Monday, December 26, 2011

The Buck & The Beard: Steelers lineman Brett Keisel is an Avid Outdoorsman

Sunday, December 25, 2011
The morning after the Steelers' 13-9 win over Kansas City, Brett Keisel slept in. It was a Sunday night game, the team's chartered plane had touched down at Pittsburgh International Airport in the wee hours, and the defensive end still felt sore all over in the morning.

But Monday, Nov. 28, was a special day for Keisel -- the opening of Pennsylvania's statewide rifle deer season. A longtime hunter and outdoorsman from the Wyoming wilds, Keisel climbed out of bed and into a Beaver County tree stand, where he scored an eight-point.

"My [deer] was shot . . . in Western Pennsylvania with my Ruger .25-06 . . .," he wrote on his Facebook page. "One-shot kill at about 120 yards. Deer was 100 percent wild, so is hunter."
Weeks later, Keisel's teammates were eating venison sausage snacks in the locker room -- "provided by the fruits of my labor," he said -- while in the hallway at the Steelers' South Side training facility, Keisel talked about hunting.

Now in his 10th season with the team, he said he's learned to find his way in the Western Pennsylvania woods. "I try to hunt every year. The first couple of years [in Pittsburgh] were kind of hard, you know, because I really didn't know where to go," he said. "But I got in with some friends who have some property around here. I got a few deer, but I'm just enjoying getting out in the woods and listening to Mother Earth."

Keisel is an experienced bow hunter -- his football sack celebration is an archer drawing a bow -- but this year his arrows didn't pierce a hide. "I really like archery. It's still nice outside and I'm not too beat up," he said. "Usually when I get into December, my body's sore and I really value my sleep." Skunked this year at archery, Keisel hunted on the opening day of rifle season on a friend's posted property.

"I got into the stand about 3 o'clock. A bunch of does came right out -- I waited, waited, waited," he said. "Then this buck came out. It was a pretty good buck, but I thought, there's going to be a huge one come out just after him, so I waited for a little bit."

It was a savvy hunting decision. In minutes, an eight-point stepped into a clearing, then bolted.
"I'm not sure if he winded me or what," said Keisel. "Something spooked him and he ran about 150 yards and I thought, boy, if I'm going to do it I better do it. One shot, he ran about 10 feet and fell."

The .25-06 that Keisel used fires relatively light loads. The cartridge originated as a .30-06 necked down to .257 caliber, and is manufactured in 75 to 120 grains. Noted for its light recoil, it propels a 117-grain bullet on a flat trajectory at 3,200 feet per second -- a good deer gun on level, open land. It's an unusual choice for deer in hilly, brushy Western Pennsylvania, particularly when held by a 6-foot 5-inch, 285-pound professional athlete.

"A friend in Ohio asked me if I'd send him a jersey and he'd send me a gun from his Whitetails Unlimited [chapter]," said Keisel. "It's like a .243, maybe a little bigger. It's a great shooting gun, a fun little gun. He's got my name and stuff engraved on the stock, so I was happy to get that first kill with it."

A veteran hunter, Keisel proudly credits his father for teaching him everything he knows about the outdoors. Growing up on 1,000 acres of Wyoming hunting land, Keisel said he started early. "My dad has had me in the woods since I could walk," he said. "He's taught me how to track, how to read markings, read the wind, all of that stuff. ... We had a lot of great hunting. We hunted pheasants and ducks and geese -- all of that right on our own place. I was definitely spoiled growing up . . . hunting elk and mule deer and pronghorn. We've hunted moose, a lot of coyotes. I've hunted mountain lion. Just about all the big game American species."

Despite his busy schedule, Keisel said he finds time to initiate his 3-year-old son in the ways of the outdoors. "I'm trying to instill in him now that there's a whole world out there. Go watch how beautiful it is. Go out and see it," he said. "Even just going out to a stream with my son and a fishing pole, trying to teach him how I was taught. Just being outside and doing things outside is so much more valuable to me than sitting around inside and watching the TV."
Professional football is all about personal confidence, and Keisel said he first found his off the practice field.

"When you're out hunting, there's definitely adrenalin there," he said. "Finding ways to harness that, finding ways to control yourself, to fight through the adversity and make that winning shot. It's so therapeutic for me to be able to get out into the woods." His early outdoor survival lessons had a lasting impact, said Keisel. and he hopes today's kids get the same opportunities.

