Sunday, December 29, 2013

Allegheny County Late Deer Season Rule Change Sparks Debate

The note received by state Game Commission board president Robert Schlemmer was sincere and gracious:
"I want to thank you for changing the game rules surrounding the 2B extended season," it read. "My wife and I ... live in a heavily hunted area of Washington Township and this should ease the pressure a lot. Thank you for thinking of landowners."

Charged with protecting the varied and sometimes conflicting interests of hunters, landowners, businesses, wildlife and other stakeholders in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Washington and Westmoreland counties, board president Schlemmer of Export said the April vote to change the boundaries of the antlerless deer extended firearms season in Wildlife Management Unit 2B and other urban areas was, like many of the board's decisions, "a balancing act."

Under the new rule, hunting antlerless deer with slug guns during the Dec. 26-Jan. 25 season remains legal. Portions of 2B that lie outside of Allegheny County -- including parts of Beaver, Washington, Westmoreland and Butler counties -- are closed to hunting with regular firearms during the late season. Parts of Allegheny that lie within WMU 2A -- near Clinton and Imperial -- are open for hunting with regular firearms. The regulation change does not impact the Dec. 26-Jan. 11 statewide antlered and antlerless archery hunt and its Jan. 13-25 2B extension, or the Dec. 26-Jan. 25 antlered and antlerless flintlock season in 2B. The special regulation barring the use of centerfire rifles in Allegheny County applies.

County-based boundaries, not WMUs, are to be used for the same hunting season in highly populated Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties.
"What typically happens is we have a lot of antlerless allocations in 2B, and folks have been taking them from Allegheny County into the peripheral area," said Schlemmer, who worked for three years to get the rule passed. "It's a social issue, something that's important to landowners outside of Allegheny County. This is another tool we have to work with."

But many hunters and the Game Commission's divisions of enforcement and wildlife management don't see it that way.

At a Dec. 16 commission working meeting in Harrisburg, Bureau of Wildlife Management director Cal DuBrock said the controversial rule change does not meet with the agency's wildlife management objectives and urged the board to reconsider.

"Establishment of the post-Christmas deer firearm season based on counties actually contradicts the purpose of having WMUs," he said. "I think the issue [of county boundaries versus WMU boundaries] has never closed. ... People seem to be confused about where the boundaries are. Where can I hunt? Why don't we designate special regulations areas by WMUs? We've got a dynamic system. We've got to revisit and look at these issues."
DuBrock told the board that anecdotal accounts of heavy post-Christmas hunting pressure in the peripheries of urban deer management areas including 2B are not supported by evidence.

"One of the statistics we looked at in 5C -- Chester, Montgomery and Bucks counties -- [showed] 54 percent of the WMU is where 56 percent of the harvest came from," he said. "So, we hear that people are taking these [doe] tags outside of Allegheny County and harvesting, but the statistics, the data we have on where the harvest occurs, doesn't support that."

Some hunters questioned why a rule change was needed. Couldn't landowners in 2B areas outside of Allegheny County simply post their properties during the late season?
Tom Fazi, Game Commission information and education supervisor for Southwest Pennsylvania, referred to the rule change as a "hot potato issue." He said the new law "definitely complicates things" for Wildlife Conservation Officers.

"I suspect [WCOs] are going to see this as a tool taken away from the tool box for the deer management program within those areas," he said. "How will they enforce the political boundaries, and how will this impact deer populations in those areas? It certainly presents a problem for us."

Schlemmer said the rule change was, "part of an ongoing plan for Allegheny County."
"It's a beginning," he said. "I want the hunters to be involved in this."

Pa. Game Commission Wants To Reel In More Students

By Bob Frye

The good news?

The Pennsylvania Game Commission put nearly 41,000 students through its hunter-trapper education classes this year. That's the most in more than a decade and ranked second only to Texas in certifying new hunters last year.

The bad news?

History says not all of those students will ever hunt. Typically only about two-thirds of hunter-ed graduates go on to buy hunting licenses.

The trend is similar with mentored youth hunters, those who get to try the sport before age 12 under the guidance of an adult. Only about 50 percent of them become license-buying junior hunters.

“We're losing quite a few of them,” said Joe Neville, director of the commission's bureau of information and education.

Why that is and what can be done to address it will be the focus of some new research. The commission has contracted Penn State to build a “data mining machine” that will take the gobs of information collected through the automated licensing system and other sources and figure out what's going on, Neville said.

