Sunday, December 30, 2012

Threat Of Disease Spread Could Lead To Rules Changes

Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Talk to any serious archer and it‘s likely they‘ll tell you that in hunting during or close to the rut, they've used deer urine at some point in an attempt to lure in a big buck.

Is that really safe, though?

That‘s a question being asked again in connection to the state‘s deer herd.

Several years ago, Pennsylvania Game Commission veterinarian Walt Cottrell told members of the agency‘s board that the wisdom of allowing urine to be used — in a world where the spread of chronic wasting disease was even then beginning to take off — was something they might want to reconsider.

The board didn‘t act on that idea then. But, with CWD having been discovered within the state‘s borders this year, it is being talked about again.

The issue came up at the commission‘s most recent work group meeting, when it was revealed that urine produced at the one of Pennsylvania‘s quarantined deer farms had been on store shelves. Stores voluntarily agreed to take it out of circulation, said Cal DuBrock, director of the commission‘s bureau of wildlife management.

But about 15 percent of deer farmers — there are about 1,100 licensed in the state — collect and sell urine, DuBrock said. Some market it directly, while others sell it to bigger operations which combine it with other supplies before taking it to market.

Farms under quarantine can‘t move deer urine off their properties, DuBrock said, but by the time the disease is discovered, it could have moved a lot of product, as was the case recently. It was only by “happenstance” that the commission even became aware of that product, he added.
That‘s got commissioners pondering what to do.

“I think the discussion has to be there right now with what we do and where we go,” said commissioner Jay Delaney of Luzerne County. “I‘d rather be proactive than reactive.”

Several Canadian provinces have already banned the use of deer urine in hunting. Following suit here, though, is sure to be “an economic issue” in the minds of some, said commissioner Brian Hoover of Philadelphia.

There‘s also the problem of whether any regulation change can be effective.

“The true challenge of this is always enforcement,” said commission executive director Carl Roe. “Do you have a law on the books that you can enforce?”

Those are questions that the board is apparently going to try to answer or that, perhaps, it is going to have to answer.
“We‘re concerned about deer spreading CWD prions at the same time we‘re allowing hunters to take urine and spread prions all over the landscape,” DuBrock said.

Building Brush Piles For Wildlife

If you've ever spooked a cottontail in an old field, you probably watched it zig and zag and then suddenly disappear into thin air. It probably dashed into the safety of a brush pile.

When cabin fever strikes next month, get outside on a mild winter day and build a brush pile for wildlife. It's easy to build, and it provides valuable habitat to a variety of wildlife including everything from mice and chipmunks to snakes, skunks and many song birds.

The best place to build a brush pile is on the edge of a wooded area. Place it as far from houses as possible because some of the species attracted to brush piles can become backyard pests.

Begin a brush pile by laying a foundation of large rocks, concrete blocks, old tires, plastic pipes of various diameters, and pieces of downspouts to provide refuge for a variety of species. This base layer elevates the first course of logs above the ground, creates escape lanes for small mammals and keeps the base logs off the ground so they rot more slowly.
The next step is to place alternating criss-cross layers of logs or old fence posts, 4 to 6 inches in diameter.

Now the foundation is ready for the brush, which can include small trees, broken branches and used Christmas trees. If several conifers are used, tie them together so they don't scatter in the wind.

A backyard brush pile might measure 8 feet in diameter and 4 to 5 feet high. If you live in a rural area, more and bigger brush piles are better and will attract more wildlife. On state wildlife management areas, for example, brush piles can stand 10 feet high and extend for 20 to 30 feet.

Even a well constructed brush pile eventually collapses under its own weight. To extend its life, add material every year. When the pile disintegrates into a mass of organic matter, build a new one right next to the old one.

The success of a brush pile can be evaluated by simple observation. When it snows, look for tracks of critters coming and going. And at first light, watch for song birds leaving the brush pile after roosting there for the night. This is especially true when brush piles are covered by a blanket of snow.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

State Parks Mark New Year with ‘First Day Hikes’ Across Pennsylvania

Harrisburg - Eighteen of Pennsylvania’s state parks will sponsor free, guided hikes on New Year’s Day to help visitors ring in 2013 with healthy exercise and a glimpse of nature’s winter beauty.

First Day Hikes have been taking place for 20 years as part of a national effort organized by the National Association of State Park Directors and launched in Newton, Mass. State involvement has grown to the point where, for the first time in 2012, all 50 state park systems are participating.

