HARRISBURG, PA — Pennsylvania’s 2020-21 migratory game bird seasons have been set.
Annual migratory game bird seasons are selected by states from frameworks established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Game Commission selections were made after reviewing last year’s hunter harvests, population survey data and public input.
There are three significant changes to Pennsylvania waterfowl seasons this year, said Game Commission Wildlife Services Division Chief Ian Gregg.
The first two changes are to the Canada goose bag limits and seasons in the Southern James Bay Population (SJBP) Zone in northwestern Pennsylvania. First, the bag limit for Canada geese during the September portion of the season will be raised from one to five in most of the SJBP Zone to allow for additional harvest of resident Canada geese. Also, the opening and closing dates for the regular Canada goose season in the zone have been shifted later, with fewer days in October and more in January and February.
The third major change will be allowing veterans and active-duty military members a special day to hunt waterfowl. The day will coincide with the second youth waterfowl day in each duck zone. This day will be allowed as a result of recent federal legislation, Gregg said.
Two important changes implemented in 2019 – the reduced daily bag limit for mallards, and a reduced regular season length and bag limit for Canada geese in the Atlantic Population Hunting Zone – will continue, according to 2020-21 federal frameworks.
Other migratory game bird seasons are similar to those in recent years.
Waterfowl season highlights
Continued restrictions implemented for mallards and Atlantic Population (AP) Canada geese are necessary to offset recent population declines, said Game Commission waterfowl biologist Nate Huck.
Mallards throughout the northeastern United States have experienced a slow, steady population decline for the past 20 years. AP Canada goose numbers have dropped more abruptly over the past three years.
“The best available data indicate recent harvest levels for these species were not sustainable,” Huck explained.
That’s why the Atlantic Flyway Council recommended, and the USFWS approved, regulatory changes to reverse these population declines in 2019-20 and 2020-21, Huck said.
“Mallard daily bag limits in the Atlantic Flyway remain at two daily with no more than one hen,” said Huck. “In a few years, our annual population surveys should reveal whether these bag-limit restrictions are working.
“AP Canada geese experienced a near-total reproductive failure in 2018, due to an extremely late spring on the northern Quebec breeding grounds,” Huck explained. “However, production was better in 2019 and 2020, so there is hope these restrictions will be in place for only another year or two.”
For AP geese, in those areas of the flyway designated as AP-harvest zones – including southeastern Pennsylvania – the length of the regular season will remain 30 days and daily bag continues to be two.
Goose-banding data collected annually by the Game Commission and other agencies helped waterfowl managers align goose-season restrictions to those times and areas where significant numbers of AP geese are present, Huck emphasized.
“We know few or no migrant geese are found anywhere in Pennsylvania during the September season, or in areas outside southeastern Pennsylvania during regular seasons in late fall and winter,” Huck explained. “That’s why the statewide September seasons and regular seasons in most of Pennsylvania remain similar to previous years, providing recreational opportunity and population-control of resident geese.”
Some September goose season restrictions continue in localized areas of Pennsylvania to maintain the stability of resident goose populations at the Pymatuning and Middle Creek wildlife management areas. In a portion of western Crawford County, the September Canada goose season will run Sept. 1-12, and the daily bag limit will be one goose.
This shorter season applies to the area south of state Route 198 from the Ohio state line to intersection of state Route 18, state Route 18 south to state Route 618; state Route 618 south to U.S. Route 6; U.S. Route 6 east to U.S. Route 322/state Route 18; U.S. Route 322/state Route 18 west to the intersection of state Route 3013; and state Route 3013 south to the Crawford-Mercer County line.
The season on State Game Lands 214, which contains the Pymatuning Wildlife Management Area, remains closed.
In the rest of northwestern Pennsylvania’s Southern James Bay Population (SJBP) Zone, the season will be Sept. 1-25 with a daily bag limit of five geese. The increased bag limit provides more opportunities to harvest resident Canada geese in areas where negative impacts to the Pymatuning resident goose population are unlikely.
Hunters should carefully consult the maps and descriptions at www.pgc.pa.gov to determine which specific regulations are applicable to the area they plan to hunt. Also, the regular season in the SJBP Zone will open about two weeks later in October and close about two weeks later in February compared to recent years.
“The management relevance of a separate SJBP Zone has decreased in recent years as the wintering range of migrant geese that breed in northern Ontario and Nunavut has shifted away from northwestern Pennsylvania, and as regulations in the Mississippi Flyway, where the bulk of these birds are harvested, have changed,” said Huck.