The cost of the contract is $200,000. It's being paid for with grant money.
Those within the agency are excited about the returns the project may offer, though.
“We're hoping they can help us answer some questions,” Neville said.
The commission knows some things already.

There's a “significant positive relationship” between the number of students who take a hunter safety course and the number of junior license buyers, said Coren Jagnow, human dimensions research specialist for the commission. More kids in class mean more hunters.
In years past, though, the commission offered classes around the schedules of its instructors, said Keith Snyder, chief of the commission's hunter education and outreach division. That often meant classes were held months outside of the hunting seasons.
In 2011 — as a result of web analytics, a system for measuring when people were on the commission web site looking for hunter-ed classes and where they were from — it switched to offering more classes in the fall in areas of high demand, such as southwestern Pennsylvania.

That “strategic scheduling” is partly behind the increase in students being seen now, Snyder said.

“Everything we had before in terms of demand for our classes was anecdotal. We really had no idea what people wanted or where they were located. It was really eye-opening,” Snyder said.

But what can be done to get more of those students to buy licenses is a question that remains. The hope is that the data mining machine will provide answers, Snyder said.
“This will allow us to isolate the disconnect that exists with hunter education graduates who never become junior hunters and mentored youth who never become junior hunters,” Snyder said.

“What are the barriers out there? What can we do to help them take that next step? What do they look like? Where are they from?”

It might be that some answers are gender related. Twenty percent of mentored youths are female, as are 24 percent of hunter education graduates, said Samantha Pedder, hunting outreach coordinator for the commission. Yet only 17 percent of junior hunters are girls, and only 7 percent of adults.

Some early look at adult license-buying trends — which the data mining machine also may be able to further explain — indicates the most die-hard hunters also tend to be fishermen, Snyder said. If it turns out they also tend to frequent places like state parks and forests, that might impact future strategies, Snyder said.

“As strange as it may sound, to create more hunters, we may have to help create more all-around outdoorsmen,” he said.

To that end, the commission — a longtime supporter of the National Archery in the Schools program — is working with teachers to get an “explore bowhunting” curriculum introduced into physical education classes, promoting it as a lifelong recreational activity. It's also getting involved in the state's GetOutdoors Initiative. State parks, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and partners like Venture Outdoors have long used it to introduce people to fishing, hiking, snowshoeing and more. The game commission wants to promote its youth field days and junior pheasant hunts.

Will any of that help?

“We are just beginning to learn the science of hunter recruitment, retention and reactivation,” Snyder said. “And we have a lot to learn.”

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mentored Youth Trout Fishing Coming To Western PA In Spring 2014

By Bob Frye

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is bringing its mentored youth trout fishing program to Western Pennsylvania next spring.

The agency has announced the 29 waters that will get stocked with trout and be open to fishing by children and their adults mentors April 5, one week before opening day.

The list includes North Park Lake in Allegheny County, Harbar Acres Lake in Butler, Lake Rowena in Cambria, Dunlap Creek Lake in Fayette, Buhle Lake in Mercer, Laurel Hill Lake in Somerset, Canonsburg Lake in Washington and Mammoth Lake and Lower Twin Lake in Westmoreland.

To participate in the program, adult anglers 16 and older must possess a valid fishing license and trout stamp and be accompanied by a youth.

Youngsters must obtain a free permit. They'll be available beginning Feb. 1 from licensing agents or

PA Game Commission To Launch First Marketing Campaign

By Bob Frye

Hunting is about to go mainstream in Pennsylvania, curiously thanks to some of the people least involved in the sport.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is going to launch its first marketing campaign next year. It's going to run ads on radio and in print and online media, urging people to go hunting. It's going to post billboards with the same message. It's going to launch a streamlined website,, where people can quickly find out about things like when seasons open, where pheasants are being stocked, how to buy a license and more.

The campaign will focus on the nine people-heavy Pennsylvania counties that already sell the most hunting licenses: Allegheny, which ranks No. 1, as well as Westmoreland, Butler, Cambria, Erie, Cumberland, York, Lancaster and Berks.

“Fringe” hunters, those who buy licenses some years but not others, are the target. It turns out there are a lot more of those people out there than anyone realized.

Since 2009-10, when it went to an automated sales system statewide, the commission never has sold more than about 948,000 general hunting licenses in any one year. But it's sold licenses to a little more than 1.32 million people over that time.