“We are excited to join in hosting these hikes as part of this national effort to get people outdoors and into our parks,” Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Richard Allan said. “For the second consecutive year, First Day Hikes offer a great cure for cabin fever and a chance to burn off those extra holiday calories.”

The following Pennsylvania state parks are participating in 2013:
Bald Eagle, Black Moshannon, Leonard Harrison, Kinzua Bridge, Ohiopyle, Moraine, Raccoon Creek, Pymatuning, Keystone, Kings Gap Environmental Education Center, Canoe Creek, Lackawanna, Promised Land, Nescopeck, Nolde Forest Environmental Education Center, Marsh Creek, French Creek and Delaware Canal.

“The hikes were selected to draw both novices and trail-hardened veterans into our state parks,” Allan said. “Different hikes will match different abilities.”

Pennsylvania State Park staff and volunteers will lead the hikes, which are usually less than two miles, but can be longer depending on the park and its terrain. Details about hike locations, difficulty, length, terrain and tips regarding proper clothing are listed on the America’s State Parks website at

“Last year, we hosted more than 14,000 people who hiked more than 30,000 miles in our state parks across the country when we launched America’s State Parks First Day Hikes on New Year’s Day 2012 in all 50 states,” said Priscilla Geigis, president of the National Association of State Park Directors.

“To start 2013, we’re inviting kids and adults to get their hearts pumping and experience the beauty of our state parks at one of over 400 hikes nationwide. Whether you’re staying close to home or traveling, join us at one of America’s state parks on New Year’s Day,” Geigis said.
Additional details can be found at; click on State Parks under “Quick Links,” then select “Featured Events.” For information on Pennsylvania’s 120 state parks, click on “Find a Park.”

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Our Own Bald Eagles!

These Bald Eagles were photographed a few weeks ago along the Allegheny River in Brackenridge, 15 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, PA,, near the Allegheny Ludlum Steel Plant.  

Photos sent in by club member Bill Motosicky

Monday, December 24, 2012

Flintlock Season Presents Greatest Challenge For Hunters

By Bob Frye Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Hunters this week get the chance to tackle what is perhaps the biggest challenge on Pennsylvania‘s sporting scene — Taking an antler-wearing buck with a flintlock.

If history holds, about 125,000 people will take part in the three-week, post-Christmas flintlock deer hunting season.

Combined, they‘ll spend about 450,000 days in the woods. And, if all goes well, only a little more than 1 percent will kill a deer sporting antlers. 

Last year, hunters managed to kill an estimated 127,540 bucks over the course of all the hunting seasons. Just 1,440 of them were taken with a flintlock. 

In unit 2A, for example, Pennsylvania Game Commission estimates show archers took 1,950 bucks last year, rifle hunters 5,100.

Flintlock hunters, by comparison, took 50. In unit 2C, archers took 2,450 bucks while rifle hunters got 5,700; flintlock hunters took 50. In only two units did flintlock hunters even manage to reach triple digits in buck harvest. They got 150 in 5C and 100 in 2D.

“It‘s not easy, there‘s no doubt about that,” said Eugene Nagel, owner of Cooperstown Trading Post, a muzzleloading shop in Valencia. “The late season can be tough.”

There are a number of reasons for that.

One is that the pool of bucks is smaller in flintlock season — the last deer season on the calendar — than at any other time. Chris Rosenberry, chief deer biologist for the Game Commission, said just 60 percent of the bucks that were roaming the landscape at the start of fall still remain.

A portion of those bucks would not be legal for harvest, either, given that they wouldn‘t meet minimum antler restrictions.

It‘s also true that the later into the season, the greater the number of bucks that will have lost their racks. Rosenberry said most will drop their antlers in January and February, but some lose them earlier, even during the rifle season.

“I know in the rifle season I saw a couple of half-racks already. And I heard from quite a few guys who experienced the same thing,” said Glenn Fisher, owner of Mountain Main Sports Shop near Somerset.

Flintlock hunters can legally shoot bucks without antlers, said commission spokesman Jerry Feaser. But when they do, it‘s technically recorded as an “antlerless” deer.

“We don‘t expect guys to be able to tell if a deer without antlers is male or female. That‘s why 
the general backtag becomes an either-sex tag in flintlock season,” Feaser said.

Of course, the fact that flintlock muzzleloaders are such primitive firearms makes taking any deer, let alone a buck, a challenge.

“They‘re capable of killing a deer out to 100 yards, but the thing is, you‘re shooting with open sights,” Nagel said.

