Thursday, August 31, 2006
Bill Cochran's Outdoors: Early hunting for geese, doves, squirrels looks promising
Bill Cochran's Outdoors
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- Forget the odds-makers; Salem’s John Crews believes he can win the Bassmaster Classic.
- The good and bad of the 2012 saltwater fishing season
- Column archive
Bill's Field Reports
- Virginia General Assembly goes soft on outdoor issues
- Quail Unlimited calls it quits
- Field reports archive
September ushers in the early hunting seasons and most appear to be promising. Here’s the outlook for September Canada geese, doves and squirrels:
Since 1993, Virginia has had a special September Canada goose hunting season, a time when sportsmen can go after resident geese. These are the birds that have decided to stay in Virginia year round rather than spend the energy to migrate. They have a preference for high-dollar habitat -- places like golf courses, parks, campuses of retirement homes and residential areas located on water features -- anywhere there is a combination of water and grass. When they make their home next to people they quickly can reach nuisance status.
Virginia’s resident goose population soared from the 1980s into the '90s, peaking at an estimated quarter million birds in the late '90s. At the same time, the migrate population was crashing.
The idea of the September season is to provide recreational hunting that controls the resident goose population prior to the arrival of the migrates.
It has worked. The resident population has been declining, for the most part, since the peak of 1998. Wildlife officials say there has been a slight increase this year, the first time that has happened in the past five years. This points a finger to good hunting.
The challenge is to find a spot to hunt away from windows. Options include hunting on farms where cornfields have been harvested. Dairy farms are a good bet. Floating larger streams can pay off. Decoying geese on impoundments also can work.
NOTEWORTHY: In the past, Virginia has had to set its September goose regulations under a framework established by the federal government. Next year the feds are giving state officials the option of establishing any regulations they choose. Some states already are discussing more lucrative regulations. That may not be the case for Virginia, where special seasons have become popular and have cut into the numbers of resident geese.
REGULATIONS: The early Canada goose season is Sept. 1-25 with a daily limit of five.
Hunters can anticipate a decent early dove season. Mild weather brought these birds through the winter in good shape and reproduction has been good.
“There are lots of young birds,” said Gary Costanzo, a Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologist.
One of the most productive places to launch an opening-day dove hunt is in a cornfield that has been freshly cut for silage. The corn crop is good this year, but it has suffered from the lack of soil moisture the last half of August. Farmers are thus speeding up their harvesting, according to Mark Cramer of the Virginia Farm Bureau.
This should result in enough corn fields being cut to provide dandy early September shoots, assuming wet weather this week doesn't delay harvesting. Other options for hunting spots include truck gardens, melon patches, soybean and peanut fields, sunflower plantings, watering holes and fields that have been freshly cut with a bush hog. Native plants have produced an abundance of weed seeds, and doves are gobbling them up. Preseason scouting can be vital for opening day success.
NOTEWORTHY: Hunters should look for bands on the legs of the doves they kill. Virginia wildlife officials, along with their counterparts in other states, have been engaged in an extensive banding project over the past four years. The bands help biologists determine population trends.
REGULATIONS: Dove season is a three-way split with Sept. 2-23 early dates when hunting hours are from noon to sunset. Following that is all-day hunting Oct. 7-Nov. 4 and Dec. 28-Jan. 15. The daily bag limit is 12.
Look for an above-average season. Squirrel populations fluctuate annually and are primarily influenced by the mast crop of the previous year. Last year’s mast crop was decent and the winter was mild, which sent good numbers of squirrels into 2006 in good breeding shape.
To find squirrels when the season opens you need to pinpoint their food source. If you can locate hickory trees that are heavily laden with nuts, you are in great shape. Acorn-bearing oaks would be a prudent second choice. It is a bit early to judge this year’s mast crop, but both soft and hard mast look promising.
NOTEWORTHY: For most of us past the age of 50, squirrels provided our first hunting experience. With some help from a dad or uncle, squirrels taught us everything we need to know about marksmanship, woodsmanship, scouting, reading sign, camouflage, sitting still, stalking, preparing game for the table, bragging.
More recently, kids have been able to jump right into deer and turkey hunting, what with the abundance of those species. So we have a generation of hunters who have missed the joys that squirrels provide. But that appears to be changing. Squirrels are being rediscovered. At least by outdoor writers. Pick up a fall copy of an outdoor magazine and there is a good chance it will contain a piece on squirrels.
REGULATIONS: Talk about a generous season! Squirrels can be hunted Sept. 2-Jan 31 and the daily limit is six. Next year, for the first time, there will be a June 2-23 season on select wildlife management areas. You can get the list of them in the Hunting & Trapping in Virginia booklet available at license agents.