A longtime hunting buddy of mine calls them the "gray birds of Sept." He is referring, of course, to mourning doves and Canada geese, which traditionally usher in the early fall hunting seasons on September 1, and these two popular game birds will draw thousands of hunters afield this month.
Dove hunting was closed in Pennsylvania back in 1913 when mourning doves were placed on a list of protected birds by the General Assembly. Doves were later reclassified as game birds in 1937, and a hunting season for mourning doves was again established in 1945. Since then, generations of wing shooters have begun of their autumn hunting rituals swinging their shotguns at fast-flying doves crossing the September sky.
Dove hunting in Pennsylvania is currently divided into three seasons. The first of those started yesterday runs until Sept. 29. During this first split, hunting begins at noon and ends at sunset. The second and third seasons run from Oct. 27 to Nov. 24 and Dec. 26 to Jan. 5. Start time during those two installments is a half hour before sunrise. The daily bag limits is 15 doves during all three seasons.
The early Canada goose season also opened on yesterday. This September goose hunt began in 1992 as an experimental measure in seven counties in the northwest section of the state as a effort to control excessive populations of resident geese. In 1993, it was expanded to 10 counties, then 26 counties in 1994, and finally became a statewide season in 1995. The resident Canada goose population in Pennsylvania expanded significantly from 1990 to 2004, and increased hunting opportunity has been one of the most effective management tools for controlling these birds. Overall numbers of resident geese have declined somewhat over the past nine years, but our Canada goose population was estimated at 220,000 birds last spring, which is still well above the management goal of 150,000 spring birds.
This continuing abundance of Canada geese allows a generous daily limit of eight birds during the early season in most areas of the state.
Two Junior Waterfowl Days also occur this month on Sept. 15 and Sept. 22 for licensed junior hunters 12 to 15 years old who are accompanied by an adult. During these youth hunts, junior hunters may take Canada geese, ducks, mergansers, coots and moorhens, and daily bag limits are the same as those for the regular season in the area being hunted.
Keep in mind that all dove and waterfowl hunters must have a Pennsylvania Migratory Game Bird License in addition to a general Pennsylvania hunting license. All duck and goose hunters 16 and older are also required to have a Federal Duck Stamp.
The regulations for waterfowl and other migratory birds tend to be more than a little complicated as well as varying quite a bit in different areas of the state. And because most of those seasons and bag limits are set too late to appear in the rulebook that comes with your general hunting license, it's always a good idea to consult the annual waterfowl and migratory bird season brochure that the Game Commission compiles to present all the pertinent information. As a cost-cutting measure, however, the Game Commission no longer prints the brochure for distribution through license agents and post offices, so hunters who want a copy of it now need to download and print one from the Game Commission website (www.pgc.state.pa.us).
Tomorrow is the second final Fish for Free Day here in Pennsylvania for 2012, so a fishing license is not required to fish anywhere in the state. If your Labor Day plans will include some fishing time, why not invite a friend or family member to try the sport?
Or if you are one of the many casual anglers who don't buy a fishing license every year, think about dusting off your tackle and spending some time on the water.