“You can shoot at that distance, but that‘s all you‘re doing, shooting. You‘re not shooting at the heart or anything specific.

“Myself, I like to keep things under 75 yards, and 50 is better.”
The weather can also be a factor, Fisher said. Flintlock hunters spend a lot of time trying to keep their powder dry in snow, sleet and freezing temperatures.

The later into the season it gets, the less willing some hunters are to brave those conditions, he said.

But the season is also a time of family, fun and tradition, Nagel said. Muzzleloader licenses sales aren‘t at the peak they were in 2004 and 2005, Rosenberry said, but they‘re still double what they were throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

“It‘s a sport that seems to be going pretty strong,” Nagel said. “I think it‘s because of the timing. Kids are off school, parents have some time, and they all go into the woods. It‘s a bonding time.”

That‘s whether anyone shoots a deer with antlers or not.
Pennsylvania‘s flintlock deer season runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 12 statewide.

Hunters can take a buck with their unfilled backtag — antler restrictions apply — or an antlerless deer with that backtag, a doe license, or deer management assistance program permit.

Hunters need not wear fluorescent orange, but Game Commission officials urge them to do so for safety‘s sake, especially if hunting in places like management unit 2B, which has a concurrent doe season for shotguns.

New Law Enables Pa. Fish And Boat Commission To Experiment With License Packages

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

Gone fishin'.

It's something John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC), said he hopes more Pennsylvania anglers will soon be saying thanks to the June 22 passage of state Senate Bill 1049. The new law gives the agency the legal authority to sell multi-year fishing licenses and permits, and to develop other creative license packages.
For the first time, three- and five-year fishing licenses were made available effective Dec. 1.
"A lot of anglers come and go from the sport," said Arway. "What we're trying to do with this multi-year initiative is to get them committed to fishing every year, because we all know what good therapy fishing really is. We believe it's a sport a lot of people should try and if they like it, they ought to continue it."

Customers who buy multi-year licenses save money by not having to pay transaction and processing fees each year, which amounts to $6.80 for those who purchase a five-year license. Anglers can experience similar savings purchasing multi-year trout-salmon, Lake Erie and trout-salmon and Lake Erie combo permits.

Arway, who is among the 8 to 10 percent of anglers who regularly purchase licenses for five consecutive years, said it's a no-brainer.

"You make one purchase and then you're good to go for five years. You don't have to worry about it again," he said.

For those who typically do not buy licenses in consecutive years, PFBC is offering incentives for purchasing a multi-year license such as a free online subscription to the agency's flagship publication, Pennsylvania Angler and Boater magazine, fishing equipment, discount coupons for sporting goods stores, and various offers from popular retailers. To receive the premiums following the purchase of a multi-year license, anglers must update their license account info and visit for details.

Also, PFBC has launched a fishing sweepstakes contest that will give away a series of Pennsylvania fishing trips for many of the state's popular game fish.
To sweeten the deal even more by the time trout season comes around, which is the peak license sale period, Arway said Fish and Boat will offer gift cards to Bass Pro Shops.
Anglers who get a jump on the season and purchase their licenses early will be eligible for additional offers.

Revenue generated from multi-year license sales will be placed in a "reserve fund," which Arway equated to a savings account with the interest earned used to pay for other marketing initiatives to promote fishing and boating in the state.

On average, PFBC sells 800,000 to 850,000 fishing licenses each year. Up 4 percent from 2011, this year's sales peaked early due to good weather, said Arway.

Multi-year licenses are the first in a number of creative licensing packages intended to translate into increased license sales. One idea under consideration is a legacy license, which Arway described as a lifetime membership whereby people can purchase or will their children or grandchildren a license to fish in Pennsylvania for a lifetime.

"As a grandparent, that gives me some security to know that there won't be any obstacles if my grandchildren or children want to go fishing," he said.

Fish and Boat is also considering offering a discounted family license for parents and their children, and other incentives to further encourage families to go fishing, Arway said in spring 2013 PFBC will launch a mentored youth pilot program that follows the model of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's mentored youth hunts. The program enables registered children under the age of 16 to fish for trout with an adult mentor who must have a current fishing license and trout permit. The mentored kids would be eligible to fish on the Saturday before the southeast region trout opener season on select waters within the 18-county area.
Arway said it's all about catching fish, so in preparation the agency plans high-intensity stockings of those select waters, which are expected to be finalized by early January. If successful, the mentored youth fishing program will be rolled out in other parts of the state, as well.

