Sunday, January 29, 2012

Three Years of Expanded Crossbow Use Has Had Limited Impact on Deer

Sunday, January 29, 2012
The crossbow is here to stay -- almost. Last week the Board of Game Commissioners proposed making the sporting arm permanently legal for use in all archery seasons.

In 2009, when the crossbow was declared legal for use in archery deer and bear seasons, the board included a sunset clause requiring the agency to review its impact on wildlife before June 20, 2012. Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser said data presented to the commissioners showed the sporting arm had increased the deer harvest, but not at unsustainable levels.

"The report ... showed there was an increase in the deer and bear harvest due to crossbows," he said. "Was that increase unsustainable or counter to the agency's objectives in managing those resources? The answer was no."
In fact, while deer harvests have risen since 2009, horror stories of a massive crossbow kill predicted by some archers did not come to pass.

An internal Jan. 19 memorandum from Chris Rosenberry, head of the Game Commission's deer management program, showed that as a portion of the archery harvest, crossbow use has doubled since 2009, from 15 percent in 2007-08 and 2008-09 to 30 percent in 2009-10 and 34 percent in 2010-11. The percentage of deer taken with archery gear has increased from 14 percent in 2007-08 to 20 percent in 2010-11.

Additional data shows while the crossbow has been well received by hunters, its total impact on the deer population has been marginal. In the year following the crossbow's expanded use, resident archery license sales increased by less than 3 percent to 277,393 (plus another 11,792 for nonresidents). In 2011, sales rose to 285,244 (plus 12,218 nonresident). The estimated deer harvest rose from 308,920 in 2009-10 to 316,240 in 2010-11 -- up to be sure, but not the slaughter predicted by crossbow opponents.

Feaser said the "trump card" that led commissioners to remove the sunset clause was hunters' acceptance of the new sporting arm.
"Commissioners who voted 'no' initially to crossbows said you can't put the genie back in the bottle," he said."

The curious politics of the crossbow's legalization process contributed to Pennsylvania hunters' polarization on the issue through much of the last decade.
Before 2000, only hunters with disabled person permits could use crossbows in Pennsylvania. Legislation was passed that year removing the crossbow from the list of prohibited sporting arms.

In 2001, the Game Commission regulated crossbows in some hunting situations, and in 2004 the agency further liberalized its use.

In 2008, the agency legalized the crossbow during all hunting seasons except archery deer in most areas. It remained legal in Wildlife Management Units 2B, 5C and 5D.
The next year, an increasingly divided Board of Commissioners issued back-and-forth directives stalling and propelling the crossbow's momentum. In July, with one vacant seat, commissioners voted to restrict use of the sporting arm. Days later, in a burst of drama uncommon for the board, the swearing-in of a new member, Ralph Martone of New Castle, changed the equation, and in September a 4-4 stalemate all but guaranteed the continued use of crossbows.

At last week's board meeting, Martone was elected president of the Board of Commissioners.

At the height of the crossbow debate, critics of legalization were convinced that with relative ease of use right out of the box, the crossbow would overwhelm the woods during archery deer seasons, resulting in an overharvest from which whitetails could not recover.
So far, at least, that hasn't happened. The rifle harvest is the primary regulator of deer populations, said Rosenberry, in a 2010 interview. Yearly reports and archery harvests, he said, had less bearing on long-term management plans.

"From a biology standpoint, the crossbow and statewide harvest estimates don't matter," he said. "What matters is what's happening unit by unit. ... We don't control the deer, we don't control the hunters, we don't control the environment. We set [antlerless] allocations, and [a given year's] harvest estimate is one piece of the information that we work on."
"We have to remember that's two years of data," said Jennifer Sager, president of United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania. "In other states, impact hasn't been realized until five or six years."

Steve Mohr of Unified Sportsmen, which was neutral on the issue in 2009, said the ruling, "shouldn't be a problem as long as the Game Commission adjusts the number of antlerless allocations accordingly."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Game Commission Proposes 2012-13 seasons and Bag Limits

January 24, 2012

HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to hunting and trapping seasons and bag limits for 2012-13, including a move to allow Mentored Youth Hunting Program participants to take part in fall turkey seasons.

            Other changes include expanded bear hunting opportunities in urban/suburban Wildlife Management Units (WMUs); additional small game season dates prior to Christmas; the addition of WMU 4C for bobcat hunting and trapping; the addition of WMUs 2G and 4D for fisher trapping; various changes to the beaver trapping seasons to reduce bag limits in WMUs 3A and 3D and to increase bag limits in WMU 5D to address nuisance complaints.