"How to start a fire, where to start a fire, the proper ways to hunt -- there's a whole growing-up scenario there that can unfold if you go out and do it," he said. "Hunting is one of America's great pastimes. It really is one of our great freedoms that we sometimes, I think, take for granted. Find someone who can take you out and show you how great this country is, and what kinds of things are out there in the woods. Even if you're just watching birds and stuff, to me that's beautiful. I could spend all day watching Mother Nature unfold."

Keisel isn't the only Steelers outdoorsman. Ben Roethlisberger hunts. So does guard-center Doug Legursky, safety Ryan Clark and linebacker James Harrison. Safety Troy Polamalu is a dedicated fly fisherman who frequents Central Pennsylvania's limestone streams.

"There are quite a few," said Keisel. "I've hunted with James and with Ben, we get out a little together. I've done a lot of fishing with James. We've gone up to Erie a couple of times for walleyes. We try to enjoy the outdoors together."

Read more:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Outdoor Recreation Benefits Economy

About the writer

Bob Frye is the Tribune-Review outdoors editor.
He can be reached at 724-838-5148 or via e-mail.

When state lawmakers from around the country gathered earlier this month in Fayette County for a meeting of the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation, the focus was on making sure the nation's laws support hunters and anglers as much possible.
A new study will help
According to the Southwick Associates for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, outdoor recreation — when combined with historic preservation — supports 9.4 million jobs nationally each year. That translates to more than $1 trillion in economic impact annually.

The study determined, among other things, that in 2006, outdoor sports — which by definition includes hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, hiking, camping, skiing, paddle sports and bicycling — generated $99 billion in federal and state tax revenues. They also supported $9.5 billion in annual retail sales.

That's not to be underestimated, officials said, at a time when the unemployment rate is 8.6 percent.

"As a former Secretary of the Interior, governor, senator and mayor, I have witnessed firsthand how historic preservation, conservation and outdoor recreation result in tremendous benefits to our nation's economy," Dirk Kempthorne said. "This study is a valuable tool for reaffirming and quantifying those benefits."

Former U.S. Congressman and current chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation Lindsay Thomas added: "Sportsmen put billions of dollars of their own money annually into conservation through the licenses they buy and the excise taxes that they pay on hunting and fishing equipment. This combined with the other taxes that are paid through activities associated with outdoor recreation and historic preservation total over $100 billion annually contributed to state and federal coffers."

The study is being used by a group known as America's Voice for Conservation, Recreation and Preservation, a coalition of more than 770 organizations, to lobby for conservation funding.

"This study is yet more evidence that investing in the environment is good for the fiscal health of our country," said William H. Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society and the group's co-chair.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


New law takes effect on Feb. 13

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe today applauded the enactment of legislation that will remove the requirement for hunters and trappers to display their licenses on an outer garment. The law takes effect in 60 days.

House Bill 735, sponsored by Rep. Keith Gillespie (R-York), was unanimously approved by the House on June 15, and was approved by a vote of 46-3 in the Senate.  Gov. Tom Corbett signed the bill into law today, which will take effect on Feb. 13.

“Since 2003, the Game Commission has been supporting various drafts of legislation sponsored by Rep. Gillespie and Rep. Neal Goodman (D-Schuylkill) to remove this antiquated requirement,” Roe said. “With today’s new license format, this change in law will make hunting less complicated, improve license management by hunters and trappers, and limit the inconveniences and troubles associated with lost or misplaced licenses.

“While we are pleased with the change in law, it is important to remember that the new law doesn’t take effect for 60 days.  So, hunters and trappers will need to continue to wear their licenses on an outer garment until Feb. 13.”

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Winter Trap League 2012!

Fight the Winter blues by coming out for the Winter trap league every Sunday starting January 8th 2012.  This league rotates between Frazier Sportsman, West View Sportsmen and Bull Creek Rod and Gun Club. Sign-ups are from 11:00AM to 3:00PM.  League fee is $10.00 per week to shoot 50 targets from 16 yards.  Practice and junior shooters (18 and under) are $7.00 per week. To be eligible for the banquet you must make 9 of 12 shoots.
January 8th at Frazier
January 15th at West View
January 22nd at Bull Creek
January 29th at Frazier
February 5th at West View
February 12th at Bull Creek
February 19th at Frazier
February 26th at West View
March 4th at Bull Creek
March 11th at Frazier
March 18th at West View
March 25th at Bull Creek
April 7th Saturday Banquet at West View

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Good Luck Hunters 2011!