With the passage of SB 1049 and the introduction of multi-year licenses under the agency's belt, Arway said anglers can expect to see more creative marketing ideas in the near future.
"Talk to your family and friends about getting an interest in fishing because we're going to try to make it as easy as we can to get them involved," he said.

Multi-year fishing licenses can be purchased at more than 900 issuing agents, county treasurers' offices, and at select PFBC regional offices. For more information, visit

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Reporting Deer Harvests Growing Rare

By Bob Frye Pittsburgh Tribune Review
Opportunities to hunt deer are not over. There‘s the late season in wildlife management unit 2B and the flintlock and late archery seasons. But the majority of the harvest has already been recorded.

You wouldn't know, though, to judge by what hunters say. Today, as has been the case for decades, hunters are required by law to report killing a deer to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Fewer than four in 10 do, however.

“Thirty-seven percent of antlered deer and 33 percent of antlerless deer were reported in 2011,” said Chris Rosenberry, the commission‘s lead deer biologist. “Generally, there has been a steady downward trend (in reporting) since 1982. Reporting rates have dropped 20 percent in the last 30 years.”

That makes Pennsylvania the worst of a bad lot
Biologists all over rely on deer harvest reports to decide how to manage herds, said Paul Johansen, assistant chief in charge of game management for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

“It gives us the data we need to make management decisions on season lengths and license allocations,” he said. Yet hunters don‘t always buy in.

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation requires hunters to report killing a deer within seven days of taking it, said spokeswoman Lori Severino. Yet, “in general, the reporting rate is between 40 and 45 percent,” she said.

In West Virginia, it‘s about 60 to 65 percent and dropping, Johansen said.
In Maryland, it‘s about 85 percent, said Brian Eyler, deer project leader for that state‘s Department of Natural Resources.

Requiring hunters to physically take a deer to a check station to report a deer — rather than report the kill by phone, mail or internet, the options here in Pennsylvania — doesn't seem to make any difference.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife used to require hunters to physically check in a deer. Starting in 2011, it went to online and phone reporting.

Reporting rates have stayed about the same, said spokeswoman Susie Vance.
“People who are willing to report their deer, honest hunters, conservationists, will go to any length to do so. And people who aren‘t going to report a deer just aren‘t, no matter what,” she said.

“We‘ve found that you can‘t regulate for the percentage that isn't playing by the rules because they never were going to anyway,” added Eyler. “You‘re never going to get 100 percent compliance.”

Check stations are much more costly, though, which is why West Virginia is in the process of moving away from them, at least in part. Johansen said the division of natural resources wants to offer hunters the option of reporting deer via the phone and internet.

“I don‘t know that we‘ll ever get away from check stations completely here, because they‘re kind of a tradition in West Virginia and some people who get a deer like to come in and show it off a little bit, I guess you‘d say,” Johansen said. “But it is our hope, in a few years, that we‘ll have electronic checks for the convenience of our hunters.”

No system is perfect, though, so states are left to figure out harvests as best they can.
In Pennsylvania, since 1982, the Game Commission has been estimating harvests by counting deer actually reported, by doing hunter surveys and by checking 20,000 deer a year at processors to figure out what percentage gets reported.

That‘s a peer-reviewed method that‘s statistically accurate, said Tom Fazi, information and education supervisor in the commission‘s southwest region office.

“That‘s the biggest complaint we get, that people don‘t believe our deer harvest numbers. Yet, many of them don‘t report their kills,” Fazi said. “You can‘t have it both ways.”

Hunters who have killed a deer in Pennsylvania can report that harvest in one of three ways:
• By phone: Call toll-free to 1-855-724-8681. Hunters will need their hunting license number and harvest tag information. More than one kill can be reported at a time.
• By internet: Go to and follow the prompts.
• By mail: You can find postage-paid harvest report postcards in the hunting digest.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Wounded Heroes Hunting Camp Near Altoona Pairs Vets, Disabled Children

By Chris Togneri Pittsburgh Tribune Review

WILLIAMSBURG — Matt Houston stepped deliberately through the dark woods, trying not to fall in the rocky terrain.

He paused to wipe sweat from his forehead and adjusted the rifle slung across his chest. He checked on his daughter, Cheyenne, 7, who tripped repeatedly on stones carpeted by dead leaves. He lifted binoculars to scan for signs of life. Finding none, he moved on.

