Annual waterfowl seasons are selected by states from a framework established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Game Commission selections were made after reviewing last year’s season results, waterfowl survey data, and input gathered from waterfowl hunters and the public. Final approval from the USFWS is expected by late September.
The agency has posted the annual waterfowl and migratory bird season brochure and zone maps on its website http://www.pgc.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/pgc/9106 making it convenient for hunters to access the information they need.
Game Commission waterfowl biologist Kevin Jacobs said the outlook is mixed for waterfowl populations important to Pennsylvania.
“While continental duck populations were estimated at a record high in spring, Game Commission banding studies show most of Pennsylvania’s mallard, wood duck, and Canada goose harvests are derived from birds breeding in Pennsylvania and surrounding states,” Jacobs said. “These populations are monitored through the Atlantic Flyway Breeding Waterfowl Survey, which gives managers an annual waterfowl population snapshot to help them in the conservation of these species.
At the state level, the estimated number of mallard breeding pairs (72,014) was 20 percent below the 1993-2013 long-term average (LTA) of 90,153 pairs. The 61,153 wood duck breeding pairs estimated in 2014 was 16 percent above the LTA of 52,824 pairs. Trends in wood duck abundance have indicated stable to slightly increasing populations across all years of the survey at both the state and flyway levels.
Jacobs noted that Pennsylvania’s spring 2014 resident Canada goose population estimate of 241,000 was similar to the recent 10-year average of 266,000. “This population accounts for 90 percent of the annual Pennsylvania Canada goose harvest, and close to 100 percent in the Resident Population Zone. Spring densities of Canada Geese were highest in the state’s southeast, southwest and northwest counties.
“The state’s resident Canada goose population remains well above the Atlantic Flyway management plan goal of 150,000 spring birds. Observations during June 2014 banding indicates near average juvenile recruitment statewide. Hunters can expect a fall flight similar to recent years. We continue efforts to reach our management plan goal of 150,000 resident Canada geese primarily through reducing densities in southeastern and southwestern Pennsylvania.”
Jacobs noted that spring population estimates and fall flight forecasts are obtained at large geographic scales, and therefore are not reliable predictors of waterfowl numbers that can be expected during hunting seasons.
“While managers and hunters should be encouraged by the population status and fall flight forecasts for most waterfowl species, hunting pressure, habitat and weather variables most often dictate waterfowl movements, staging and wintering numbers through the hunting seasons.”
Pennsylvania junior license holders will have one statewide day of waterfowl hunting on Saturday, Sept. 20. There also will be a second one-day youth waterfowl hunt in the following zones: North and Northwest zones, Sept. 27; Lake Erie Zone, Oct. 18; and South Zone, Nov. 8. Junior waterfowl days will be open to those 12 to 15 years old who hold a junior hunting license. To participate, a youngster must be accompanied by an adult, who may assist the juniors in calling, duck identification and other aspects of the hunt. During these special hunts, juniors can harvest Canada geese, ducks, mergansers, coots and gallinules. The daily bag limit for juniors participating in the junior waterfowl days is the same as for the regular season daily limit in the area being hunted. The only exception is when September Canada goose daily bag limits exceed the regular season limit for the area being hunted; juniors then can take the September daily limit.
Waterfowl hunters are reminded that because Sept. 20 is a junior waterfowl hunting day, hunting hours for all waterfowl species close at sunset. For the remainder of the September 1 to 25 Canada goose season, hunting hours close at one-half hour after sunset.
“Federal frameworks specify that for most migratory game bird seasons, hunting hours must close at sunset,” Jacobs said. “Exceptions currently are in place to allow states to extend hunting hours to one-half hour after sunset for the September Canada goose season and the light goose conservation season to increase harvest of these overabundant waterfowl populations. Extended hunting hours can only be in effect when no other waterfowl seasons are open. When youth days occur during the September Canada goose season, hunting hours for Canada geese must close at sunset on those days to comply with federal regulations.”