“The regular season dates selected for the SJBP Zone this year are similar to those that would be required under federal frameworks if the Game Commission chose to simplify regulations in the future by eliminating the separate SJBP Zone,” said Huck. “Examining the results of this year’s changes will assist the agency in evaluating future options for this zone.”
Special regulations also remain in place for the September Canada goose season in a portion of southeastern Pennsylvania. In the area of Lancaster and Lebanon counties north of the Pennsylvania Turnpike (Interstate 76) and east of state Route 501 to state Route 419; south of state Route 419 to Lebanon-Berks county line; west of Lebanon-Berks county line to state Route 1053 (also known as Peartown Road and Greenville Road); and west of state Route 1053 to Pennsylvania Turnpike (Interstate 76), the daily bag limit is one goose, with a possession limit of three geese. This restriction does not apply to youth participating in the youth waterfowl hunting days, when regular season regulations apply.
The controlled hunting areas at the Game Commission’s Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lebanon and Lancaster counties, as well as all of State Game Lands 46, will remain closed to September goose hunting.
In the remainder of Pennsylvania (Resident Population Zone and most of the Atlantic Population Zone), the September Canada goose season runs Sept. 1-25 with a daily bag limit of eight Canada geese, and a possession limit of 24. Statewide shooting hours during the September goose season are one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset, except on Sept. 19 when the season overlaps with the statewide youth waterfowl hunting day and shooting hours end at sunset.
It is unlawful to hunt waterfowl on or near managed dove fields, some of which are located on State Game Lands and will be active during the month of September. These fields will generally be posted with signage to help waterfowl hunters identify them and avoid hunting in the vicinity.
Similar to past years, there will be a statewide youth-only waterfowl hunting day on Sept. 19.
The second youth day, which now also is open to veterans and active-duty military personnel, will vary by duck zone. In the Lake Erie Zone, it will be Oct. 24; in the Northwest Zone, Dec. 19; in the North Zone, Jan. 16; and in the South Zone, Jan. 23.
Veterans and active-duty military personnel can hunt using the normal duck, goose, merganser, coot and gallinule limits, and are required to follow waterfowl season regulations. Participants must possess a Pennsylvania hunting license and migratory game bird license, and a federal Duck Stamp.
“The Game Commission is proud to help create this hunting opportunity for veterans and active-duty military personnel,” noted Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “It provides a splendid chance for veterans and those currently serving their country to hunt with their children or grandchildren.”
Youngsters participating in the youth days must be accompanied by an adult, who may assist the youth in calling, duck identification and other aspects of the hunt. During those hunts, youth can harvest ducks, Canada geese, mergansers, coots and gallinules. Licensed adults can harvest Canada geese if there is a general Canada goose season open in the area being hunted.
On youth waterfowl days occurring when there is a Canada goose season open, youth and adults have the same daily limit for Canada geese in the area being hunted. On youth waterfowl days occurring when there is not a general Canada goose season open, accompanying adults may not harvest Canada geese, and the bag limit for youth hunters is the same as in the regular season for the area being hunted. Bag limits for ducks, mergansers, coots and gallinules also are consistent with the limits for the regular season.
Two relatively minor changes to federal frameworks also will affect this year’s seasons. First, for Atlantic brant, season length has increased. Second, lesser and greater scaup, collectively known as bluebills, will have a “hybrid” season in which bag limit varies with two daily, allowed during 20 days of the season, and one daily allowed during the remaining 40 days. The 20 days hunters can harvest two scaup will vary by zone.
“Brant are not harvested frequently in Pennsylvania, but hunters should be aware of these changes so they can remain in compliance with season dates and bag limits,” said Huck. “Scaup are somewhat more regularly encountered, so hunters need to stay well informed of bag limits daily.”
To hunt waterfowl, in addition to a regular Pennsylvania hunting license, persons 16 and older must have a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, commonly referred to as a “Duck Stamp.” It must be signed in ink across its face and possessed while hunting.
A temporary, electronic Federal Duck Stamp (eDuck) may be purchased online through the Pennsylvania Automated License System, and is valid for 45 days from date of purchase to hunt migratory waterfowl within Pennsylvania and other states that have approved its validity. The eDuck stamp may be printed out or downloaded onto a mobile device, and must be carried while hunting waterfowl.
Within 45 days of purchasing an eDuck stamp, a physical Duck Stamp will be mailed to the purchaser, at which time it should be signed and carried afield while hunting.