In the cool air before dawn, Houston, 30, of Kittanning was sweating heavily when they reached a metal ladder leading to a tree platform 15 feet up, where he and Cheyenne would sit for the next five hours.

“Cheyenne, turn around,” he said. “Daddy needs to dry off his leg.”
The girl obeyed and Houston slid down his pants to reveal the prosthetic, a replacement for the leg he lost in Iraq. As he dried and readjusted the titanium limb, other wounded veterans tread, out of sight and earshot, through the forest. They were hunting deer outside Altoona, a trip organized by the Wounded Heroes Hunting Camp program.

The nonprofit aims to help disabled vets heal emotionally by providing the camaraderie of other vets wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Jeremy Harbaugh, president and co-founder of the Boonsboro, Md.-based organization.

“It’s more than just an average hunt,” said Harbaugh, 23, a 2nd lieutenant with the Marine Corps who is studying at Carnegie Mellon University while he rehabilitates his injured shoulder. “Going out with others like you, the bonding experience, the friendships formed — that’s something you can’t trade for anything.”

Harbaugh and other vets said programs such as this one are more important than ever. Thousands of soldiers are returning home from Iraq, Afghanistan and other locales, and many will struggle to fit into civilian life.

Junior Ortiz, a Marine veteran and the U.S. Labor Department’s deputy assistant secretary of Policy, Veterans’ Employment and Training Services, told mental health professionals in Canonsburg last month that adjustment can seem impossible.

“We are taught to be great,” Ortiz said. “ ‘Never show emotion. Never show your weaknesses.’ ... How do you expect them to act when they come back?”

Houston served with the Army during the 2003 invasion of Baghdad. He lost his leg when an unmanned gun in a Humvee discharged an 8-inch, .50-caliber bullet, meant to be used to stop armored vehicles. It tore through his left knee.

The explosion led Houston to believe the Humvee was under attack. He jumped outside to return fire without realizing “my leg was still in the truck.”

“I couldn’t stand up,” Houston said. “And I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t stand up until I looked down and, you know ... there was nothing there.”

Last week’s hunt was the second Harbaugh’s group organized. The first, in Maryland last month, involved vets from Missouri, Florida and Maryland.

For this hunt, Houston and 13-year Marine veteran Josh Caskey, 31, of Cranberry hunted with disabled and sick children invited by the property owners, Tom and Wendy Belinda.
The Belindas bought 1,300 acres of woodland stretching from the Frankstown branch of the Juniata River to the summit of Locke Mountain in the late 1990s. They since have lived largely off proceeds from timber sales, said Tom Belinda, the younger brother of former Pirates pitcher Stan Belinda.

“My wife and I have been so blessed up here,” Belinda said. “I wake up every day and look out on that mountain and say, ‘How can we use this to help others?’ ”

He got involved with A Child’s Wish Foundation, which takes sick kids on fishing trips. As a professional fisher, Belinda won two boats and about $250,000 in competitions, he said.
He recalled fishing with a girl named Abigal, 8, who had cancer and weighed just 30 pounds. Belinda helped her catch her first fish. A photo of them smiling and holding up the fish hangs on the wall of his sprawling, three-story log cabin.

“That’s what spurred it all,” he said. “That changed my life and perspective.”
Wanting to do more, he worked with the foundation to find kids interested in hunting but lacking the means to do so. He invited them to his property, where he and his hunting buddies led them on expeditions. His church donated money for food but Belinda covers all other expenses, including lodging, hunting gear and shooting lessons.

Matthew Coulter, 15, of Brockway, one of the first guests, returned last week with the wounded vets.

Matthew was born with bleeding on the brain, his dad, Donald Coulter, said. He is autistic, suffers seizures and is legally blind.

Here, though, he becomes a hunter.

His dad spots deer for him and helps him aim; Matthew pulls the trigger. On that first trip, Matthew shot a deer. When it fell, he shouted excitedly in the silent woods: “Winner winner, chicken dinner!”

The outburst scared off the herd but the other hunters didn’t care. Instead, they nicknamed Matthew “Chicken Dinner.”

“We’re not a well-off family,” Donald Coulter said. “I could never take him somewhere and be on land this beautiful, around people who so genuinely care about him. He looks forward to this all year.”

Belinda and Harbaugh met this year and decided to link the vets with the kids. They thought a child with cancer might inspire a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; a vet missing a limb might befriend a developmentally disabled boy.

