Dove hunters disappearing, quail already gone
It’s no mirage: There are far fewer dove hunters in the fields than in years past, and no quail at all.
Two new surveys revealed that.
In the mid-1980s, Pennsylvania was home to about 150,000 dove hunters. Now it has about 30,000, said Ian Gregg, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s game bird section supervisor.
If the birds are an “underutilized resource,” it’s not for lack of opportunity or doves, he said. Seasons have expanded over time — from 70 days last year to 90 this one — all while dove populations have held steady or increased, he said.
To find out what’s going on, the commission did a survey of dove hunters last summer. It found that 37 percent of all dove hunting occurs in wildlife management units 5B and 5C, which stretch from York County to Philadelphia. Units 1A and 2D in Western Pennsylvania were in the second tier in terms of hunter numbers, with units 1B, 2A, 2B, 2C in the third.
Sixty-four percent of all hunters hunt on private land only 19 percent hunt only public land, and 14 percent utilize both.
Forty-one percent rated their overall experience as good or very good. That’s low compared to how waterfowl, turkey and pheasant hunters have rated their experiences in past surveys, Gregg said. Thirty-four percent of dove hunters say their hunting is fair, while 25 percent said it’s poor.
Ninety-four percent said they hunt doves because the sport is “very important to me.” That was the top motivation revealed. Eight-nine percent say they hunt to be with family and friends, and 75 percent do so out of tradition.
Hunters also were asked what it would take for them to hunt more often. More doves was the top answer. Others cited having more places to hunt, more personal free time and the ability to hunt on Sundays.
As for quail, it appears there are none left within the state’s borders. The commission contracted researchers from Penn State University to look for birds this summer. They did call count surveys along eight routes across the state — three in Greene County accounting for all those in Western Pennsylvania — where quail had been reported surviving in years past. Each route was surveyed two to three times over June and July.
Researchers did not detect any birds anywhere, Gregg said.