Today, Sept. 1, kicks off the dove season in Pennsylvania. And while 80-90 degree daytime temperatures that we’re experiencing aren’t exactly conducive to hunting, this opening week has the least wary birds since they haven’t been shot at as yet.
But for those who can endure the heat and bugs, a half dozen dove breasts wrapped in bacon and cooked on a gas or charcoal grill would be delightful for a Labor Day cookout.
This year, the dove season has increased from 70 to 90 days. The first part of the season runs until Saturday Nov. 15. Prior to this, it would start in Sept. and end in Sept., and much of October was closed to dove hunting.
According to Ian Gregg, PGC’s game bird manager, “Pennsylvania dove hunters who responded to a recently completed survey indicated hunters generally prefer as many dove hunting days in early autumn as possible. As a result, the additional days have been routed to the early season segment to create 2 ? months of continuous dove hunting.”
Hunting hours during the longer first segment are from noon until sunset from Sept. 1 through Sept. 25. Then on Sept. 26 through Nov. 15, hunting hours begin one-half hour before sunrise and end at sunset.
The later season runs from Nov. 22 to Nov. 29 and from Dec. 27 to Jan. 1, with hunting hours during that portion set at one-half hour before sunrise and sunset.
Hunters should keep in mind the daily bag limit is 15 birds with a possession limit of 45, and hunters need a game bird license ($3.70) as well as a general hunting license.
Finding a place to hunt doves, particularly a flyway, is probably the biggest challenge next to hitting them as they turn on the afterburners when shot at. They’ll dip, dive, swerve and fly erratic patterns that make them tough to hit in midair.
But as said, where can you hunt them? Well the best public place is State Game Lands like that on Route 100 in Weidasville. Here the PGC has planted food crops throughout the land that draw doves, but expect lots of company.
Larry Whiteley, Bass Pro member, says experienced hunters get excited when they see fields of sunflowers with drooping brown heads. This is where doves love to feed and hunters can see lots of non-stop action.
A bunch of years ago my teen son at the time and I hunted such a field outside Macungie and almost across from the Mack Trucks manufacturing plant. The field was dove heaven. Even after constant shooting at them, doves would continue to fly into this diner offering sunflower seeds. My son got his first double while we hunted here. Unfortunately, that land is now occupied by townhouses.
Since then I’ve only seen one sizable sunflower field in the upper Berks County area of Dryville last year.
Aside from sunflowers, doves like ragweed, smartweed, foxtail and wild hemp if you can find any. Added to that, wheat and cornfields that have been harvested for silage, which could leave waste scattered throughout, will draw lots of these high-flying acrobats.
While Lehigh County has a fare number of cornfields in the suburbs, there always seems to be homes within 100 yards of a home or structure so no hunting here. Better bet is to hunt the vast fields in upper Berks around the towns of Topton, Mertztown and Lyons where much of the acreage here is owned by Mennonite farmers who are often obliging to considerate sportsmen.
Whiteley also suggests determining roost areas and flight patterns during early morning and evening hours. Doves like to fly along tree lines and usually open corners of fields to enter or leave the feeding areas. Around noon, doves are often seen picking grit on dirt roads or around farm ponds where they’ll also water. The grit helps digestion of the seeds they just consumed during their morning and evening feeding binges.
Whiteley says a few dove decoys will help doves feel right at home and draw them into shooting range. Dove decoys can be helpful in short stopping flyway doves. They can be mounted on fence posts, dead tree limbs or hunters can use a commercially made dove pole with multiple doves on it that get stuck in the ground. There’s also a carousel model that sits on the ground and rotates in the wind and gives a life-like look to the set-up.
As for Lehigh County farmlands, if you can spot the farm-game co-op signs, it’s an indication landowners will allow you to hunt with permission. Best bets are farmlands in upper Lehigh outside the towns of New Tripoli, Kempton and Weisenberg Township. The open-to-hunting parcels at Leaser Lake may be a possibility.
While driving country roads look for doves perched on utility lines, as that area may be a part of their flyway. Doves also like to sleep in conifers and pine trees, which could be good hotspots as they fly to and from feeding areas.
When going afield for doves, it’s strongly suggested taking a cooler to ice the doves so their dark meat doesn’t spoil. Plus, it’s a good place to stow a couple bottles of water you’ll need during these hot waning days of summer. The cooler can also double as a seat when the action is far and few between.