The reason is “churn,” said Samantha Pedder, the agency's hunting outreach coordinator.
A look at license sales over the past four years found that only about 50 percent of hunters bought one every year. The rest came and went.

Thirteen percent of hunters bought a license three out of four years, 14 percent bought one two out of four years and 23 percent bought one only once in four years.

Additional surveys have revealed that between 18 percent and 25 percent of Pennsylvania's 10 million adult residents consider themselves “hunters,” said Keith Snyder, chief of the commission's hunter education and outreach division. That means the pool of potential license buyers is really between 1.8 million and 2.5 million annually.

“That begs the question: Do we have a recruitment issue, or do we have a participation issue? I would submit to you that we have a lot more hunters in Pennsylvania than we ever gave ourselves credit for,” Snyder asked.

The effort is going to cost about $500,000. Federal grants will pay for all of it, said commission executive director Carl Roe.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Paralyzed Former Police Officer Bags Buck With Crossbow

By Bob Frye, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Jim Kuzak of Rostraver shot this 9-point buck on Friday at 
Spring Valley Whitetail Haven in Unity. Kuzak, a former Clairton police officer, 
was shot five times while responding to a report of a home invasion 
in April 2011.
Jim Kuzak felt like a kid again.

Kuzak, a former Clairton police officer who is paralyzed, shot a 9-point white-tailed deer on Friday at Spring Valley Whitetail Haven in Unity with a crossbow.

The anticipation, nerves and thrill when the deer presented itself were familiar, if not ramped even higher given that this was the biggest buck he had taken.

“To feel that excitement and my blood racing, it couldn't have worked out any better,” Kuzak said.

But this hunt was unlike any other for the Rostraver man.

Kuzak was left paralyzed when he was shot five times while responding to a home invasion on April 4, 2011.

He had been a passionate hunter. Friday was the first time he had been in the woods since being wounded.

“That first year (after the shooting) is just about learning to live again,” Kuzak said. “There's no jumping out of bed, hitting the shower and being gone in 25 minutes. Now it's two hours to get up, get stretched, get showered and get ready to do what you need to do.

“I haven't been able to do any of the hobbies I used to. So I guess you could say this was my first opportunity getting back to what I did before, to some normalcy.”

A couple of family friends, Mike Vucish of Greensburg and Tracy Hudak of Monongahela, set up the hunt as a surprise.

“Guys like me, we take it for granted that we can come home, put on our camo and climb into a tree stand,” Vucish said. “I thought it would be pretty cool for Jim to be able to experience something like that again.”

Vucish and Kuzak's father, Jim Sr., sat in on the hunt, with Vucish filming it. They shared his excitement.

“That's the biggest deer I've ever seen hunting,” the elder Kuzak said.

Challenges remain for his son. Intense physical therapy to address things like the painful muscle spasms in his legs that even Friday shook his body and forced him to wait to take a shot may forever be part of his routine. Kuzak also has had to deal with friends walking away, just as doctors warned him they would.

But he remains upbeat.

“To be able to sit out there and forget about this,” he said, pointing to his wheelchair, “it was a great day. I can't even put into words what the support of my family and friends has done for me. You have to value the friends in your life, and believe me, I do.”

It's Kuzak who needs to be valued and remembered, Vucish said.

“When society needed his help, he showed up, and he paid a price for it,” Vucish said. “I'm trying to keep it fresh in people's minds that he still needs our help.”

Supporting Jim Kuzak

Aside from his physical challenges, Jim Kuzak has financial issues to overcome. Right now, his friends are trying to help him buy a truck.

He can drive using hand controls, and insurance will pay for the modifications to a truck that can hold him, his wheelchair and more. But he has to come up with the vehicle.

Donations payable to the James Kuzak Benefit Fund can be mailed to: PO Box 225, Clairton, PA 15025. Details are available at

Late-Season PA Deer Hunters Reminded Of Regulatory Changes

Antlerless-only firearms season to open after Christmas, but only in six counties.

Some areas in which hunters previously were permitted to use in-line muzzleloaders and
slug guns to hunt antlerless deer in the late season will be closed to such hunting in the season that awaits. 

          In previous years, an after-Christmas firearms season for antlerless deer was held in three Wildlife Management Units (WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D) that included counties under special regulations for deer hunting.

          This year, that antlerless-only late firearms season is open only in those special-regulations counties – not in the entire WMU in which they are located.

