The first part of the small game season got underway today (Sept. 1) when dove becomes legal game.
These fast flyers are a challenge to hunt in that they at the sight of movement from the ground or the report of a shotgun, they’re dip and turn and will turn on the afterburners to escape the danger.
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, doves are the most abundant game bird. They prefer agricultural areas due to the abundance of food and roosting trees and in particular clumps of conifer trees at night and dead snags during the day. Although there also seems to be a good population of doves in the city of Allentown as folks maintain bird feeders that are an easy food source for them, and they won’t be shot at.
But typically, doves prefer open woodland edges and their favored habitat includes farmland with scattered trees - predominately cedar, spruce and pine - and shrubs, open woods, orchards, roadside trees and suburban gardens. Doves usually avoid dense forests says the PGC.
In general, doves concentrate in areas with plentiful weed seeds or waste grain, and near trees for roosting and nesting. And within easy flight of a water source. In the suburbs, the water source could be bird baths or puddles created by all the rain we’ve been getting.
But the big question is where to hunt them with all the development Lehigh and Northampton counties have experienced.
Years ago, when my son was a teenager, we hunted a sunflower field across from the Mack Truck plant in Macungie. The dove action was non-stop despite shooting at them as they seemed to be determined to feed on the sunflowers. It was a memorable day as my son scored on several doubles, something I was never able to do. That field is now gone and was replaced with buildings.
If hunters can locate a field or farm with sunflowers and hunt the safe perimeter of them, the action could be quite productive.
Of course, it’s sad to report that farmlands are beginning to dwindle thanks to development. One prime example of this is in Lyons, in upper Berks County and across from Weavers Hardware store. Here, East Penn Manufacturing (Deka Battery) purchased a huge tract of farmland from a Mennonite farmer to erect a large solar farm to power their battery making business. I would always see a good number of doves on the powerlines along this pristine farmland. A real shame.
In fact, compared to Lehigh and Northampton counties, upper Berks probably has the most farmland that is primarily owned by Mennonite farmers.
If locating a viable place to hunt, keep in mind State Game Land #205 in Lowhill Township, Lehigh County, has managed food crop fields developed by the game commission that draw doves. There’s also SGL #182 in Berks County on the outskirts of Kutztown and off Route 222.
Dove hunting has a split season with the first running from Friday, Sept 1 until Nov. 24 and again from Dec. 19 to Jan. 6, 2024.
Keep in mind in addition to a general hunting license, hunters also need a Migratory Game Bird License that can be purchased at a license issuing agency or online at www.huntfish.pa.gov.
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.