The Game Commission again will hold a special junior-only waterfowl hunting day at the controlled hunting blinds at both Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area and Pymatuning Wildlife Management Area. The junior day for Middle Creek is Nov. 15; and for Pymatuning it’s, Nov. 29. A special drawing of applications submitted by junior license holders will be held immediately before the regular drawing for goose blinds. Interested juniors should use the same application on page 26 of the 2014-15 Digest. Only one application will be accepted per junior hunter.
In addition to a regular Pennsylvania hunting license, persons 16 and older must have a Federal Migratory Bird and Conservation Stamp, commonly referred to as a “Duck Stamp,” signed in ink across its face. All waterfowl hunters, regardless of age, must have a Pennsylvania Migratory Game Bird License to hunt waterfowl and other migratory birds, including doves, woodcock, coots, gallinules, rails and snipe. All migratory game bird hunters in the United States are required to complete a Harvest Information Program survey when they purchase a state migratory game bird license. The survey information is then forwarded to the USFWS.
“By answering questions when you purchase a new hunting license, hunters help improve survey efficiency and the quality of information used to track the harvest of migratory birds for management purposes,” Jacobs said.
In the Atlantic Population Goose Zone, the regular light goose season will be Oct. 1 to Jan. 26, with a light goose conservation season to run from Jan. 27 to April 24. In the Southern James Bay Population Goose Zone, the regular light goose season will be Oct. 1 to Jan. 23, with a light goose conservation season to run from Jan. 24 to April 24. The Resident Population Goose Zone regular light goose season will run Oct. 28 to Feb. 28, and the light goose conservation season will run March 2 to April 24.
To participate in the light goose conservation hunts, hunters will need to obtain a free goose conservation season permit, in addition to their other required licenses, and file a mandatory report of harvest/participation. In late 2014, the Light Goose Conservation Hunt website will be available on the Game Commission’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) so that hunters can apply for and print out the free conservation permit.
Hunters must use non-toxic shot while hunting ducks, geese or coots in Pennsylvania. The use of decoys powered or operated by batteries or any other source of electricity is unlawful in Pennsylvania, except during the light goose conservation seasons. Also, the use of any sort of artificial substance or product as bait or an attractant is prohibited.
For complete early Canada goose season information, as well as webless migratory game bird seasons, please see News Release #066-14, which the agency issued on Aug. 6.
FEDERAL REGULATIONS POSTED ON GAME COMMISSION WEBSITE
In addition to posting the annual waterfowl and migratory game bird brochure on its website, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has posted a synopsis of federal regulations that govern migratory game bird and waterfowl seasons to assist hunters in finding answers to questions.
To review the information, go to the Game Commission’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), put your cursor on “Hunt/Trap” in the menu bar at the top of the page, click on “Hunting,” scroll down and click on “Waterfowl Hunting and Conservation,” and then scroll down and click on “Federal Waterfowl Hunting Regulations Synopsis” in the “Waterfowl Hunting Regulations” section.
Additional information can be found on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website http://www.fws.gov/hunting/whatres.html where a complete version of the federal regulations (50 CFR Part 20) is posted. When state law differs from the federal law, hunters must comply with the more restrictive law.
HUNTERS ENCOURAGED TO REPORT BANDED BIRDS
Migratory game bird hunters are encouraged to report banded ducks, geese, doves and woodcock they harvest online at www.reportband.gov, or by using the toll-free number (1-800-327-BAND). Hunters will be requested to provide information on where, when and what species of migratory birds were taken, in addition to the band number. This information is crucial to the successful management of migratory birds.
Kevin Jacobs, Game Commission waterfowl biologist, also stressed that reporting leg-bands helps the Game Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service learn more about migratory bird movements, and survival and harvest rates, which are critical to population management and setting of hunting regulations. Each year, nearly 380,000 ducks and geese and 30,000 mourning doves are banded across the United States and Canada. Last year, nearly 8,000 migratory game birds were banded in Pennsylvania.
“Pennsylvania continues to monitor migratory game bird populations in cooperation with other wildlife management agencies across North America,” Jacobs explained. “Information provided by hunters is essential to manage migratory game bird populations and hunting opportunities,” Jacobs said. “By reporting the recovery of a leg-band, hunters not only assist in managing the resource, but also have an opportunity to learn interesting facts about the bird they harvested.”