Some past pictures of success from some of our members.  If you, your son or your daughter have success this season please email a picture to

Sunday Hunting Proposal Sparks Fierce Debate

Wildlife watchers fear danger of sharing outdoors
Sunday, November 27, 2011
SOMERSET, Pa. -- On a brisk Sunday afternoon at Laurel Hill State Park, 12-year-old Elaine Adams craned her neck to watch red-tailed hawks circling over the lake. Her father Steven Adams pointed skyward. Getting outdoors is a family tradition, one that Mr. Adams said he fears could be put in jeopardy by state legislation that would require his family to share the outdoors with hunters on Sundays.
"My daughter and I like to get out on the weekends, bring binoculars and watch the wildlife," said Mr. Adams, of Westmoreland County. "If we can't get out on Sundays because hunters are out there, it would take away quality father-daughter time in our family."

Not far away at State Game Land 50 near Somerset, Karl Adkins of Berlin helped his son John, 14, to sight in the boy's .30-06. "Hunting is one of the safest outdoor sports, and all the studies show that," said Mr. Adkins. "I work on weekdays. Why is it that [we] have only one day a week to go hunting together? That can't be right." As the Adkins and hunters statewide gear up for the opening day of firearm deer season Monday, state legislators are gearing up for a vote, still unscheduled, that could result in the legalization of Sunday hunting.

Public hunting is the main tool states use to manage wildlife. It is also an economic engine, estimated in a 2006 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study to bring Pennsylvania more than $1.5 billion annually.
On Sundays in 39 states, including New York and Ohio, hunters share the wild places with hikers, bicyclists and other outdoors users. West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina and South Carolina permit some Sunday hunting with restrictions.

Pennsylvania is one of six states, all in the East, in which hunting on Sunday is banned (hunting foxes, coyotes and crows on Sundays is permitted in Pennsylvania). Sunday hunting has been illegal here since the 1870s, when it was included in a long list of "blue laws" that enforced a religiously inspired day of rest. Fishing on Sundays was illegal until 1937, and many restaurants were closed on Sundays until the 1970s. The state's restrictions on Sunday liquor sales is among a dwindling set of laws considered archaic by many Pennsylvanians.

House Bill 1760 would remove Sunday hunting from the blue laws, transferring authority from the legislature to the state Game Commission, which would be mandated to implement some form of Sunday hunting within one year of passage. Board members of the agency, which is funded mostly by hunting license fees but chartered to manage wildlife for all Pennsylvanians, voted this year to support the bill.
Unlike many Harrisburg disputes, this debate isn't partisan. Supporters and opponents are lining up on cultural, not political, fault lines.

The bill was introduced by Rep. John Evans, R-Crawford, chairman of the House Game and Fisheries Committee. It is generally supported by Democrats on the committee, including Rep. Marc Gergely of White Oak. The committee's Democratic chair, Rep. Ed Staback of Lackawanna, is co-sponsor of the bill and introduced similar legislation last year. And in 2008, shortly after another Sunday hunting bill began making the legislative rounds, the administration of Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell started a PowerPoint campaign to tout the benefits of expanded Sunday hunting. Sunday hunting is less a political battle than a social quandary that touches many Pennsylvanians at a personal family level.

"This has never been a political issue. There's no Republican or Democratic way to manage wildlife," said former state representative Dave Levdansky of Forward, who is a hunter. Last November, when Mr. Levdansky lost his seat after 26 years in office, he was the Democratic chairman of the House Finance Committee and a member of the Game and Fisheries Committee, a strategic perch from which he influenced issues vital to sportsmen. In office he supported several bills that would have made hunting on Sundays legal.

"The reason Sunday hunting failed in previous passes through the legislature was that legislators didn't want to have to face their constituents after the vote," he said. "This bill gives supporters political cover [because] it gives the call to the Game Commission. They can say, 'I didn't vote for Sunday hunting -- I voted to take it out of the blue laws and make it a wildlife management issue in the hands of the Game Commission, where it should be.' "

The bill has attracted national attention. Supporters, including the National Shooting Sports Foundation, National Rifle Association, U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, Wildlife Management Institute and Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation. They cite favorable hunting safety data compiled by the Game Commission, new reports on the economic benefits of an added day of hunting, and share the view that the Sunday ban is a form of government intrusion on their family life.

