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Frye: Doves numerous, hunters aren't

| Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 10:57 p.m.

There's some good news on the hunting front these days. But does anyone care?

That's a question you might ask yourself in the dove fields.

Across Pennsylvania and the eastern U.S., mourning dove populations are stable to increasing, said Ian Gregg, supervisor of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's game bird section. They're a “habitat generalist” that's often most common in the suburbs and other places most hunters live these days.

“Their preferred habitat would be an old quarry that's got some grit and standing water, with some pine trees around and some agricultural fields nearby. But you can find them in almost any kind of habitat,” Gregg said.

Populations can vary, but the birds seem more abundant than usual locally, according to some reports.

“Boy, I'm seeing plenty of doves this year,” said Randy Pilarcik, one of the commission's wildlife conservation officers in Butler County. “The last couple of years were down a bit, but there seem to be lots of birds out there now.”

Opportunities to chase them are plentiful, too. This year's season, as always, is broken into three segments. Part one is through Sept. 28, with shooting from noon to sunset. Parts two and three are from Oct. 26 to Nov. 20 and Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, with shooting from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset. The daily limit throughout the 70-day season is 15 birds.

Next year, the season could be even longer. Gregg said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may allow 90 days of hunting in 2014.

That's a reflection of how well populations are doing, not to mention how difficult the fast-flying, dodging-and-weaving birds are to hit.

“They're an ammunition manufacturer's best friend,” Gregg said.

Where are all the dove hunters?

The commission does an annual “game take” survey of hunting license buyers each year. It measures what species hunters are pursuing and how many animals they're taking. It shows that dove hunters are disappearing.

That's not totally surprising as participation in small-game hunting in general has trended downward. But dove hunters are really scarce. There were more than 90,000 of them in 1990. Now there are only about a quarter as many.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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