          That means hunters taking part in the firearms season need to verify the locations they plan to hunt are within those special-regulations counties to assure compliance with the new rules.

          The antlerless-only firearms season runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 25, and is open only in Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties.

          Other counties within the same WMUs as the above-listed counties are not open to firearms hunting. They include those parts of Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties found in WMU 2B; and parts of Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh and Northampton counties found in WMU 5C. Counties in WMU 5D all are special-regulations counties. 

          The counties in which special regulations apply also have unique rules regarding the sporting arms and ammunition that can be used during the firearms season. 

          All hunters taking part in this special-regulations antlerless deer season should consult Page 56 of the 2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest for a breakdown of permitted arms and ammunition, as well as other regulations that apply during the late seasons.
          The antlerless-only late firearms season in special regulations areas runs concurrently with the late archery and flintlock muzzleloader seasons in those areas.

          Outside of special regulations areas, the late archery and flintlock muzzleloader seasons run from Dec. 26 to Jan. 11.

          Unlike the late firearms season, the late archery and flintlock muzzleloader seasons are not antlerless-only seasons. Properly licensed hunters can harvest either antlered or antlerless deer during those seasons. 

          Additionally, a hunter with an unused antlered deer tag, which is included as part of a general hunting license, may harvest an antlerless deer with a flintlock muzzleloader during the flintlock muzzleloader season. Hunters must have a valid muzzleloader license to participate in the flintlock muzzleloader season.

          Hunters must have a valid antlerless license or Deer Management Assistance Program permit to participate in the late firearms season, and the license or permit must be valid in the specific part of the special regulations area being hunted. For instance, an antlerless license issued for WMU 2B may only be used within WMU 2B. While most Allegheny County lies within WMU 2B, a hunter taking part in the late firearms season in the portion of Allegheny County that lies within WMU 2A must have either a valid antlerless license for WMU 2A, or a DMAP permit for a specific property in Allegheny County. 

          There also are different fluorescent orange requirements depending on whether a hunter is participating in the late firearms season or other late deer seasons. Only late-season firearms hunters are required to wear fluorescent orange, and they must wear at all times a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange on the head, chest and back combined, and the orange must be visible from 360 degrees. 

          Hunters participating in the late archery and flintlock muzzleloader seasons are not required to wear fluorescent orange, but within the special-regulations they are encouraged to do so, given that a firearms deer season is taking place simultaneously.

          Given the different requirements that might apply to individual hunters, it’s clear that taking time to review regulations is an important step in these late-season hunts, Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe said.

          “We’re happy to provide expanded opportunities in these areas of the state that require longer seasons to bring deer numbers closer to our population goals,” Roe said. “And as long as hunters make sure they’re up to speed on the existing regulations, I’m sure these late seasons will be a reward for many.”

Winter Pheasant Releases Underway Statewide in PA

Stocking in some areas will be delayed by avian cholera outbreak affecting 2,400 birds.

          Friday December 20th marked the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s last scheduled pheasant stockings of the season, but some lands that were scheduled to be stocked will wait a few weeks longer for their pheasants. 

          An outbreak of avian cholera was detected in a pen last week at the Game Commission’s Loyalsock Game Farm, and about 2,400 pheasants that were to be released Friday now won’t be released until their medical treatments have concluded.

That means hunters in several areas will have to wait a bit longer for the final stocking of the year.

          All stockings to be postponed are in Wildlife Management Units where either-sex pheasant hunting regulations are in place. Affected counties, by region, include:

          Northcentral Region: Clearfield County; Southcentral Region: Cumberland and Franklin counties; Northeast Region: Carbon and Monroe counties; and Southeast Region: Berks, Bucks, Chester, Lehigh and Montgomery counties. 

Avian cholera is a bacterial infection that is contagious among birds and can affect other animals, but typically presents no human health risk. 

          The birds that will be released at a delayed date are undergoing antibiotic treatment that will last 10 to 14 days. They then must be given seven days to withdraw from the medicines before being released.

          The birds will be released at a date to be announced in the future.

          These 2,400 pheasants from the Loyalsock Game Farm represent only a portion of those that had been scheduled for release Friday.

          Nearly 9,000 pheasants remain scheduled for release this week. The Game Commission’s game farms have been having an above-average production year. The goal of releasing 200,000 pheasants has been surpassed, and more than 209,000 have been released so far this year.

