Our Finest September Dove Hunts

Our Finest September Dove Hunts

If you think you're good with a scattergun, head for the nearest dove field and prepare to be humbled. Dove numbers are expected to be high this year, so you can expect plenty of practice! (September 2007)

Photo by Mike Marsh.

Nothing is more humbling for a shotgunner than a good, old-fashioned dove shoot. It takes an average of five shots for each dove bagged, and some shooters do well to take three birds per box of 25 shells!

It's safe to say that more shots are fired at doves than at any other game bird. Just park near a dove field on opening day and listen for a while!

Pennsylvania's dove population, unlike those of most game species, has been increasing, while dove harvests have been dropping.

In 1990, it was estimated that Pennsylvania's hunters took more than 1 million doves. By 1997, that number had been cut in half, and it's been bouncing around that figure ever since.

One likely reason why dove harvests have not been greater is that access to private farmlands has been declining.

CONEMAUGH FLOOD CONTROL PROJECT

Fortunately, some good dove hunting can be found on public lands. Barry Zaffuto, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Southwest Region Land Management Group supervisor suggested the Conemaugh Flood Control Project, which is north of Route 22 on Route 217. Take the next left and follow that road back through the property, which is managed by the PGC.

Zaffuto said this land, owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is leased to the Game Commission and is managed under state game lands rules. It lies a reasonably short drive east from Pittsburgh on state Route 22 in southern Indiana County.

"It's broken habitat with a farm component," Zaffuto said. "We allow some sharecroppers in there."

Habitat on this 7,000-acre area includes cultivated crops, hedgerows and woodlots. The managed land is the flood-plain area extending from the pool to the high-water mark. Typically, it's flooded just once every few years.

The land is surrounded by big corporate farms, Zaffuto noted. That surrounding farmland is a major influence on the dove-hunting potential in this area.

Of course, predicting where doves will be at any particular moment is difficult and depends upon food availability, weather patterns and the whims of the birds.

Local information is available through the Indiana County Tourist Bureau, Inc., Indiana Mall, 2334 Oakland Ave., Suite 7, Indiana, PA 15701. You can also call 1-877-746-3426, or visit the agency's Web site at www.indiana-co-pa-tourism.org.

STATE GAME LANDS NO. 202

Some of the better dove hunting in the Commonwealth is in the glaciated portion of the Northwest Region -- an agricultural area like the Southeast Region, but with considerably more public land available.

State Game Lands No. 202 is a relatively small and somewhat overlooked public tract in northern Crawford County. But take a scouting drive through this area the week before dove season, and you'll see birds on the wires, in the trees and flying over the fields.

SGL No. 202 covers just 507 acres in the rolling hills north from Canadohta Lake. The habitat is typical of overgrown farmland that has been managed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Scattered about are small wetland pockets, ponds, patches of hardwoods, stands of quaking aspen and thick underbrush -- it's full of small game potential.

The surrounding land is agricultural, the type of land that attracts and holds doves year 'round.

SGL No. 202 lies west of state Route 8 between Titusville and Union City. Heading north past Tillotson, turn left onto Gamelands Road. Or if heading south from Union City, turn right after crossing into Crawford County. This road ends at a T-intersection with Lincolnville Road, still in SGL No. 202.

From Lincolnville Road, the lands drops away in both directions: to the west toward West Shreve Run and to the east toward East Shreve Run. From this higher vantage point along Lincolnville Road, hunters may be able to observe and plot dove flight patterns.

For maps and more information, contact the Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 211 Chestnut Street, Meadville, PA 16335. Call 1-800-332-2338, or log onto www.visitcrawford.org.

STATE GAME LANDS NO. 226

Tim Conway, the Northeast Region's Information and Education supervisor, said that here as elsewhere, the better dove-hunting potential is on private land. But for dove hunting on public land, hunters should focus on the Columbia-Montour county area.

"The best that we might have is State Game Lands No. 226," he suggested. "There's a lot of farmland down in that neck of the woods."

SGL No. 226 is tucked into an eastern corner of Columbia County northeast of White Hall. Approaching from the east, take Interstate Route 80 to Exit 232 between Bloomsburg and Buckhorn.

Go north on either state Route 42, which passes to the east of the game lands, or state Route 44, which passes to the west of the game lands.

From Route 42 at Iola, turn on Legion Road into the SGL. From Route 44, turn onto Ants Hill Road into the game lands. Several other roads lead into the game lands from Route 44 and Route 42 or from state Route 254, which connects the two between Millville and Jerseytown.

It's safe to say that more shots are fired at doves than at any other game bird. Just park near a dove field on opening day and listen for a while!

SGL No. 226 is managed for small game. Although very little is done specifically to enhance dove shooting in Pennsylvania, there is plenty of crossover habitat, including open fields and food plots containing corn and sorghum.

The food plots are small due to funding and manpower limitations, but they do attract some doves.

The key to dove-hunting here will be determining flight patterns over the game lands that include roosting sites, graveling area or watering holes.

STATE GAME LANDS NO. 169

Harrisburg-area dove hunters will find good hunting a short distance to the west a

t SGL No. 169 in Cumberland County.

"This area has about 1,000 acres planted to warm-season grasses," said Rob Criswell, the South-central Region's Land Management supervisor. "There's also a scattering of evergreens and woodlots. There are sharecroppers on the game lands who plant a rotation of corn, small grains and hay."

SGL No. 169 lies in the western part of Cumberland County near Newville. Approaching from the Harrisburg area, follow I-81 west to Exit 37, head north on state Route 233 to Newville, go west on state Route 641 and then turn north onto Mountain Road into the game lands.

SGL No. 169 covers 2,498 acres of gentle terrain. Its mixed habitat includes numerous food plots. Hunters should avoid designated propagation areas along Conodoguinet Creek.

Information may be obtained through the Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau, 18 North Hanover Street, Suite 102, Carlisle, PA 17013. Or call 1-888-513-5130, or visit the agency at www.visitcumberlandvalley.com.

LAKE ONTELAUNEE

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has a standing agreement with the city of Reading at Lake Ontelaunee in the Southeast Region, where some good dove hunting may be found.

This area covers 2,050 acres around the lake and is owned by the city. Chuck Lincoln, a Law Enforcement supervisor for the region and a former WCO in the Ontelaunee area, said the area has had sorghum and corn in the past, and also has been planted with conifers, which provide nesting and roosting cover. Nearby quarries provide the necessary grit.

The area lies south of state Route 662 west of Maidencreek Road, north of state Route 73 and east of Ontelaunee Drive and West Shore Drive.

Approaching from the Allentown area, take U.S. Route 222 to Maiden Creek and Route 73. From Philadelphia, follow U.S. Route 422 to Reading and then state Route 61 to Route 73. Side roads lead to the area.

Information on services in the area may be obtained from the Greater Reading Convention and Visitors Bureau, 352 Penn Street, Reading, PA 19602. Call 1-800-443-6610, or log on to www.readingberkspa.com.

For information about dove-hunting opportunities in Pennsylvania, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797. You can visit the commission's Web site at www.pgc.state.pa.us, or call (717) 787-4250.

For travel information, contact the Pennsylvania Office of Tourism, Room 404, Forum Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120. Or call 1-800-VISIT-PA (847-4872).

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