Regardless of age, all hunters 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 purchasing a new hunting license, hunters help improve the quality of information used to track migratory bird harvests for management purposes,” Huck said.
To participate in light goose conservation hunts, hunters must obtain a light goose conservation season permit, in addition to their other required licenses, and file a mandatory report of harvest/participation. Permits will be available in the Pennsylvania Automated Licensing System in late 2020.
Hunters must use non-toxic shot while hunting ducks, geese or coots in Pennsylvania. The use of any sort of artificial substance or product as bait or an attractant is prohibited.
Webless Migratory Game Bird Seasons
Sept. 1 will mark the beginning of dove season statewide. The first segment of the season will run through Nov. 27. It will then re-open on Dec. 18 and run through Jan. 2. Hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset throughout the entire dove season.
For both dove-season segments, the daily bag limit is 15, and the possession limit is 45.
2020 marks the second year managed dove fields can be planted statewide. These fields provide an exciting opportunity for hunters to pursue this fast-flying game bird on public lands that have been planted with attractive foods like sunflowers and millet, as well as managed for other habitat components like water, grit, and loafing areas. For more information on dove hunting and where to find managed dove fields, visit the interactive dove story map on the Game Commission website. Field locations will be updated in late August 2020 just prior to opening day, so check back before heading afield.
Pennsylvania’s woodcock and common snipe seasons also have two segments. For both species, the first segment opens on Oct. 17 and closes on Nov. 27, and the second segment opens on Dec. 14 and runs through Dec. 23. Daily limits are three woodcock and eight snipe, with possession limits three times the respective daily bag limits.
Virginia and sora rail hunting will run from Sept. 1 to Nov. 20. Bag limits, singly or combined, are three daily and nine in possession. The season for king and clapper rails remains closed.
Hunting for gallinules also runs from Sept. 1 to Nov. 20, and the bag limits are three daily and nine in possession.
Migratory game bird hunters, including those afield for doves and woodcock, are required to obtain and carry a Pennsylvania migratory game bird license ($3.90 for residents, $6.90 for non-residents), as well as a general hunting, combination or lifetime license.
Hunting hours for woodcock, snipe, rails, and gallinules are one-half hour before sunrise until sunset.
Federal regulations posted on Game Commission’s website
In addition to posting the migratory game bird seasons 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 www.pgc.pa.gov, 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,” then scroll down and click on “Federal Waterfowl Regulations” in the “Waterfowl Hunting Regulations” section.
Additional information can be found on the USFWS website, 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.
“Telephone band reporting has been eliminated by the federal Bird Banding Laboratory due to cost and data-quality concerns,” said Game Commission waterfowl biologist Nate Huck. Hunters encountering older bands inscribed with the 1-800-327-BAND telephone number can still report them, but will need to use www.reportband.gov to do so. Callers to the 1-800 number will receive a recorded message directing them to the website.
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.
Huck 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, over 6,000 migratory game birds, including more than 5,000 waterfowl, were banded in Pennsylvania. Woodcock hunters should be aware that as part of a migration research project, several hundred woodcock in eastern North America are carrying backpack-style satellite tags in addition to leg bands. These birds are legal for harvest and should be reported via the reportband.gov website.
“Pennsylvania continues to monitor migratory game bird populations in cooperation with other wildlife management agencies across North America,” Huck explained. “Information provided by hunters is essential to manage migratory game bird populations and support sustainable hunting opportunities through time. 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.”
Huck noted that modern band-reporting systems have produced big dividends. Under the old reporting system, used until the mid-1990s, only about one-third of recovered banded birds were reported by hunters. Since initiation of the online and toll-free methods, band reporting rates have improved to more than 70 percent. This has greatly improved migratory bird management while reducing monitoring costs.
2020-21 MIGRATORY GAME BIRD SEASONS AND BAG LIMITS
North Zone: Ducks, sea ducks, coots and mergansers, Oct. 10-24, and Nov. 17 – Jan. 9.
South Zone: Ducks, sea ducks, coots and mergansers, Oct. 17-24, and Nov. 17 – Jan. 16.
Northwest Zone: Ducks, sea ducks, coots and mergansers, Oct. 10-Dec. 12, and Dec. 29-Jan. 2.
Lake Erie Zone: Ducks, sea ducks, coots and mergansers, Nov. 2-Jan. 9.