The public may offer comments on all proposed 2012-13 seasons and bag limits, as well as other Board actions, between now and the Board’s next meeting, April 23-24, at which time the Board is scheduled to finalize seasons and bag limits for 2012-13. 

Also, the Board will receive staff recommendations for antlerless deer license allocations for the 22 WMUs at its April meeting.  Deer harvest estimates for the 2011-12 seasons will be available in mid-March.

Following are several articles on meeting highlights. 


The Board of Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to a slate of deer seasons for 2012-13 that retains the split, five-day antlered deer season (Nov. 26-30) and seven-day concurrent season (Dec. 1-8) in 11 Wildlife Management Units.  The list includes (WMUs) 2A, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3B, 3C, 4B, 4D and 4E. The package also retains the two-week (Nov. 26-Dec. 8) concurrent, antlered and antlerless deer season in WMUs 1A, 1B, 2B, 3A, 3D, 4A, 4C, 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D.

Hunters with DMAP antlerless deer permits may use them on the lands for which they were issued during any established deer season, and will continue to be permitted to harvest antlerless deer from Nov. 26-Dec. 8 in WMUs 2A, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3B, 3C, 4B, 4D and 4E. Fees for DMAP permits are $10 for residents and $35 for nonresidents.

Additionally, the Board also gave preliminary approval to retain the use of crossbows in the archery deer seasons.  The Board took this action by removing the sunset date inserted in the regulations when crossbows were first permitted to be used in the archery deer seasons.

The Board retained the antler restrictions enacted for the 2011-12 seasons, which includes the “three-up” on one side, no counting a brow tine, provision for the western Wildlife Management Units of 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B and 2D, and the three points on one side in all other WMUs.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Muzzleloader Hunting on the Rise Among Women Nationwide

By Shannon M. Nass, Special to the Post-Gazette

Powder, patch, ball, or it won't go off at all," said Linda Fulmer of Hamburg, Berks County.
This mantra may have coursed through the mind of frontiersman Daniel Boone each time he prepared to discharge his flintlock muzzleloader rifle hundreds of years ago. Fulmer offered it up as sound advice for a growing number of women who are participating in this age old sport.
According to the National Sporting Goods Association, female participation in muzzleloading jumped from about 300,000 in 2009 to 500,000 in 2010 -- a stunning increase of 150 percent nationwide, while hunting participation in general is in a 10-year slump.

Vickie Shaffer of New Castle fires her flintlock.
It's a trend, however, that has not been reflected in the sale of muzzleloader hunting licenses to women in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Game Commission recently reported a slight drop in those sales from 5,188 for the 2009-2010 season to 4,985 during the 2010-2011 season.
A special flintlock season is still running in Pennsylvania, with antlered and antlerless deer legal in Wildlife Management Units 2B, 5C and 5D through Saturday.

While female license sales have decreased across the state, Donald E. Blazier Jr., Region 2 coordinator for the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association, said participation hasn't.
"There are a lot more women just participating ... even in office at muzzleloading organizations," he said. "Women are good for the sport, no doubt about it."
The driving force behind this increase, he said, is men.

"Most of the guys like to get their wives into the shooting competitions and into the sport," Blazier said. "It's like if you want to go fishing more often, then you take your wife with you. Get her to like fishing and you can go fish more."

Fulmer started shooting after watching her husband participate in competitions. She now target shoots, participates in re-enactments and serves on the board of directors for the NMLRA.
Her three children have taken up the sport as well, and together the family has attended various NMLRA-sponsored events, including re-enactments and Rendezvous -- events billed as living-history camping trips.

"It was like a camping adventure," said Fulmer. "It was a family affair and with muzzleloading."
Blazier described it as a unique fraternity that is all-encompassing.
"There's camping, there's shooting, there's just sitting around a campfire and talking," he said. "It's a family-oriented sport that's more user friendly than some of the other shooting sports."
Eleanor Flora of Danville, Pa., secretary of the Pennsylvania Federation of Black Powder Shooters Inc., also entered the sport after attending competitions with her husband. Like Fulmer, she said she enjoyed the family-friendly atmosphere, which she said is a draw for a lot of women.

"They seem to like that they can bring their kids and the kids can learn to do it, also," she said.
Fulmer said the camaraderie that is present at muzzleloading events spills over into the competitions as well.
"It's like a big family. Everybody helps out. They want to pass their craft along. They want you to get better," she said. "It is not cutthroat. It's competition, but it seems to be a friendly competition."