Jacobs noted that online and toll-free reporting systems have produced big dividends. Under the old reporting system, utilized until the mid 1990s, only about one-third of recovered banded birds were reported by hunters. Now, with the option of using online or toll-free methods, band reporting rates have improved to more than 70 percent. This has improved greatly migratory bird management while reducing monitoring costs.
UPDATED WATERFOWL CONSUMPTION ADVISORY
The Game Commission recently completed a research project to obtain information on contaminant levels in Lake Erie waterfowl.
“With the assistance of waterfowl hunters and in cooperation with the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, 41 samples were collected from eight species of waterfowl harvested on Lake Erie during the 2011 and 2012 hunting seasons and tested for various contaminants,” said Dr. Justin Brown, Game Commission wildlife veterinarian. “Contaminants such as PCBs, DDE, and mercury were found in all mergansers tested, as well as in some buffleheads. These contaminants may also be present in other Pennsylvania waters, and contaminated waterfowl could migrate to other areas of the Commonwealth. As a result, the Game Commission has updated its waterfowl consumption advisory.”
The updated guidelines, applicable statewide, are as follows: 1.) Mergansers should not be eaten; 2.) Other diving ducks if properly prepared should be eaten only occasionally; and 3.) Dabbling ducks and geese can be eaten safely if properly prepared.
Proper preparation includes skinning and removing the fat before cooking; cooking to an internal temperature of 165 F as determined by a meat thermometer; and discarding the stuffing (if prepared in this manner) after cooking.
Brown noted that the updated consumption advisory groups waterfowl species by the prevalence of fish and invertebrates in their diets.
“The likelihood of contaminants in body tissue is high for species that feed exclusively on fish, moderate for species that occasionally consume fish and invertebrates, and low for species that primarily feed on vegetation. By following the consumption advisory, hunters will minimize potential health impacts.”
GOOSE BLIND DEADLINES FOR CONTROLLED HUNTING AREAS
Application deadlines are fast approaching for waterfowl hunters interested in being selected for the limited number of goose blinds at the controlled hunting areas at the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Pymatuning or Middle Creek wildlife management areas during the regular Canada goose season. A goose blind application must be submitHunters may apply to only one area per year and may submit only one application, which must include the individual’s nine-digit Customer Identification (CID) Number.
The Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area will accept applications through the mail until Sept. 9, at: PGC Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area, P.O. Box 110, Kleinfeltersville, PA 17039-0110. A public drawing will be held at 10 a.m., Sept. 10.
Applications for the Pymatuning Wildlife Management Area will be accepted through the mail until Sept. 13, at: PGC Pymatuning Wildlife Management Area, 9552 Hartstown Road, Hartstown, PA 16131. A public drawing will be held at 10 a.m., Sept. 20.
Blinds at Middle Creek and Pymatuning will not be operational during the September season. During the regular season, shooting days at Middle Creek are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, one-half hour before sunrise to 1:30 p.m. Shooting days at Pymatuning are Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, one-half hour before sunrise to 12:30 p.m.
A separate drawing is held for blinds that accommodate hunters with disabilities. Applicants must submit a current copy of their Disabled Person Permit (to hunt from a vehicle) issued by the Game Commission.
Also, the Game Commission again will hold special junior-only waterfowl hunting days at the controlled goose hunting areas at both Middle Creek (Nov. 15) and Pymatuning (Nov. 29) wildlife management areas. The junior-only restriction applies to the controlled goose hunting areas only; public hunting areas at Middle Creek and Pymatuning, and the Controlled Duck Hunting Areas at Pymatuning, remain open to everyone, including adults, on these dates.
Juniors must hold a junior license and be accompanied by an adult, who may participate in the hunt by calling only. A special drawing of applications submitted by junior license holders will be held immediately before the regular drawing for goose blinds. Interested juniors should use the same application on page 26 of the 2014-15 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest. Only one application will be accepted per junior hunter. Junior license holders not selected in the special drawing will then be entered into the general drawing.