For Caskey, seeing kids such as Matthew provided perspective.

Caskey suffered spinal cord and brain injuries in Iraq in 2007. He had returned to his barracks from a routine watch, cleaned his gun and was preparing for chow, he said. Then a nearby suicide bomber detonated.

The blast blew sandbags through the barracks and sent troops flying. Someone landed on Caskey’s back, breaking his tailbone. Shrapnel bore into his face and back.
“I have a high threshold for pain,” Caskey said. “I had none that day.”

Several surgeries on his back did not reduce the constant pain, he said. The brain trauma makes him chronically dizzy. He has short-term memory loss and sometimes stutters.
Yet seeing the kids on this hunting trip — including Coulter and a girl who underwent two kidney transplants — stops him from feeling sorry for himself, he said.

“These are kids. It makes you think, if they can deal and move on, there’s no reason why you can’t,” Caskey said.

Being around other vets helped, he said. They understand what he has seen and who he has become.

One of the hunting guides, Jon Gibbons, 41, a Pennsylvania Army National Guardsman who served in Kosovo and Iraq, spent much of this three-day hunting trip talking with Caskey. He was drawn to him, Gibbons said, after learning that a roadside bomb killed Caskey’s younger brother, Marine Corps Sgt. Joseph Caskey, in June 2010 in Afghanistan.

Gibbons’ younger brother, Matthew, also served, wanting to follow in his brother’s footsteps. He lost an eye in action in Iraq.

“That’s your little brother,” Gibbons said. “You take ownership of your little brother. I understand that.”

Caskey doesn’t talk much about his brother with civilians. “I don’t get into that a whole lot,” he said. “There’s a time and a place for that.”

That time came at lunch after the morning hunt.

As the vets ate deer sausage, Gibbons grew serious. We know what it’s like to spend weeks on the couch because you’re afraid you’re going to attack your wife in your sleep, he said. We know about drinking too much. We know about the nightmares.

Houston and Caskey nodded.

Their voices lowered. Wearing shirts that read “Healing on the Hunt,” they continued to talk.

What Ralphie really wanted for Christmas!

Sent by club member Dave Patz...

Deer Season Full of Ups and Downs

By Bob Frye Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Deer season means memories.

Most are good. A few, fueled by greed, are not.

This season was no different, even though — at times and in spots, perhaps because of the unusually warm weather — hunting pressure was lighter than might have been expected.
Randy Pilarcik, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s wildlife conservation officer in southern Butler County, said he and his deputies encountered fewer hunters than in previous years.
“This wasn’t for the lack of deer, though,” he said. “On a recent night patrol, I saw more than 100 deer in adjacent fields while driving along the district roadways.”

Some hunters, including young ones, found deer.

Fifteen-year-old Luke Benzinger was hunting with his dad, Joe, near their home in Trafford when he shot an antlerless deer on the season’s first Saturday. It was his first deer.
Mike Sweeney Jr. of North Huntingdon, a junior at Norwin High School, bagged a 5-point in Armstrong County, while a brother-sister team combined to get two bucks. Devin Seaholm, 14, of Washington Township, killed a 12-point with a 19-inch spread. A day later, his 16-year-old sister, Alexandra, got an 8-point.

A number of children in the woods via the mentored youth program, which lets children younger than 12 hunt so long as they are accompanied by an adult, also got deer.
Ten-year-old Jacob Miller of Ruffsdale shot an 8-point buck while in a treestand with his dad, Joe, and Sabrina Wolfe got an 8-point in Westmoreland County.

Probably one of the youngest hunters to get a deer, though, was 6-year-old Dominic Nelson. The South Butler Primary School kindergartener from Cabot was hunting in the Freeport area with his dad, Shawn, when he got a 6-point. He shot it with a 20-gauge shotgun he’d gotten for Christmas last year.

“We’re so excited,” said his mother, Sara Nelson. “We’re having it mounted because it was his first one.”

Among adults, Brian “Bear” Cerra of White Oak Rod and Gun Club got a 6-point in Hickory Township, Washington County, shooting it at a distance of about “10 feet, no joke.” David Shotts of Tarrs got an 8-point in Clearfield County.

Unfortunately, deer season also brought some mistakes accidents and intentional cheating.
In Mercer County, one hunter fired at a deer estimated to be 650 yards away and, in the process, shot over a road and into a house, said wildlife conservation officer Donald Chaybin. The bullet passed through a living room window and lodged in an interior wall. That hunter has paid for repairs but still faces charges.