"First is the misguided idea that sportsmen are in some way asking for special treatment," said Evan Heusinkveld of the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, during a recent House Game and Fisheries Committee hearing. "What we are asking for is to be treated just like every other group of people in the Commonwealth who are able to recreate as they see fit seven days a week."

Supporters also cite the economic impact of adding another day for hunting. In a 2005 report, the bipartisan Legislative Budget and Finance Committee estimated that Sunday hunting would create 5,300 new jobs and generate $629 million per year in Pennsylvania. Two recent studies by Sunday hunting supporters updated those figures to as many as 8,200 new jobs created and $777 million in revenue.
Opposition to the bill lines up on three fronts: a religious belief that Sunday hunting violates a day some consider the Sabbath, concerns about increased trespassing and a perception by many bikers, runners, hikers and other outdoor users that it is dangerous to occupy the same space as hunters. Even some hunters oppose Sunday hunting for any of the above reasons.

"It's a safety issue, pure and simple," said Steven Adams, at Laurel Hill State Park.
Religious opposition is harder to measure. Jerry Wolgemuth, communication director for the Susquehanna Conference of the United Methodist Church (representing 924 congregations in Central Pennsylvania) said pastors in the conference hear little from followers about Sabbath issues, including Sunday hunting.

"If someone's going to be literal about the Scripture, the Sabbath is Saturday, not Sunday," he said. "And certainly Sunday isn't the Sabbath for people of other faiths. The Sabbath is a concept, not a day. We're a rather large umbrella with people who disagree on a lot of things, but hunting on Sunday, or allowing someone to hunt on their property on Sunday, wouldn't break any rules in our Book of Discipline."
Many farmers, however, enjoy a day of rest -- religiously inspired or not -- when they don't have to field requests from people in blaze orange to hunt on their land. Mark O'Neill, media spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, said while many of the state's farmers invite hunters to thin crop-killing deer from their farms, they appreciate a day with no hunters even if that means welcoming a government-imposed restriction on how they can use their land. The Farm Bureau represents 53,000 farms and rural families and is the biggest institutional opponent of House Bill 1760.

"We oppose any form of expansion of the current Sunday hunting law, period. We oppose turning the decision-making process over to the Game Commission," he said. "This issue is more than just a wildlife management issue. There are multiple levels to our opposition." Mr. O'Neill said the bureau fears increased defiant trespass problems, and the "perception" -- he stressed the word -- of safety issues among non-hunters, noting hunting's safety record.

Two weeks ago at the Farm Bureau's annual meeting in Hershey, members defeated two resolutions that would have supported lifting the ban on Sunday hunting on State Game Lands and private commercial hunting preserves. They supported resolutions that would require hunters to carry written landowner permission while on private property and increase trespassing penalties. "Over the past few decades, farmers have evaluated several resolutions during our annual meeting that would have allowed a limited form of Sunday hunting in the state," said Farm Bureau president Carl T. Shaffer, in a written statement. "But each time, those resolutions were resoundingly defeated during our policy development process. Pennsylvania Farm Bureau members are sending a clear message by defeating these resolutions: We oppose any effort to change the existing Sunday hunting law."

The Ohio Farm Bureau had similar reservations but reached a compromise with state legislators. At a recent legislative hearing in Harrisburg, Jeff Watkins, a former vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau, testified that a deal which strengthened trespass laws ultimately won the bureau's support, helping to swing the Ohio vote in favor of Sunday hunting in 2002. After passage of the Ohio law, Mr. Watkins said he anticipated problems would arise. "But they never did," he said. "I believe farmers feared change more than the issue itself."

The biggest fear among opponents to Sunday hunting is for the safety of non-hunters. The sound of gunshots in the distance can be frightening to some outdoors enthusiasts. But a 2008 report by Gov. Ed Rendell's advisory council for hunting, fishing and conservation issues ranked hunting low on a list of injuries per 100 participants. Football (No. 1) and cheerleading (No. 6) were considered more dangerous than hunting, which was ranked the 29th most dangerous outdoor recreational activity.

