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Early-season hunting chances on the horizon

Since a season for mourning doves was established in Pennsylvania back in 1945, dove hunting has provided a popular early-season hunting opportunity for generations of Pennsylvania hunters.

This year, dove season starts this Tuesday, Sept. 1, and runs through Nov. 27. Legal shooting hours during dove season will be a half hour before sunrise to sunset. The daily bag limit is 15 doves. Even in areas where doves are plentiful, bagging a limit of limit of these fast-flying game birds will be a challenge even for an experienced wing shooter, so bring plenty of ammo.

Hopefully, the weeks of relentless hot days will start to ease somewhat and make dove hunting more pleasant. In any case, it’s a good idea to bring a small cooler to prevent the birds you bag from spoiling.

Although small, dove breasts are quite tasty and better suited as an appetizer rather than the main course, unless you’ve been lucky enough to harvest a large batch of doves. My favorite way to prepare some dove breasts is to wrap each one with a bacon slice held in place with some toothpicks and cook them on the grill.

The early Canada goose season also opens Tuesday, Sept. 1, and runs until Sept. 25. This special early goose hunt began in 1992 as an experimental measure in seven counties in the northwest section of the state as an 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 1990-2004, and increased hunting opportunity has been one of the most effective management tools for controlling these birds. The daily bag limit for Canada geese during the early season hunt is a liberal 8 birds.

A youth waterfowl day also occurs this month on September 14. Licensed junior hunters 12 to 16 years old who are accompanied by an adult may participate in this special hunt. During the youth hunt, junior hunters may take Canada geese, ducks, mergansers, coots and moorhens, and daily bag limits for each of those species are the same as those for the regular season in the area being hunted. Licensed adult hunters accompanying youth hunters on that day may also harvest Canada geese.

Legal shooting hours during the early Canada goose season are a half hour before sunrise until a half hour after sunset, except on the youth waterfowl day, when shooting hours are a half hour before sunrise until sunset.

Keep in mind the special licensing requirements for the dove and waterfowl seasons. In addition to the general hunting license, all dove and waterfowl hunters 12-and-older must have a Pennsylvania Migratory Game Bird License. Mentored youths also need a Pennsylvania Migratory Game Bird License to hunt doves. All duck and goose hunters 16-and-older are required to have a federal duck stamp, signed across the face and carried by the hunter. The Electronic Duck Stamp, or E-Stamp, is valid in Pennsylvania, and stamps can be purchased online through Pennsylvania Game Commission’s “The Outdoor Shop.”

The waterfowl and migratory bird regulations are largely established at the federal level and have always been wickedly complicated. To avoid getting into trouble, consult the “Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest” or visit the Game Commission website, PGC.pa.gov for the complete regulations for waterfowl and migratory game bird hunting.

In addition to the youth waterfowl day in September, junior and mentored youth hunters may also participate in the junior squirrel hunt from Sept. 12 until Sept. 26. Ironically, the youth squirrel season has now mostly become irrelevant because the regular statewide squirrel season begins on Sept. 12 and runs through Nov. 27. Because everyone can hunt squirrels during the entire two weeks of the youth squirrel season, the only possible benefit would be that a junior hunter does not need a hunting license to participate in the youth season but must have passed a hunter-trapper education course.

Most folks take the HTE course because they need it to buy their first hunting license. I must believe not many kids are going to go through the effort of taking an HTE course just so they can hunt squirrels a couple of days without having to buy a hunting license.

If you need to enroll a young person in an HTE class so he or she can hunt this fall, I suggest you think about having your youngster take the training online. Due to the ongoing COVID restrictions, significantly fewer in-person HTE classes are being offered currently and those that are being offered are smaller and fill up almost immediately.

Any Pennsylvania resident 11-years-or-older can take the complete HTE course online for a $19.95 fee. Complete information on in-person and online HTE classes can be found on the Pennsylvania Game Commission website.

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