Sept. 1 kicked off the first of the split dove season and early goose seasons in parts of Pennsylvania. As such, dove hunters get their first shots at these fast flyers. And fast they are. Of all the gamebirds, doves are probably the hardest to hit as hunters can expect incoming, outgoing, crossing and overhead passing shots at times. And when the shot pellets start flying, doves turn on the afterburners and fly even faster.
The trouble with doves is where to locally hunt them. Thanks to ever sprawling warehouses and housing developments on fertile farmlands, those once hunt-able lands have disappeared. This leaves a few suburban farmlands or local state game lands like that off Route 100 in upper Lehigh County to hunt. There’s also SGL’s in Berks County and private farmlands in the northern tier where there is considerably more acreage and more farmlands (thanks to Mennonite farmers who rarely, if ever, sell their lands) than what’s remaining in Lehigh and Northampton counties. You can find many of these farms on the outskirts of Topton, Dryville, Maxatawny and Fleetwood.
So where should aspiring dove hunters look for these whistling fast birds? Dove’s have three favorite hangouts of food, water and flyways. If you can find a rare sunflower field, whether standing or harvested, you’ve hit pay dirt as dove love sunflower seeds.
After doves feed, they usually pick grit then head to water. As such, farm ponds or small creeks are good bets. And the best time to hit these places is midmorning and late afternoon, hunting hours permitting during this split season.
And lastly, flyways are good spots for pass shooting. The best ones are located between roosting and feeding areas and can often be found by seeing several doves sitting on utility wires within the flyway. To find them, drive rural farm roads and look for them perched on the lines.
To entice doves to stop enroute to these spots, try setting out some decoys to draw them in closer or in the least, slow them down for a quick look as they fly overhead. Decoys can be placed on a branch of a dead tree, on a fence or on a makeshift decoy pole (aluminum or PVC) with sticks or wire coat hangers hung from it in tree fashion. Or, a commercially made one that gets stuck in the ground or stands on splayed legs.
If you’re an impatient hunter who can’t sit and wait for birds to come to you, walking the edges of standing cornfields is another technique of jump shooting them as they pick grit and flush from among the cornrows. But if downing one, mark it quickly as you don’t want to lose a tasty bird because you can’t find it. Losing it in a dense soybean field or tall standing cornfield is wasteful and unsportsmanlike. Here, a good hunting dog is vital in retrieving it with no crop damage.
A point here to note is that local farmers have had a good hay and alfafa growing season, and as such many have cut and bailed it, according to Lisa Lapeta, local Department of Agricultural agent. So it’s here where you should try to down doves as they’re easier to find as opposed to looking for them in a soybean or standing corn. In respect for the farmer, you don’t want to traipse through their soybean or cornfields and knock any down.
As for cornfields, Ms. Lapeta said although corn stalks are tall because of all the rain we’ve had, their yields are off because of too much rain. She points out that single stalks are averaging two cobs whereas there should be four cobs. So if you must enter standing corn, take extra care not to knock down any stalks or trample soybean fields as the harvest will suffer as is.
Some hunters also call doves. Yes they, like waterfowl, can be called I’ve been told. Commercial calls like Primos’ Model 362 that is similar to a whistle, or Haydel’s D-90 that resembles a flute-style call, imitate a doves’ cooing. Maybe they’re work, maybe they don’t. But they’re worth a try and could surprise you to their effectiveness.
Best of all, dove breasts wrapped in bacon and grilled are a dinner delight. Just be careful you don’t bite an unseen #6 pellet.
As for the early goose season, we’ll cover that in a separate column as they could be even more difficult to hunt at this time of year.
Nick Hromiak has been an outdoors and automotive writer for over 30 years. He's been published in numerous national and state-wide outdoor magazines and newspapers.