Game Commission data on hunting-related shooting incidents includes all Pennsylvania events in which someone was physically injured by a firearm discharged in a hunting situation. Yearly incident statistics list 23 categories including, whether the victim was hunting or "non-hunting." Carl Roe, the agency's executive director, said few hunting accidents involve non-hunters -- most are self-inflicted or a hunter is injured by another hunter. In 2010, with nearly 930,000 hunters afield and 35 hunting-related shooting incidents, four involved victims who were not hunting; two of those were fatal. From 2001 to 2010, with more than 9 million general hunting licenses sold, there were 473 incidents in Pennsylvania. Forty-one involved non-hunters, including four fatalities.

"The challenge in coming up with a statistical rate of non-hunting victims is, if you have so many accidents per 100,000 and four non-hunters injured last year, it's statistically so small it's hard to get a significant number larger than the margin of error," said Mr. Roe. "But we think that one hunting accident is too many, and hunter education programs have really increased the safety of the sport -- you're as likely to be hurt in a hunting accident as getting struck by lighting. But it's a perception -- a fear -- that we're challenging, and it's hard to beat a perception."

Mr. Roe said if legislators vote to legalize Sunday hunting by March, the Game Commission would move slowly to have the first elements of Sunday hunting rules in place for the 2012-13 hunting seasons.

Read more:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hunter Gets Bear In Allegheny County, Near Bull Creek Club Grounds

By Valley News Dispatch 
Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Butler County hunter killed the first bear harvested in Allegheny County since at least 1949 in Fawn Township on Monday, the Pennsylvania Game Commission said.
Alvin Anthony of Buffalo with the black bear
he shot in Fawn, the first bear killed in
Allegheny County since at least 1949. 
The commission said Alvin Anthony of Buffalo Township shot the 157-pound adult female. The specific location in Fawn, which has seen a great increase in bear activitiy in recent years, was not available.
Tom Fazi, the information and education supervisor in the game commission`s southwest region office, said it was only a matter of time before a hunter scored a bear in Allegheny.
"Dan Puhala (the wildlife conservation officer whose area includes Fawn Township) actually predicted it. He told me before the season that this might be the year that someone took a black bear in Allegheny County," Fazi said. "Beth Fife (the conservation officer whose district takes in southeastern Allegheny) said the same thing. They both told me they knew of people specifically targeting black bears in Allegheny County this year."
Fazi said exactlty when the last Allegheny bear was taken isn`t known since the commission has only kept records of bear harvests since 1949.
"It could have been much longer since anyone`s actually killed a bear there. We`ve got more bears now -- especially in (Fawn) -- than we did years ago, so I would doubt there were many black bears in Allegheny County in the 1940s," he said. "But I would bet it`s been a lot longer ago than 1940 since anyone shot a bear there. (There) might still have been (an actual) fort around there the last time it happened."
Initial attempts to reach Anthony were not successful.

A Bad Day In The Woods!

Submitted by club member John Lisotto.  
Not for kids under 7 years old!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Trophy Bucks Can Be Tempting To Poachers

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Not all trophy bucks make it to hunting season.

Big antlers tempt poachers. Jason Farabaugh, a wildlife conservation officer for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, confiscated four bucks scoring 125 or better that were shot at night in Fayette County last year.

"There's a lot of greed among poachers in the area," Farabaugh said.

Brian Witherite, a conservation officer in Somerset County, said he -- and plenty of others -- know of three bucks in the 150-class in his district now. Officers are "babysitting" them to ensure they survive to hunting season, he said.

But poachers are a problem.

"The things people tip us off to, the cases we come across, that's the tip of the iceberg unfortunately," Witherite said.