Total Duck Bag Limits: 6 daily, 18 in possession of any species, except for the following restrictions: daily limit may not include more than 2 mallards including 1 hen mallard, 2 black ducks, 3 wood ducks, 2 redheads, 2 canvasbacks, 1 pintail, 1 mottled duck, 1 fulvous whistling duck, 4 eiders, 4 long-tailed ducks, and 4 scoters. Daily limit for scaup varies; see below. Possession limits are three times the daily limits.
Scaup Bag Limits:
North Zone: 1 scaup daily, Oct. 10-24 and Nov. 17-Dec. 17; 2 scaup daily, Dec. 18-Jan.9
South Zone: 1 scaup daily, Oct. 17-24 and Nov. 17-Dec. 24; 2 scaup daily, Dec. 25-Jan. 16
Northwest Zone: 1 scaup daily, Oct. 10-Nov. 25; 2 scaup daily, Nov. 26-Dec. 12 and Dec. 29-Jan. 2
Lake Erie Zone: 1 scaup daily, Nov. 2-24 and Dec. 18-Jan. 9; 2 scaup daily, Nov. 25-Dec. 17
Mergansers: 5 daily, 15 in possession (not more than 2 hooded mergansers daily, 6 hooded in possession).
Coots: 15 daily, 45 in possession.
CANADA GEESE (includes WHITE-FRONTED GEESE):
Resident Population Goose Zone (RP)
All of Pennsylvania except for the Southern James Bay Population and the Atlantic Population zone. Sept. 1-25 (8-goose daily bag limit); and Oct. 24-Nov. 27, Dec. 14-Jan. 16, and Jan. 29-Feb. 20 (5-goose daily bag limit in latter 3 segments).
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). Sept. 1-25 (5-goose daily bag limit, except in a portion of western Crawford County defined under the “Waterfowl season highlights” section in this news release); and Oct. 24-Nov. 27 and Dec. 21-Feb. 13 (3-goose daily bag limit in latter 2 segments).
Atlantic Population Zone (AP)
The area east of 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. Sept. 1-25 (8-goose daily bag limit); and Nov. 21-27 and Dec. 21-Jan. 16 (2-goose daily bag limit in latter two segments).
Exception: Areas outside of the controlled goose hunting areas at the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area and State Game Lands 46 in Lebanon-Lancaster counties have a daily limit of one, and a possession limit of three during the regular Canada goose season. Areas inside the goose hunting areas at the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area and State Game Lands 46 have a season limit of one.
BRANT (All Zones): Oct. 10-Dec. 7. 2 daily, 6 in possession.
LIGHT GEESE (Snow Geese and Ross’ Geese):
Atlantic Population Zone:
Regular: Oct. 1-Jan. 23, 25 daily, no possession limit.
Conservation Hunt: Jan. 25 – April 23; 25 daily, no possession limit.
Southern James Bay Population Zone:
Regular: Oct. 13-Feb. 13; 25 daily, no possession limit.
Conservation Hunt: Feb. 15 – April 23; 25 daily, no possession limit.
Resident Population Zone:
Regular: Oct. 20-Feb. 20; 25 daily, no possession limit.
Conservation Hunt: Feb. 22 – April 23; 25 daily, no possession limit.
HARLEQUIN DUCKS, and TUNDRA and TRUMPETER SWANS: No open season.
JUNIOR WATERFOWL HUNTING DAYS:
Sept. 19; Open to licensed junior hunters ages 12-16, 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, Veteran and Active Duty Military Days:
In Lake Erie Zone; Oct. 24; in Northwest Zone, Dec. 19; in North Zone, Jan. 16; and in South Zone, Jan. 23. Open to licensed junior hunters ages 12-16, when properly accompanied; veterans (as defined in section 101 of title 38, United States Code); and members of the Armed Forces on active duty, including members of the National Guard and Reserves on active duty (other than for training) for ducks, mergansers, gallinules and coots, and Canada goose as permitted. Same daily bag limits as regular season. Hunting hours to close at sunset.
DOVES: Sept. 1-Nov. 27, and Dec. 18-Jan. 2. 15 daily, 45 in possession.
WOODCOCK: Oct. 17-Nov. 27, and Dec. 14-23. 3 daily, 9 in possession.
COMMON SNIPE: Oct. 17-Nov. 27, and Dec. 14-23. 8 daily, 24 in possession
GALLINULES: Sept. 1-Nov. 20. 3 daily, 9 in possession.
VIRGINIA AND SORA RAILS: Sept. 1-Nov. 20. Bag limits by single species or in the aggregate; 3 daily, 9 in possession.
CLAPPER AND KING RAILS: No open season.
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