Blazier said he has seen a noticeable increase in the number of women competing in the state shooting competitions. Among them is Vickie Shaffer of New Castle, Lawrence County, who is a member of the Pennsylvania Company of Riflemen along with Blazier, who serves as captain of the team.
Shaffer began competing in 1983 and has won numerous state and national competitions. Most recently, she won high overall experienced shooter and high pistol at the 2011 NMLRA Women's Weekend, and was named to the Top 10 for the Pennsylvania Company of Riflemen flintlock team.

Like most of the women at the competitions, Shaffer said she prefers to shoot flintlocks as opposed to in-line muzzleloaders.
"The draw for me is that it's something that not just everybody can pick up and do," she said. "It's a challenge, and it's kind of neat to be able to say you can do it."

Shaffer also hunts with a flintlock and said she enjoys the challenge that it brings, as well.
"You can't just amble into something. You need to really be ready and on guard," she said. "You have to be more cautious, more quiet, more still because [the deer are] within 50 yards of you."
Flora, her husband and four daughters have all hunted with flintlock muzzleloader rifles, and she said the challenge is just one attraction.

"One of the things we like about the black-powder hunting is there's hardly anybody out there," she said. "You have the woods to yourself and your family."
Whether it's for solitude, camaraderie, challenge or competition, more women are getting back to basics and embracing a rich part of their history.
"It's our heritage," said Fulmer.

To encourage women to participate in the sport, the NMLRA holds yearly women's weekends at which instructors are on hand and firearms are available for loan. The sixth annual National Women's Weekend will take place April 20-22 on the NMLRA's grounds in Friendship, Ind.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Solution For Squirrels In The Bird Feeder

May not work for flying squirrels! Sent in by club member Jim Martin.

Cable Restraint Trapping Still Not Caught On

Sunday, January 15, 2012
Hal Korber/Pennsylvania Game Commission

Cable restraints can be a good option
for trapping gray foxes, particularly
 in snow and ice, but trappers say the
 law  is difficult to follow
Cable restraints can be a good option for trapping gray foxes, particularly in snow and ice, but trappers say the law is difficult to follow.
The faint, musky whiff of another fox's marking post triggers a primal territorial response, beckoning the gray fox toward the hidden trap. The wily canine sniffs, looks around and nears the bait. It raises its paw, hesitates, steps directly onto the snow-covered pad of the coil-spring trap and ...Nothing.

Long before the establishment of the first North American fur-trading post at Quebec in 1608, trappers have had a problem with ice and snow. It hardens around the coilsprings and freezes the metal dog to the pan, forming a stiff frozen block that won't spring under a fox's 11 pounds, no matter what pelt prices are going for.

Since the 2005-06 season, Pennsylvania trappers have had another tool at their disposal: no-kill cable restraint traps. A multi-strand woven-wire snare with a no-slip locking mechanism that prevents accidental killing and escape, a cable restraint is generally rigged on paths where furbearers routinely travel. The traps are easier on the ankles of domestic dogs when they're unintentionally caught, but that's an ancillary advantage. Simple, light and effective, modern cable restraints are less susceptible to ice and snow.

"It's more difficult to use foothold traps where the ground is frozen, or freezing and thawing," said Tom Hardisky, a furbearer biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. "Regardless of the weather, the [cable restraint] still works."

A statewide cable restraint trapping season for foxes and coyotes started Dec. 26 and runs through Feb. 19.

Another cable advantage is the trap's relative selectivity. When properly set, the size of the snare loop and proximity to the ground determine the size and dimensions of the target species -- more so than a less discriminant foothold trap -- giving the trapper the option of dispatching the animal or releasing it relatively unharmed. Cable restraints are small and lightweight (meaning longer trap lines) and inexpensive (about $1.50).

After reviewing cable restraint studies conducted by midwest states, Pennsylvania adopted a set of laws and regulations mostly mirroring those of Wisconsin. Limited species may be targeted, but a new rule legalizes incidental catches of non-targeted in-season species when the trapper has proper licensing (effectively adding bobcat to the cable restraint species list). Cable restraint trappers have to pass a certification course, and the game commission set a short winter season.

"The reason we have the season after Christmas is it's much easier to catch foxes and coyotes in cable restraints when the ground is frozen," said Hardisky.

But the cable-restraint alternative has been slow to catch on in Pennsylvania.

Trapping participation routinely fluctuates with pelt prices, which have been generally down for several years. Of the 35,267 trappers who purchased a furtaker license during the 2009-10 season, about 33.75 percent (11,903) actually used their traps during that period, according to a PGC mail survey. About 9 percent (1,071) of license holders who trapped were certified to use cable restraints, but 12 percent of them did not use the devices.

The survey found 36 percent of trappers were not certified to use cable restraints but intended to take the course, and 43 percent were neither certified nor interested in taking the course. During this relatively mild January, Pennsylvania trappers have had less need for the weather resistant cable alternative. But their resistance to cable restraints may have more to do with what some have called "impracticalities" in the laws and regulations.

