Mourning dove are shot all the time over crop fields where they feed, and the fields are prepped to lure the birds. It's an age-old agrarian practice that tends to tread a fine line between hunting and illegal baiting.
A plowed field apparently did one suspect in. Robert Claude Cathey of Anderson has been sentenced to one year probation and fined $5,000 for scattering wheat seed over his dirt field and leasing it to hunters for $5,000 in 2012.
"He dropped raw seed in obvious baiting. You just can't do that with dove," said Tom MacKenzie, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The hunters weren't charged, according to a service release. It's not unusual for hunters to be invited or pay to hunt fields without knowing how the fields were prepped.
Doves are attracted to harvested seed fields, where missed seed tends to lie scattered on the ground. Hunting plantations improve the fields by planting particular crops, making partial cuts and other management techniques, some of which cut close to the legal line.
S.C. Department of Natural Resources wildlife officers chase down dove field violations every year, said Capt. Robert McCullough, of DNR law enforcement.
"It's an ongoing problem. The simple way to say it is, as long as what you grow there stays there it's not a problem," he said. "It's a problem when things get taken away and put back, or you put something there that doesn't belong."
Cathey was prosecuted for violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes it illegal to hunt game birds such as mourning doves, ducks or geese over a baited area. State law tracks federal law governing the act. Penalties can reach up to a year in federal prison and $100,000, according to the fish and wildlife service.
"We take our mission to support our state counterpart wildlife enforcement agencies very seriously, especially when violations involve not only the unlawful take of migratory birds over bait, but also their commercialization for profit," said Luis Santiago, Southeast region special agent in charge for the fish and wildlife service. "Dove hunting is a time honored tradition for hunters and the defendant has undermined the proud tradition of fair chase for all hunters."
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