The first part of the small game hunting season, when dove and resident goose population season, kicks off Sept. 1.
Dove are the most populated small game bird in the state. And are challenging to hunt for two reasons. First, they’re fast flyers as they can dip, dart and reach speeds up to 70 mph with a tail wind. Perhaps faster when peppered by a load of #7 shot.
It’s been said dove are more challenging targets than a round of skeet or trap. Unlike claybirds, whose flight paths are generally known, doves offer every wing shot possible. You’ll have incomers, outgoers, quartering right, quartering left, crossing in front, crossing behind and overhead shots. And once the smoothbore barks, expect the whistling wings to turn on the afterburners and high-tail it out of the area.
The second hardest part of dove hunting is finding a spot to hunt them. As dove are small-grain lovers, look for a harvested grain field for starters. If there is water nearby, so much the better.
Cornfields are good attractors, especially if some ragweed or foxtail grows throughout. However, farmers don’t appreciate hunters traipsing throughout their standing corn, which is predominant right now. Instead, hunt the perimeters and pass up birds flying into the corn as opposed to coming out of it. Aside from that, downed birds are very difficult to located in the standing corn unless you have a good hunting dog to send in.
Upon filling their crops with wheat, corn, ragweed or sunflowers, doves will head off to pick grit and drink water before they roost for the night. This usually happens from about 4 p.m. until sunset. It’s at this time when the shooting action can be fast and frequent.
But it’s important to see doves on-the-wing to learn their flight routes. Scout trees along these routes and try to determine which trees along field edges doves prefer. There’s often a pattern to their movement according to veteran dove hunters.
As for a stand site, take advantage of natural vegetation such as high weeds, a corn-row middle, clumps of bushes, brush or a tree in the middle of a field. Most importantly, remaining still when a bird is sighted is probably the best tip.
If you cannot locate a local dove spot, try state game lands that have cover crops planted such as those on SGL 205 in Lowhill Township, off Route 100. But expect lots of company.
Another good bet are the vast fields in upper Berks County around Topton, Maxatawny, Fleetwood, Lyons, which are predominately owned by Mennonite farmers. Some are even posted as Safety Zones but ask hunting permission first.
Observing dove sitting on the utility wires is also a good sign that there’s a flyway nearby.
As for geese, they’re on the wing and making early morning feeding flights from their resting spots on Lake Muhlenberg and Dorney Park pond. Some can also be found on the Lehigh River and at Leaser Lake in upper Lehigh County and Ontelaunee Reservoir in upper Berks County. The question is, where are they putting down once they leave water to feed? Scouting is the best bet.
Unfortunately, local corn and soybean fields are still unharvested making it more difficult to locate a feeding field. As for resident geese, they’ll often hit the same spot day after day until crop fields are harvested then they’ll hit those. And if you're looking for a goose hunting spot, Lake Nockamixon in Bucks County has announced that portions of lake property is open to goose hunting, It's recommended stopping in the lake office for a map of the open areas.
The split dove season runs Sept. 1-Oct. 25 and again from Dec. 16-Jan. 1. whereas goose season has longer runs from Sept. 1-25; Oct. 23-Nov. 26; Dec. 13-Jan. 15; Feb. 4- Feb. 26. Check the Hunting/Trapping Digest for field and possession limits and necessary hunting stamps.
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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.