"Cable restraints can be good, but the way they're doing it makes it difficult," said Tom Billard, a past district director and current member of the Pennsylvania Trappers Association. A trapper for 40 years, Billard, from eastern Pennsylvania, is among the 12 percent of cable-restraint certified trappers who don't use them.

"Part of the problem is the time of year," he said. "Trapping seasons start in October, and if you talk to trappers you'll find most guys are done trapping by the time deer season starts. The cable restraint season comes in after Christmas. You'd probably see more guys looking into it if the season was expanded forward."

More difficult to manage, said Billard, are cable restraint "entanglement" rules. To prevent the animal's accidental death before the trapper arrives, the restraint must be set in such a way that the ensnared animal has 360 degrees of unencumbered mobility from the anchor point, with no contact with brush, trees or fences. The "restraint circle" may not include anything the animal could climb over that could cause accidental strangulation, and even nearby grasses that could become twisted in the cable could cause a trapper to be in violation of the law before possible entanglement occurs.

The verbiage of Pennsylvania's cable restraint law is widely seen by trappers as ambiguous and open to individual interpretation, making it a crime for there to be even "the risk of the cable restraint becoming entangled."

"The entanglement rules are really tough to abide by," said Billard. "It sounds great: you'll set the cable in a wheat field with a trail running through it. But if it wraps in the weeds and the tangle is more than 1 inch, you're illegal. It can get difficult."

An experienced trapper who has used cable restraints, Hardisky said the devices just need more time to catch on. "New things are hard to get people to accept," he said.

Trappers also have to accept the realities of pelt prices, which are currently on par with those of last year. Billard, who recently hosted a live-bid fur auction for the Pennsylvania Trappers Association, described the going rates as, "not astronomical."

Raccoon pelts are running $15-$16. Red fox is going for $21-$22.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

'Families Afield' Legislation Leads to Windfall of New Hunters


The idea was perceived as crazy by many people at the time.
Early in the 2000s, a coalition of sportsmen led by Scottdale resident Ron Fretz, then a member of the National Wild Turkey Federation's national board of directors, announced its intent to see Pennsylvania's minimum hunting age eliminated.

Give kids younger than 12 years old guns and send them into the woods? Ludicrous, some said. The effort moved forward, though, and in 2004, Pennsylvania became the first state in the country to pass so-called "Families Afield" legislation, which allows children to hunt at any age without first having to take a hunter-safety course, provided they go afield with an adult mentor.

The idea has caught on. Thirty-two states across the country have adopted similar programs, resulting in about 600,000 new hunters, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Some are coming from non-traditional audiences. Research done in Minnesota has shown that while 28 percent of resident hunters come from the Twin Cities, about 42 percent of apprentice hunters come from that metropolitan area.

Many are sticking around long-term. In Ohio, research shows that about half of all apprentices are hunting three years later.

Pennsylvania, too, has done well. Game Commission spokesman Joe Kosack said that, over the past three years, the agency has sold nearly 90,000 permits to "mentored" youth.
In other ways, though, the state has fallen behind.

The groups behind Families Afield today go into states with three goals in mind: Make it possible for mentored or apprentice hunters to be able to hunt all species; try hunting regardless of age; and be able to carry their own firearm, said Rob Sexton, senior vice president of the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance.

Pennsylvania does not permit those goals.

The lack of an adult apprentice program is especially big, Sexton said.
"It doesn't matter if they're 10 or 30 years old. We just want more hunters in the field," Sexton said. All of that might soon prompt a return to Pennsylvania by Families Afield supporters.

"Ideally, I think we might return as soon as the next legislative session, maybe as soon as 2013, to work on eliminating some of those restrictions," Sexton said.

If so, the state where Families Afield began might move to the forefront again

Effort Under Way To Upgrade WCOs Radios

You might think, in this age of instant access, that all law enforcement officers are outfitted equally, equipment-wise.

You'd be wrong.

Some wildlife conservation officers with the Pennsylvania Game Commission have not had high-frequency radios capable of contacting dispatchers with the 9-1-1 system directly. That remains the case in many places.

"Some of our officers here in the (southwest) region have those kinds of radios, but others do not," said Tom Fazi, information and education supervisor in the Bolivar office.
An effort to change this is under way.

Kingston Veterans & Sportsman's Club in Latrobe raised the $2,000 or so necessary to outfit Westmoreland County conservation officer Brian Singer with a radio. Now, sportsmen are working to raise the money needed to get the county's other two officers, and perhaps their deputies, matching radios.

