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Bombers, fighters await W.Va. bird hunters

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hunters who head afield in early September will have a choice - hunt for bombers, or hunt for fighters.

The bombers, in this case, are Canada geese, some of the largest game birds available to West Virginia's sportsmen. The fighters are mourning doves, some of the smallest.

The analogy holds true. Like bombers from World War II, geese tend to fly in formation and don't like to deviate from their course. Doves, on the other hand, dart and turn like fighter planes in aerial combat.

West Virginia wildlife officials have set the opening day for this year's early goose and dove seasons for Sept. 2. The goose season will begin one-half hour before sunrise. The dove season, following tradition, will open at noon.

Curtis Taylor, wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources, said goose hunters should concentrate on the Ohio, Kanawha, Monongahela and Greenbrier valleys.

"Canada geese are found throughout West Virginia, but the largest concentrations are in the major river valleys where agricultural and suburban landscapes provide an abundance of open land," Taylor explained. "A recently harvested crop field near water would be an ideal and obvious place to hunt. However, hunters should not overlook those out-of-the-way spots such as an isolated pasture or strip [mine] bench with a small pond."

Because geese are mobile and often move to avoid hunting pressure, Taylor recommended that hunters scout early and often to confirm that fields and flight corridors are still being used. He also urged hunters to try to stay on good terms with farmers and landowners, because private lands are where geese usually are found.

Geese can be hard to bring down, so hunters should make sure their guns and ammunition - their anti-aircraft artillery, if you will - are up to the task. Most goose hunters used 12- or 10-gauge shotguns and 3- or 31/2-inch Magnum loads of size BB or B shot.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service prohibits the use of lead shot on waterfowl, so hunters should use non-toxic shot such as steel, bismuth, tin, copper, polymer or combinations of those materials.

In addition to valid West Virginia hunting licenses, goose hunters are required by federal law to purchase a federal waterfowl stamp and obtain a free Harvest Information Program registration card. All three must be carried while afield.

Shooting hours for geese are from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset. The early segment of this year's goose season will run from Sept. 2-14. The three-part "regular" season for geese will run from Oct. 1-26, Nov. 11-16 and Dec. 16 to Jan. 31.

Like geese, mourning doves also are found statewide, but usually are most abundant near agricultural areas where grain crops are grown.

DNR officials say recently harvested fields are always good places to set up a dove blind or two. Some state-owned or state-managed wildlife management areas feature fields maintained to attract doves.

Two of the most popular public hunting spots are Mason County's McClintic WMA and Cabell County's Green Bottom WMA. Opening-day action usually starts slow at midday and picks up as the sun drops lower in the sky.

Dove hunters don't have to arm themselves as heavily as goose hunters. Although many hunters use 12-gauge shotguns, many others use 20- or 28-gauge models. Field loads of size 7, 8, or even size 9 shot are adequate. While non-toxic shot can be used, West Virginia state law allows lead shot for dove hunting. Auto-loading or pump-action shotguns should have their magazines plugged to hold no more than three shells.

No special stamp is required to hunt for doves, but hunters must obtain and carry a HIP registration card as well as a current West Virginia hunting license. The bag limit for doves is 15 a day.

After opening day, shooting hours for doves are from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset. This year's three-part season will run from Sept. 2 to Oct. 5, from Oct. 21 to Nov. 9, and from Dec. 23 to Jan. 4.

Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or johnmccoy@wvgazette.com.


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