The public can confidentially report poaching incidents -- and earn cash rewards -- by calling the commission's tip line at 888-PGC-8001 or its regional offices or by visiting

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hunters take aim today at Pa.'s thriving bear population

Today marks the beginning of the bear rifle season in Pennsylvania, the second year the state Game Commission has started the season on a Saturday.
In recent years, the length of the bear season has fluctuated based on the number of nuisance calls.
The season continues Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The bear rifle season also overlaps the deer rifle season in Wildlife Management Unit 3D, continuing Nov. 30, Dec. 1, 2, 3 and 4."We've had an above-average number of nuisance bears," said Kevin Wenner, a regional wildlife biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Specific numbers of nuisance calls were unavailable.
Last year 284 bears were killed in Unit 3D, which includes some or all of Monroe, Pike, Carbon and Northampton counties.
Pennsylvania is unique in the U.S. in that nearly three-quarters of the state has habitat to support its estimated 20,000 bears. Some of the country's largest bears are found in the state, which has the largest overall population density of black bears in North America.
Given the ideal habitat the state offers — both natural and man-made — the number of bears and interaction with people is growing as well.

A growing population

Wenner describes the bear population in Pennsylvania as "extremely healthy" leading to larger litter sizes.
Usually bears produce about three cubs per year on average, but this year Wenner said many dens had four cubs.
The game commission estimates that 160,000 hunters will take to the woods to hunt bears starting today.
Last year the largest-ever bear by weight was killed by David Price of Cresco with a crossbow. Price's bear, which was shot near Fernwood Resort in Bushkill and affectionately named "Bozo" by those who fed it, weighed a whopping 875 pounds.
Authorities rely on skull measurements to determine a bear's standing in the record books. It was not known by the commission if the bear was ever measured, and efforts to reach Price were unsuccessful.
Could there be another bear that size shot this year?
"When you get up into the 600- to 700-pound range, you're maxing out," said Bill Williams, the commission's supervisor for information and education. "A live weight of 900, that could be. There could always be exceptions. You could see a couple in that range."
Joe Colyer of Pocono Lake shot this 767 pound
(estimated live weight) black bear in Pocono Lake
with a crossbow on Wednesday morning.
On Wednesday morning, Joe Colyer, 36, of Pocono Lake shot a bear with an estimated live weight of 767 pounds with a crossbow.
"I shot and it stood up, growled and it ran right at me," Colyer said. "I told the warden it weighed 400 pounds. He said, 'I don't know where you learned to estimate weight.'"

Are bears getting larger?

The short answer is, no. Bears that live in the Pennsylvania wild and eat berries and nuts and small animals are still the same size they were years ago.
Unfortunately, there are some cases where bears are being fed by people, affecting their weight.
"I think there are only 12 bears (in Pennsylvania) that have topped 800 pounds," Wenner said. "Is there a possibility? Yes, but it's rare. I think somewhere around 70,000 bears have been weighed and for only a dozen to top 800 makes it unusual."

Human and bears

Stop feeding the bears. It's a message that the game commission can't stress enough.
It's known that the Price bear was fed by multiple people, including a local restaurant, a major reason it reached 875 pounds. A bear's ultimate size is based on three factors — food source, age and genetics.
"People tend to look at (feeding bears) as harmless activity," Williams said. "It does habituate the bear. People tend to think that it's tame and safe to be around, but that's never the case.
"Especially sows with cubs and that's a learned behavior."

Old bear put down

A 35-year-old bear was shot and killed by a Game Commission officer in Carbon County last week. The bear, which was spotted lying in yards, was struggling with mobility, forcing officers to put it down. At 35, the bear was extremely old as very few bears have been known to live into their 30s.
A bear's age is determined by pulling the first premolar, allowing biologists to count rings on the teeth much like rings inside a tree trunk.

The future of bears in Pa.

The game commission continues to monitor many bears with radio collars as well. Those monitors produce information like home range and location.
During the hunting season, the commission can increase the feedback from the collar to an hourly rate, keeping track of data during the hunting season.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pennsylvania Hunting and Fracking Vie for State Lands

New York Times

STATE GAME LAND 59, Pa. — For those who have ever stalked deer, turkey and bear here in “God’s Country” in north central Pennsylvania, this hunting season is like no other. For one thing, it is louder. The soundtrack of birds chirping, thorns scraping against a hunter’s brush pants and twigs crunching underfoot is now accompanied by the dull roar of compressor stations and the chugging of big trucks up these hills.

The Marcellus Shale, a vast reserve of natural gas lies beneath some of this state’s most prized game lands. And now, more and more drills are piercing the hunting grounds. Nine wells have cropped up on this one game land of roughly 7,000 wooded acres in Potter County, and permits have been issued for 19 more.