Tay Waltenbaugh and Jack Brown of "High and Wide Outdoors," a locally produced radio show, are coordinating the effort to solicit donations.

David Grove
"Imagine the worst scenario of an 'officer down.' That officer would have to radio his dispatch office in Ligonier. That dispatcher would have to literally pick up a phone and call 9-1-1 for assistance," said Brown. "This is crazy."

It was only a year ago, he noted, that a Game Commission officer died in the line of duty. David Grove was killed in a shootout while investigating a call related to nighttime shooting.

Anyone interested in contributing to the radio fund can make a check payable to Westmoreland Community Action, where Waltenbaugh is CEO, and mail it to the group at 226 S. Maple Ave., Greensburg, PA 15601. Write "radios for wcos" in the memo line

Friday, January 6, 2012

Elections Held For 2012 Bull Creek Officers and Board

Officers for 2012 as elected at Thursday night's monthly club meeting are:
  • President Bill "Buck" Shaganaw
  • Vice President Bill Motosicky
  • Secretary Pete Denio
  • Treasurer Jerry Paladino
  • Sgt at Arms Jay Dorn

Newly elected 1st year Board of Directors:
  • Craig Thomas
  • Jason Davidek
  • Dennis "Den" Cochran Sr.
  • Tim Gould
  • Alternate Tom "Symie" Szymkiewicz

Second year Board of Directors include:
  • Terry Davidek
  • Tim Cochran
  • Tom Sutera
  • Alternate Jim Martin 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Outdoors Shows Have Something For Whole Family

Sunday, January 1, 2012

There are people who get paid each winter to coordinate outdoor shows. Lou Brandenburg of Avella is assuredly not one of them.
He's been working since August to rent equipment, track down vendors and recruit help for the outdoor show being hosted by the Washington County Sportsmen and Conservation League Feb. 2-5 at Washington Crown Center Mall. He'll be busy now through then, wrapping up loose ends. He'll then work 13-hour days throughout the show.
But he won't get paid. In fact, the league won't either.
It's been putting on outdoor shows every winter for more than 40 years, but it's never made much money from them, Brandenburg said.
"We charge $100 for four days for people to set up a booth in there, so it isn't a fundraiser," said Brandenburg, the league president, with a laugh. "It costs us that much to put the show on.
"But that's not why we're doing it. We really do it to bring the outdoors to the public to see and enjoy."
In that sense, it's a success, he said. The show will attract 25,000 people, he said, some specifically for the show, others family members of sportsmen, who tag along and potentially get introduced to something they might not have been otherwise.
"It's more of a family atmosphere, and a fun time," he said.
The show is one of several put on each winter by local sportsmen's clubs.
While winter is the season for large, crowded, often overwhelming professional sport shows -- they're held across the state each winter, in Monroeville, Erie, Harrisburg, Boalsburg and elsewhere -- these local shows are different.
Sometimes, they feature outfitters booking hunting and fishing trips to far-away locales. The Washington show will feature a few out-of-state guides.
But they're generally more intimate than that.
The annual show put on by the Indiana County Bow and Gun Club is an example. It draws 150 to 200 vendors, so it's not necessarily small. And it's not free; the relatively small admission fee helps the club to "take care of all the things you need to keep a sportsmen's club open and running," said president Rodney Allshouse.
But it draws local businesses like gunsmiths, who would appear at larger shows.
"Whether it's building a complete custom rifle or that grandpa's old shotgun needs a hammer spring, they can make arrangements to handle those kinds of things," Allshouse said. "It's a chance for sportsmen and those folks to kind of meet and greet."
Likewise, the flea market and outdoor show put on by the Tri-County Trout Club at Burrell Lake Park won't wow anyone in terms of sheer size. It's a one-day event that will feature no more than two dozen vendors.
In fact, it began as something for members only, to swap gear amongst themselves, said club president Steve Hegedus.
But it's grown a bit to feature vendors who will be selling everything from sporting books and magazines, and turtle soup to antique lures and handmade rods.
"It's only a few dollars to get in, so it's something a family can attend together without having to think too hard about whether it fits in the budget," Hegedus said. "We raise a little bit of money, but mostly, it's about giving our members and the public something different to do in winter. It's mainly just a fun event."
The shows, though, come once a year. And that's plenty, Brandenburg said.
"When we first moved to the mall, a few of the shop owners worried that we were blocking their storefonts and would hurt business. But after the second day, I must have had 10 of them come up to me and ask if we could do one of these three or four times a year," he said. "They said we drew so much business, they loved it.
"I told them once is enough. It's a good thing, and I'm glad we do it, but once a year is enough