Not far away, another bullet entered a home, but the shooter has yet to be identified.
Many cases of hunters using bait were reported from around the region. Typical was what was reported by conservation officer cadet Brian Sheetz, working in northern Indiana County.
“On the first day of the statewide firearms deer season, several citations were filed for unlawful devices and methods where the hunters were using salt blocks as enticements for deer,” he said.

Wildlife management unit 2B also gave up two more black bears during deer season. Hunters were allowed to shoot those in that unit under new rules designed to keep the bear population to a minimum.

One hunter got a bear in Fawn Township, while Derrick Honaker of Elizabeth Township got a 300-pound bear while hunting in Elizabeth.

Game Commission officers are asking for the public’s help in locating poachers.
Wildlife conservation officer cadet Byron Gibbs and officer Matthew Lucas said while patrolling their southern Westmoreland County district, they found what appeared to be a road-killed deer about 20 yards from the road. An examination of the animal revealed “a poorly placed shot from what seemed to be a small caliber center-fire rifle,” Gibbs said. Four additional deer with the same wounds were discovered near the sides of roads in the same area in subsequent days.

“We do have a description of the poachers. If anyone sees a small, light-colored car with two young men driving suspiciously, please get the best description possible, including a license plate number,” Gibbs said.

Information can be reported to the commission’s regional office at 724-238-9523.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Group Pushes For Ban On Hunting, Shooting Magazines

By Bob Frye Pittsburgh Tribune Review

There’s a proverb that says “may you live in interesting times.”

These certainly qualify for sportsmen.

Look at what’s been happening. As reported here last week, British retailer WHSmith had banned the sale of hunting and shooting magazines to kids younger than 14. The decision came after a campaign by Animal Aid, an animal rights group, that compared the magazines to pornography.

Sportsmen organized and convinced the retailer about the error of its ways.
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation collected more than 12,000 signatures on a petition in opposition to the ban. The Countryside Alliance, another pro-sportsmen group, lobbied for the ban’s repeal, too.

WHSmith heard those voices and relented.

In the meantime, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has begun promoting a ban of its own in this country.

PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman recently sent a letter to Hudson Group, which operates newsstands and bookstores in airports, urging it to place hunting magazines next to publications such as Playboy and Penthouse and not sell them to anyone younger than 18.
In its letter, PETA alleges that “hunting can cause target animals to starve during winter, disrupt their migration patterns and result in wounds that cause animals to die slowly in agony.”

It goes even further, claiming that hunting desensitizes youngsters and can, at times if not always, lead to murder.

“Like other forms of casual or thrill violence, hunting spawns a dangerous desensitization to the suffering of others.

According to published reports, many of the young people who have opened fire on their schoolmates — including 16-year-old Andrew Golden, who along with an accomplice, killed five people at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Ark., and 17-year-old T.J. Lane, who killed three people at Chardon High School in Cleveland earlier this year — had first expressed their bloodlust by hunting animals,” Reiman’s letter reads.

“Not every hunter will kill a human, of course, but in this era of escalating violence, it is irresponsible and downright dangerous to allow kids access to magazines that promote killing for ‘fun.’ ”

Hudson officials have not publicly responded.

But the National Rifle Association and other sporting groups want sportsmen to write Hudson president Joe DiDomizio at and make it known how they feel about the issue.
Perhaps if they do, PETA’s proposal will quickly go away, as did the one like it in Britain.

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New Pennsylvania Laws Haven't Curbed The Worst Cases Of Wildlife Poaching

The Game Commission's John Wyant displays recovered animal parts 
that were sold illegally on the black market or taken from poached animals.
In January 2010, a 22-year-old West Virginia woman and an accomplice engaged in a killing spree that spanned two days and six counties. Armed with .22- and .17-caliber rifles, they drove around the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border at night spotlighting and opening fire on deer, mortally wounding some and leaving others to suffer for days before dying.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission considered it unsportsmanlike conduct at its worst.
Nearly three years later, new state laws are targeting "thrill kill" wildlife poachers with higher penalties that treat poaching as theft of public property, and PGC has increased enforcement patrols and orchestrated multi-agency task force raids on poaching suspects.

Nevertheless, the new laws have not curbed the trend in thrill-kill poaching. The number of poaching cases has significantly increased since the laws were enacted.

Wildlife Conservation Officer Dan Sitler, who led the investigation in the egregious 2010 thrill-kill case, said it was one of the worst he's seen in the 13 years he's been in the field.