An old dirt road that meandered up a ridge here has been widened and fortified. Acres of aspen, maple and cherry trees have been cut. In their place is an industrial encampment of rigs, pipes and water-storage ponds, all to support the extraction of natural gas through the process of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.

“Who wants to go into their deer stand in the predawn darkness and listen to a compressor station?” lamented Bob Volkmar, 63, an environmental scientist who went grouse hunting the other day through these noisy autumnal woods. “It kind of ruins the experience.”

Like many hunters, Mr. Volkmar is upset that the State Game Commission is giving over more public land to the gas companies, which is not exactly fulfilling its mission to enhance the hunting experience. The game lands, as he points out, were bought with the proceeds from licenses and fees paid by hunters and trappers.

Carl Roe, the executive director of the game commission, acknowledges that drilling “does look ugly” but said that on most well sites, the agency had no control over drilling-related activities. Although the agency owns 1.4 million acres of game lands, it does not always own the mineral rights beneath them, so their private owners can lease them out to the gas companies — the case with Game Land 59. Where the agency owns the mineral rights, it can and does restrict drilling and construction on certain days during hunting season.

Mr. Roe also said the agency offsets the losses, which are temporary, by using money from the gas leases to purchase more game lands; it just bought a major tract of more than 9,000 acres.
“In the long run,” he said, “this will be a net gain for hunters, not a net loss.”

Still, the commission had to warn hunters late last month to scout their favorite spots in part because a “dramatic increase in drilling” due to interest in the Marcellus Shale had disrupted traditional hunting and trapping areas.
In 2008, the game commission received $556,000 in lease payments for Marcellus wells on game lands; by the end of this year, it expects to have received more than $18 million. About 50 Marcellus wells have been drilled on game lands across the state, with permits issued for 148 more.

The Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, representing the industry, and the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, which supports the drilling, plan to issue their own advisory.
“We don’t want hunters to use our tanks for target practice or to sit on top of them,” said Louis D’Amico, president and executive director of the gas association, which issued a similar statement last year. “We want them to be especially careful during bear and deer season, because of the long reach of their rifles.”

Just as fracking has divided other groups of like-minded people, the decision to allow it on game lands has divided sportsmen, too.

Mr. Volkmar’s hunting buddy, Tony Winters, 59, a former conservation officer, shrugged off the drilling, saying that these lands had been cleared before by lumber companies and that clearing them now for wells will actually improve the hunting.

Mr. Winters pointed out that clear-cutting of trees leads to forest regeneration. It also creates more “edge,” the open borders around the woods. Generally more edge attracts more animals, like deer, which do not like denser forest.

As a compressor station hummed in the background, Mr. Winters said he was not bothered by the noise and that animals would not perceive it as a threat. He said there was enough land to accommodate both hunters and drillers.

Margaret Brittingham, a professor of wildlife resources at Penn State, said the full effects of the wells on the flora and fauna were not yet clear and that she was beginning to study them.
Dr. Brittingham expects that some wildlife populations, like deer, are likely to increase after the drillers leave but that songbirds, salamanders, frogs and other amphibians that help maintain a forest’s ecological balance are likely to decline.

“You can see these changes on a really local level now,” she said. “But it will take time to see changes in the larger populations.”

She said she was skeptical that this new “edge” would be helpful, saying “it’s more like a parking lot.” But she said such problems could be minimized if the lands were properly re-seeded and reclaimed once the gas companies pulled up stakes.
Still, she said, “all the truck traffic is bad for wildlife.”

Human traffic can be a problem, too. During hunting season, the commission has banned seismic surveying (a labor-intensive process that uses waves to measure the earth’s properties and find the right place to drill).

“They have several crews going in several different directions, so a hunter can’t get out of the way,” said Michael DiMatteo, chief of environmental planning and habitat protection for the commission.

Mr. Volkmar and Mr. Winters are also fishermen and both are members of Trout Unlimited, which started a coalition last year of a dozen outdoor-recreation and wildlife groups, called the Sportsmen Alliance for Marcellus Conservation. It is not opposed to drilling but seeks better regulations, including erosion-control measures and set-back requirements.

They take regular samples from local streams to monitor any changes in water quality. They both say that fracking, which involves injecting huge volumes of water, sand and treated chemicals deep into the gas bed, could lead to water pollution and fish kills.

