Crows, although quite common on Fort Bragg, are scarcely hunted. Freshly tilled and/or mowed fields can be productive areas to hunt. Roost areas are also likely spots. Crow and owl decoys can be quite effective additions to calling.
Quail hunters can enjoy a mixed bag hunt should woodcock migrate through during the open season. When the season is in, be sure to send the dogs into the drains and damp areas where you are hunting. Also check larger open fields with good ground cover early and late in the day. If the woodcock are in, one is likely to get several chances at bagging one or more of these beautiful birds.