"It's a very despicable practice," he said. "We take all poaching very seriously, but when you get into these thrill kills there's not a person out there that can justify that. It's just outright wrong."

Trishelle Barish of Weirton, W.Va., pleaded guilty to 10 charges related to the poaching incident, amounting to more than $6,000 in fines and restitution plus court costs and an 18-year revocation of her Pennsylvania non-resident hunting license.

Had the spree occurred seven months later, she would have faced felony charges.
In July 2010, state legislators passed a law patterned after language in the Pennsylvania Crimes Code regarding theft offenses, whereby the more a violator steals, the higher the penalties.
Under the law, first-time offenders caught jacklighting a deer, killing a deer or turkey out of season or exceeding the deer or turkey bag limit face 90 days imprisonment, a fine of at least $1,000 and a three-year loss of hunting privileges. First-offense convictions for bear or elk violations could result in a fine up to $3,000, as much as six months in jail or the loss of hunting license privileges for up to five years. Serial poaching or committing multiple illegal kills in a single episode is a felony that carries fines of up to $15,000 and 36 months in jail.
The former penalty for shooting a deer at night using a light was $200 to $300.

"If you look at it as the theft of wildlife, then why shouldn't we treat it the same as the theft of any other natural resource," said Rich Palmer, PGC director of the bureau of wildlife protection.

In another anti-poaching move in 2010, Pennsylvania enacted a law that prevents convicted wildlife poachers from most other states from purchasing a Pennsylvania hunting license. It also denies out-of-state hunting privileges to Pennsylvanians convicted of poaching here and keeps Pennsylvanians convicted of poaching elsewhere from getting a resident license. With membership in the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, Pennsylvania joined 37 states that support the suspension of state hunting privileges in all participating states following a conviction of wildlife poaching in any member state.

But the strong new laws haven't curbed wildlife poaching. The number of incidents of thrill killing have increased significantly with poaching now occurring in all 67 counties in the state. Palmer described it as a disturbing trend in Pennsylvania and other states, as well.
In response, the PGC has increased its enforcement presence and begun targeting poachers and thrill killers with large-scale, organized task forces. Last year, the agency ran the statewide Operation Talon, which involved more than 500 officers including Pennsylvania wildlife conservation officers and deputies, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission officers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents, state forest rangers and state police with air surveillance.

Palmer described the operation as very successful and said the PGC plans to do it again this year. Smaller, regional task forces worked as well, he said.

But that may not be enough. Despite those efforts, Palmer said total violations in all poaching categories rose from 18,435 in 2010-11 to 20,144 in 2011-12. The total number of citations, arrests and prosecutions in 2012 amounted to 6,537, up from 6,189 the year before.

Nevertheless, Palmer cites evidence that the new laws are having an effect. The PGC has gathered intelligence, he said, that a new sense of deterrence has been created, and reports from officers working night patrols indicate there was less poaching activity in 2012.

Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Franklin, said his initial concern about the Wildlife Violator Compact law -- that it would deny gun ownership rights to Game and Wildlife Code felons -- was satisfied by an amendment that weakened its impact on denial of gun ownership rights.
"Since being enacted, [it] is doing its job by increasing fines and penalties, enacting stiffer punishments for poachers, and improving hunter safety throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania," he said.

Wildlife Conservation Officer Dan Puhala, whose beat includes parts of Allegheny County, said the tougher laws are acting as a deterrent and have given officers more muscle in the field. In a recent case, he used DNA evidence to capture and convict a poacher.
"I think people think that we're bluffing," he said. "Those tools are there, and if that's what it comes to, then personally I don't have a problem doing it."

Puhala said poaching motivation often stems from greed, obsession, a sense of entitlement or the view that game laws, as well as other laws, are there to be broken. In most cases, however, Sitler said there's no valid reason for wildlife thrill killing, or as he calls it, "joy shooting."

"It's difficult to tell what their reasons are," he said. "If I could figure out the mentality of poaching, I'd write a book." Wildlife management authorities consider the trill-kill mentality a complete disregard for wildlife, for which something has to be done.

"I personally feel like I have to protect that which can't protect itself," said Puhala. "It's our job. You have to be a voice for something that doesn't have a voice."

Pennsylvania's Turn In A Poacher program offers a $250 reward for a tip resulting in a conviction for poaching a threatened, endangered or big game animal. Call 888-PGC-8001 or visit

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