So far, no one has found water problems in this immediate area. But others have detected contamination elsewhere in the state, including a fish kill that some attributed to the disposal of fracking waste. The industry maintains that fracking itself is safe and that any problems have been caused by spills or leaks.

The Environmental Protection Agency is set to begin a federal investigation into whether fracking is spoiling the drinking water in various drilling states, including Pennsylvania.
As for spoiling the land, Bill Ragosta, a wildlife conservation officer for the game commission on Game Land 59, said that the amount of surface disturbance here was not typical.
“Fortunately most of our game lands are not being bombarded like this,” Mr. Ragosta said. But even here, he promised, the drilling would soon end and re-seeding with alfalfa, chicory and clover would bring more deer.

“It seems counterintuitive, especially to people who are opposed to drilling,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s better or worse for wildlife in the long run, but it’s not fair to say it’s all black or all white.” 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Archery For Wild Turkeys Is Among Hunting's Most Challenging Pursuits

Pittsburgh Post Gazette
John Hayes
John Hayes
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Seeing is believing -- especially for turkeys. With telescopic eyesight throughout its 180 degree field of vision, a wild turkey can distinguish among small details at a greater range than humans and all other game animals.

Not much gets past a savvy tom -- he can see you blink at 100 yards. To shoot him with archery gear, you have to call him in closer than if you were using a firearm. With your quarry near enough to see the hairs on your hand, you draw a bow or repositioning a crossbow. Some consider archery hunting for turkeys to be among the most difficult challenges in the field.

"I pretty much bow hunt everything, and about the only thing I can think of that's more challenging is archery hunting for pronghorn antelope," said Jared McJunkin, a Kansas-based biologist and conservation field supervisor for the National Wild Turkey Federation. "A turkey is always looking for predators. It has incredible vision. It turns its head a lot. It has color [distinguishing] ability -- we know that from looking at the feather adornment and things used in sexual selection -- so you have to be covered or [camouflaged]. And to get a responsible, ethical shot, you have to reposition, draw and shoot within about 20 yards of the target, sometimes within 10 yards."

To be successful, fall turkey archers need to be as savvy as the turkeys, and smart use of blinds and decoys is an important part of the equation.

"Without a blind, hidden partially behind a tree or a log, you can't draw until he's not looking, and he's always looking," said Tom Neumann, co-owner of Penn's Woods Products, a Delmont (Westmoreland County) company that has developed and marketed turkey calls since the 1960s. "In a blind, you can get away with drawing the bow almost any time."

Placement of the blind is essential (refer to Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest for regulations regarding turkey blinds and use of fluorescent orange). In the past five years easy availability of affordable pack-in blinds has "revolutionized" turkey hunting, said McJunkin, making it easier for a hunter to conceal movement. Set up is fast, easy and quiet.

"If you've broken up the turkeys, you need to set up close to the break site," said Neumann. "If the break happens to be near a clearing, I'll set up at the edge of the clearing."
Decoy selection can be as important as blind placement.

"A turkey likes to have confirmation of what he's coming into," he said. "We use [hen] decoys all the time, especially in the fall with archery equipment. That decoy reassures the turkey and brings him in closer for the shot."

"Use realistic decoys," said McJunkin. "If you have the right decoy you can draw on a turkey at 10 yards, because he's so focused on that decoy."

A skilled archer can place an arrow under difficult conditions. But archery hunting for turkeys is less about shot placement than about evasion of the animal's highly developed senses. Sometimes the twang of the bow string arrives before the arrow.

"You definitely want a quiet bow," said McJunkin. "You want that in any kind of hunting, but particularly in turkey hunting because they have very good hearing. The release of the arrow is very quick, but I've missed many times when the birds jumped. With a gun shot they often run, but with archery hunting you very often get a second shot. As long as they don't see you move they don't know what the sound is."

Talking turkey is a challenge in spring and fall, but archers face the additional hurdle of having both hands occupied during the call. Friction and tube calls are impractical while drawing a bow. A diaphragm call is preferred.

Turkeys have been documented making more than 30 different vocalizations, all saying something different in turkey-ese. Saying the right thing at the right time is vital.

"In particular," said Neumann, "you want to imitate the sound of a young, lost turkey using the 'kee kee run.'"

The "kee kee" is the lost call of young turkeys. In a variation of the call, a yelp is added at the end to make the "kee kee run."