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Outdoors

Dove hunting season could get a makeover

Bob Frye
| Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, 6:36 p.m.
Mourning doves are popular with hunters, especially in early fall. September is the busiest time for dove hunting in Pennsylvania.
Bob Frye | Tribune-Review
Mourning doves are popular with hunters, especially in early fall. September is the busiest time for dove hunting in Pennsylvania.

For years and years, the rule — or at least, the interpretation of it — has been clear.

A bait pile is not a food plot.

Hunters can legally hunt a standing crop field. They can't legally hunt over a pile of corn

"You can plant a food plot or an agricultural crop, and you can leave it standing for food and cover of wildlife," said Randy Shoup, chief of Pennsylvania Game Commission's bureau of wildlife protection.

"But once you manipulate it, that crosses the line under state law to a baiting violation."

The commission is wrestling with that because board members want to do something that would — according to the agency's own direction — apparently be considered illegal now.

Namely, some board members want to create "managed dove fields" on some state game lands, perhaps by the fall.

Those are fields of crops like corn and sunflowers. They're planted, then cut down a few rows at a time, with the grain left on the ground.

That's commonly done in several states as a way of attracting mourning doves, said commission president Brian Hoover of Chester County. He hunts such fields in Maryland and Delaware.

"The hunting is just phenomenal when you get into some managed dove fields," he said.

He, for one, would like to see them tried here, in part to offer young hunters a fast-paced, fun opportunity.

"I'm all for it, to be honest with you. I think we're behind in what everyone else is doing," Hoover said.

There's no biological reason for opposing managed dove fields, said Ian Gregg, game management division chief for the commission.

"We have plenty of room to expand harvest on doves without worrying about any negative impacts on that population," he said.

There are financial considerations, though. Pete Sussenbach, chief of the commission's bureau of wildlife habitat management, said it would be "fairly costly" to plant fields for doves and then cut them, a few rows at a time, throughout the month of September.

That job might fall to commission food and cover crew employees. It might also be something the commission could require of sharecroppers under lease agreement, Sussenbach said.

But either way, it might be possible to do some experimentation, he added. The commission could try creating a few fields, perhaps on its Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area property in Lebanon County, to see how things go.

"It shouldn't be too hard to see some place on the landscape that we could at least take a shot at this, to at least see what the utilization is, to see what the interest is," Sussenbach said.

"And I think over time, in a few years, there very well could be a demand that grows out there with success."

But there's that pesky baiting issue.

Randy Shoup, director of the commission's bureau of wildlife protection, said the commission has long told hunters — especially those pursuing deer, bears and turkeys — they can't leave food lying on the ground.

That's how managed dove fields operate, though. If the commission permits them — even promotes them — there could be issues, he suggested.

"Then how do we ensure that does not cross over and impact additional species?" Shoup asked.

That's the question.

The answer might be related to time.

Dove season typically opens Sept. 1. The other small-game seasons, and the statewide archery season, don't begin until October.

"If we could put a limit on this, (allowing it) to the end of September, I think we could alleviate a lot of these concerns," said Tom Grohol, a deputy executive director with the commission.

That alone might not be a total solution.

Doves — like ducks and geese — are migratory wildfowl managed under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Those federal rules allow for managed dove fields, but not baiting for web-footed birds.

Pennsylvania does have an early resident Canada goose season that runs through most of September. Hunters those birds in managed fields would presumably be illegal.

So the commission might need to draft not only time-specific, but species-specific, regulations for managed fields, he said. That's something he's looking at.

Hoover said he believes "everybody would be happy with that."

Bob Frye is the everybodyadventures.com editor. Reach him at 412-216-0193 or bfrye@535mediallc.com. See other stories, blogs, videos and more at everybodyadventures.com.

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