“The guns of autumn” have become the guns of late summer.
West Virginia’s fall hunting seasons will begin on Sept. 1, three weeks before autumn actually begins. The state’s early season for resident Canada geese will open one-half hour before sunrise on that day; the first segment of the three-part mourning dove season will open at noon.
The weather, in all likelihood, will be hot and muggy. Still, thousands of West Virginians will venture afield that day. Most will go because they like the taste of goose or dove meat. Others will go to shake off the midsummer dust and get a brief taste of what is to come.
Mike Peters, migratory bird project leader for the state Division of Natural Resources, said goose hunters should have no trouble finding their quarry.
“There’s no shortage of geese,” he said.
That might be an understatement. Since DNR officials introduced Canada geese to the state in the late 1970s, the big birds have established themselves statewide — often in places they aren’t particularly welcome, such as golf courses and public parks.
To help keep goose numbers under control, West Virginia allows each hunter to kill up to five geese a day. Most hunters don’t come close to that. Peters said the state’s 3,000 waterfowl hunters kill an average of 4,100 geese per year during the early season, roughly 1.4 birds for each hunter.
Hunters who engage in pre-season scouting tend to enjoy the most success.
“It’s just like hunting for deer,” Peters said. “Hunters who scout have an advantage over those who don’t, because they have a pretty good idea where the animals are likely to be.”
Later in the waterfowl season, freshly harvested grain fields would be the logical choice. But in early September, before farmers begin harvesting, Peters recommends looking near reservoirs and mowed areas.
It’s not unusual for hunters to kill geese that have been banded. In past years, those hunters were supposed to call a toll-free number to report the numbers on the bands. Peters said the toll-free number is no longer in operation; instead, hunters should go to a website, www.reportband.gov, to log in the numbers.
Federal law requires goose and duck hunters to purchase $25 Federal Duck Stamps in addition to their state hunting licenses. Also, waterfowl hunters must obtain free, but mandatory, Harvest Information Program cards.
Waterfowl hunters must also use non-toxic shotgun loads, and must plug the magazines of autoloading and pump shotguns so they can hold no more than three shells.
Because the idea of the early goose season is to keep goose numbers in check, federal and state officials have established a generous bag limit of five birds a day. Shooting hours for geese begin at one-half hour before sunrise and end at sunset. The early season ends on Sept. 9.
The staggered start times for the goose and dove seasons allow opening-day hunters to hunt geese at dawn and have plenty of time to travel to their favorite dove field by noon. Peters said hunters shouldn’t have much trouble finding doves, either.
“Our dove populations look good,” he added. “We have crews in the field banding doves, and the guys tell me they’re getting good numbers. A lot of them are older juveniles, which is a good sign. That means we had a good hatch.”
Thousands of West Virginians go dove hunting during at least one of the three-segment season. Unfortunately, Peters said, most hunters go during the first segment, and then only for the first couple of days.
“That’s a shame,” he continued. “The managers at our state wildlife management areas put a lot of effort into maintaining dove fields to get ready for the dove season. It would be nice if they got more use.”
Most people think hunters have to sit still and be quiet in order to be successful. Dove hunters don’t have to. At popular dove fields, hunters sit and socialize while they wait for doves to come flying over.
“For that reason, dove hunts are great opportunities to get young people involved in hunting,” Peters said.
West Virginia’s bag limit for doves is 15 a day. As is the case with geese, shotguns must be plugged to hold no more than three shells. No special stamps are needed to hunt doves, but hunters must have Harvest Information Program cards on them when they go afield.
The first segment of the dove season will end on Oct. 14. The other segments run from Oct. 30 to Nov. 18 and Dec. 8 to Jan. 12.