Successful applicants will be mailed a hunting reservation entitling them to be accompanied by up to three guests. On hunting days, hunters also may apply, in person, for a chance at any blinds unclaimed by a reservation holder.
Persons who have previously hunted a controlled goose hunting area at the Game Commission’s Pymatuning or Middle Creek wildlife management areas may apply for unclaimed blinds on the morning of the designated shooting day, but only when there exists an absence of applications for the unclaimed blinds from persons who have not previously hunted a controlled goose hunting area.
SPECIAL WATERFOWL HUNTING SAFETY REMINDERS
Waterfowl hunters – whether hunting from shore or from a boat – are urged to keep safety first and foremost in mind, said Keith Snyder, Pennsylvania Game Commission Hunter-Trapper Education Division chief.
“Basic firearm and hunting safety are critical,” Snyder said. “Treat every firearm as if it is loaded and make sure that the muzzle is always pointed in a safe direction. Never place your finger on the trigger until you are ready to fire. Be aware of any companions’ locations at all times and maintain a safe zone-of-fire. Waterfowl action can be exciting, but never swing your barrel toward another hunter.
“Make sure firearms are unloaded prior to reaching your hunting location and immediately after you are done hunting. Also, if you are using a boat, remember state law requires all firearms be unloaded while in any boat propelled by motor or sail, and should be cased with actions open.”
Snyder also noted that, in Pennsylvania, all those using a boat are required to have a properly fitted personal flotation device (PFD) readily accessible and, regulations require a PFD to be worn during the cold weather months from Nov. 1 through April 30 while underway or at anchor on boats shorter than 16 feet in length, or in any canoe or kayak. For more information on boating laws and regulations, as well as safety tips, please visit the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s website (www.fish.state.pa.us). Better yet, take an approved boater’s safety course.
Additionally, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, every year several hunters die from drowning and hypothermia.
“When you have a crew of hunters, with decoys and equipment, and dogs, a boat can easily become unbalanced, especially if the wind comes up,” Snyder said, “Not only is it unsafe to overload a boat, exceeding the limits posted on the capacity plate is also illegal.
“Sudden immersion into cold water is one of the leading causes of boating fatalities in the Commonwealth. It places a severe strain on bodily systems that can lead to hypothermia or, worse, cardiac arrest. Survivors of cold-water accidents have reported their breath driven from them on contact with the water.”
Anyone falling into cold water should immediately ensure that their and any companions’ PFDs are intact, and work to find a way to exit the water or right the watercraft. Cover your mouth and nose – if possible – to prevent inhaling water.
If you can’t get out of the water immediately and the shore is too far, raise your knees and wrap your arms across your chest to help reduce heat loss through the body’s core. Don’t leave your watercraft and attempt to swim to shore. It’s probably farther than you think. Experts recommend you stay with your boat until help arrives. If possible, try to climb back into your boat or on top of it.
“Most important,” Snyder suggests, “get into the routine of making the life jacket part of your hunting equipment, and wear it.”
2014-15 WATERFOWL SEASONS AND BAG LIMITS
North Zone: Ducks, sea ducks, coots and mergansers, Oct. 11-Nov. 29, and Dec. 23-Jan. 10.
South Zone: Ducks, sea ducks, coots and mergansers, Oct. 18-25, and Nov. 15-Jan. 15.
Northwest Zone: Ducks, sea ducks, coots and mergansers, Oct. 11-Dec. 13, and Dec. 27-Jan. 1.
Lake Erie Zone: Ducks, sea ducks, coots and mergansers, Oct. 27-Jan. 3.
Total Duck Bag Limits: 6 daily, 18 in possession of any species, except for the following restrictions: daily limit may not include more than 4 mallards including 2 hen mallards, 2 scaup, 1 black duck, 3 wood ducks, 2 redheads, 1 canvasback, 2 pintails, 1 mottled duck, 1 fulvous whistling duck and 4 scoters. Possession limits are three times the daily limits.
Mergansers: 5 daily, 15 in possession (not more than 2 hooded mergansers daily, 6 hooded in possession).
