The 2022 hunting season kicks off in earnest on Thursday, September 1 with the opening of the Canada Goose and Pigeon hunt.
This first stage of the pigeon season runs until November 25, and hunters can catch 15 birds per day.
Early goose season runs through September 24. Hunters in most of the state can catch eight geese a day.
However, in the area of Lebanon and Lancaster counties known as the “Middle Creek Box” surrounding the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area, the daily bag limit for the early hunt is one goose per day.
Early goose hunting is not permitted on State Game Lands 46 adjacent to Middle Creek.
While there are bound to be goose hunters in the local fields on September 1, Lancaster County is something of a mecca for pigeon hunting on opening day.
Hunters come from New York, New Jersey, and other neighboring states just to hunt pigeons in the area during the early days of the season.
Especially hot is the area between New Holland and the Intercourse. You will see many out-of-state license plates on vehicles parked along the roadsides in that area.
Without a doubt, pigeon hunters are attracted to the area by the extensive fields of cultivation.
Outdoor calendar for week starting August 28
The farm fields of eastern Lancaster County are particularly attractive to pigeons because the fields are maintained so that there is mostly bare land between the crop rows.
That’s a feature pigeons love, because it makes it easier to find seeds to eat and exposes the sand that birds ingest to help with digestion.
(Ever notice pigeons on the ground along the sides of roads? They’re there to collect sand.)
The Pennsylvania Game Commission in recent years has created what they call “managed pigeon fields” on some public lands.
These fields are planted and cultivated specifically with pigeon hunting in mind.
Before planting, the fields are treated to keep the soil bare. No weeds or grass, in other words.
They are then planted with crops such as sunflowers, millet or winter wheat, with an expected maturity date of late August.
Parts of the fields are mowed or disced around 15th August to really attract the pigeons before the 1st September opening.
However, much of a field is left in standing cultivation to provide cover for hunters.
Lancaster County only has one pigeon field run by the Game Commission. It’s in State Game Lands 220, just north of Reinholds.
Not far away, however, hunters can find managed pigeon camps at Blue Marsh Lake in Berks County, State Game Lands 43 in Chester County, and State Game Lands 242, 243, and 416 in York County.
About 16,000 dove hunters spend time in Pennsylvania in a typical year, according to the Game Commission. On average they shoot about 100,000 pigeons in a season.
Interestingly, that is a far cry from participation in the past.
In 1990, Pennsylvania had approximately 93,000 dove hunters who took just over 1 million birds.
Interest in hunting has generally declined over the past three decades, and arguably no segment of the hunting population has declined as much as small game hunters.
Nationally, we lost about 1 million small game hunters between 2011 and 2016, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services National Survey of Fish, Game, and Recreation Associated with Wildlife for those two years, the most recent published surveys.
Lack of time, small game and hunting locations are among the many reasons former small game hunters cited for abandoning the sport, according to published reports.
However, there will not appear to be a lack of interest on Thursday.
Accuweather is calling for partly sunny skies and a comfortable high of 78.
If that forecast holds up, count on hearing plenty of staccato “pop-pop” reports of double-barreled shotguns in the afternoon and evening.
Especially south of New Holland.
PJ Reilly is LNP | LancasterOnline Outdoor Writer. Email him at [email protected].