Coots: 15 daily, 45 in possession.
REGULAR CANADA GOOSE SEASON & BAG LIMITS (including WHITE-FRONTED GEESE): All of Pennsylvania will have a regular Canada goose season, however, season lengths and bag limits will vary by area as follows:
Resident Population Goose Zone (RP)
All of Pennsylvania except for the Southern James Bay Population and the Atlantic Population zone. The season is Oct. 25-Nov. 29, Dec. 18-Jan. 15, and Feb. 2-28, with a five-goose daily bag limit.
Southern James Bay Population Zone (SJBP)
The area north of I-80 and west of I-79 including in the city of Erie west of Bay Front Parkway to and including the Lake Erie Duck zone (Lake Erie, Presque Isle and the area within 150 yards of Lake Erie Shoreline). The season is Oct. 11-Nov. 29, Dec. 15-Jan. 23, with a three-goose daily limit.
Atlantic Population Zone (AP)
The area east of route SR 97 from Maryland State Line to the intersection of SR 194, east of SR 194 to intersection of US Route 30, south of US Route 30 to SR 441, east of SR 441 to SR 743, east of SR 743 to intersection of I-81, east of I-81 to intersection of I-80, south of I-80 to New Jersey state line. The season is Nov. 15-29 and Dec. 15-Jan. 26, with a three-goose daily limit.
Exception: The controlled hunting areas at the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lebanon-Lancaster counties, as well as all of State Game Lands 46 (Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area), has a daily bag limit of one, and possession limit of three during the regular Canada goose season.
BRANT (All Zones): Oct. 18-Nov. 21, 2 daily, 6 in possession.
LIGHT GEESE (Snow Geese and Ross’ Geese):
Atlantic Population Zone:
Regular: Oct. 1-Jan. 26, 25 daily, no possession limit.
Conservation Hunt: Jan. 27 – April 24; 25 daily, no possession limit.
Southern James Bay Population Zone:
Regular: Oct. 1-Jan. 23; 25 daily, no possession limit.
Conservation Hunt: Jan. 24 – April 24; 25 daily, no possession limit.
Resident Population Zone:
Regular: Oct. 28-Feb. 28; 25 daily, no possession limit.
Conservation Hunt: March 2 – April 24; 25 daily, no possession limit.
HARLEQUIN DUCKS, and TUNDRA and TRUMPETER SWANS: No open season.
Pymatuning Wildlife Management Area: Shooting days at Pymatuning are Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, one-half hour before sunrise to 12:30 p.m. Ducks: Oct. 11, 13, 15, 17, 18, 20, 22, 24, 25, 27, 29, and 31; Nov. 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 15, 17, 19, 21, 22, 24, 26, 28, and 29; and Dec. 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 27, 29, and 31. Geese: Oct. 11, 13, 15, 17, 18, 20, 22, 24, 25, 27, 29, and 31; Nov. 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 15, 17, 19, 21, 22, 24, 26, 28, and 29; Dec. 15, 17, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26, 27, 29, and 31; and Jan. 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 17, 19, 21, and 23.
Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area: Shooting days at Middle Creek are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to 1:30 p.m. Geese and ducks: Nov. 15, 18, 20, 22, 25, 27, and 29; Dec. 16, 18, 20, 23, 27, and 30; and Jan. 3, 6, 8, 10, 13, and 15. Geese only: Jan. 17, 20, 22, and 24.
JUNIOR WATERFOWL HUNTING DAYS (Statewide): Statewide: Sept. 20; also in North and Northwest zones, Sept. 27; in Lake Erie Zone, Oct. 18; and in South Zone, Nov. 8. Open to licensed junior hunters ages 12-15, when properly accompanied, for ducks, mergansers, gallinules and coots, and Canada goose as permitted. Same daily bag limits as regular season. Hunting hours to close at sunset.
JUNIOR-ONLY DAY AT CONTROLLED HUNTING AREAS: Middle Creek is Nov. 15, and Pymatuning is Nov. 29ted using the form found on page 26 of the 2014-15 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest or at http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=968783&mode=2