          For more information on pheasant stocking, visit the Game Commission’s website, The “Pheasant” page can be found can be found in the “Small Game” under the “Hunting” tab. Click on “Pheasant Allocation” to see a schedule broken down by region. Regional schedules can also be accessed through this page.

Late-season pheasant hunting opened statewide Dec. 16. Only males may be harvested in some WMUs, while other WMUs are open to males or females. For local regulations, consult the 2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest. The upcoming winter-season release is designed to release excess hens into WMUs that have either-sex hunting areas.

          Pheasant season is closed on Christmas Day, but otherwise runs until Feb. 22

Sunday, December 15, 2013

2014 Winter Trap League Schedule Is Announced!

Fight the Winter blues by coming out for the Winter trap league every Sunday starting January 5th 2014.  

This league rotates between Frazer Sportsman, West View Sportsmen and Bull Creek Rod and Gun Club. Sign-ups are from 10:00AM to 3:00PM.  League fee is $10.00 per week to shoot 50 targets from 16 yards.  Practice is $7.00 and and junior shooters (under 18) are $7.00! To be eligible for the banquet you must make 9 of 12 shoots. The top 7 scores will be counted each week.

January 5th at Frazier
January 12th at West View
January 19th at Bull Creek
January 26th at Frazier
February 2nd at West View (Super Bowl)
February 9th at Bull Creek
February 16th at Frazer
February 23rd at West View
March 2nd at Bull Creek
March 9th at Frazer
March 16th at West View
March 23rd at Bull Creek
March 29th (Saturday) Banquet at Bull Creek

Pennsylvania Hunters Could Cash In On Coyotes

By Brad Pedersen Pittsburgh Tribune Review

A coyote photographed in Pennsylvania by
Randy Quinn of Armstrong County
Pending legislation could make controlling the coyote population lucrative for hunters across Pennsylvania.

The State House approved a bill on Wednesday in a 111-78 vote, which would allow the Pennsylvania Game Commission to place a $25 bounty on coyotes. The bill proposes to use $700,000 for coyote control, meaning the state could pay bounties for up to 28,000 coyotes per year.

The bill needs to be approved by the State Senate before it becomes a law. The senate reconvenes on Jan. 7.

If it gets approval from the Senate, the Pennsylvania Game Commission plans to conduct a study on the state's coyote population and complaints, to determine if a bounty is necessary, according to game commission press secretary Travis Lau.

“Right now, the Game Commission's stance is we need to wait and see what happens in the Senate,” Lau said.

The game commission does not keep estimates on the coyote population in Pennsylvania, but loosely bases the number of animals on game surveys and harvest reports, Lau said.
According to a report from the Game Commission, the number of coyotes harvested across Pennsylvania quadrupled from 10,160 in 2000 to 40,109 in 2012.

Cliff Chestnut, a local hunter and hunter safety course instructor from North Buffalo, said although coyotes have taken residence in Armstrong County, the region is not overrun with them.

Although he has never gone hunting for coyotes specifically, Chestnut said he has encountered the animals in the wild.

“Most hunters, especially archers, see them out around October,” Chestnut said. “In certain areas, there are a lot of coyotes, but I don't think Armstrong County has a problem with them.
“Even with a bounty, I don't think you'll ever eradicate the coyotes here. They have a foothold.”
The Game Commission's last bounty program was in the 1950s, in an attempt to control the state's red fox population, Lau said.

“Historically, bounties were used in Pennsylvania for wolves, cougars, the red fox and predators,” Lau said. “The bounties are meant to thin the population of predators, hunters blamed for killing too many game animals or that generated a safety concern or general fear for the public.”

Hunters can harvest coyotes all year, as long as they have a general hunting license, Lau said.
The Game Commission limits coyote hunting during the rifle deer hunting season, Lau said. Although it permits hunters to hunt coyote, they must also have a deer-hunting license, he said.
“We do it as a way to keep people from deer hunting without a license,” Lau said.
Today (Saturday) marks the final day of rifle deer hunting season, he added.

The Game Commission regulates coyote trapping by setting a statewide trapping season from Oct. 27 to Feb. 23, Lau said. Trappers using a cable restraint trap can begin coyote trapping on Dec. 26, he added.

“The harvest is high, so people are going out there to find and hunt coyotes,” Lau said. “Coyotes can be elusive and a true challenge to find and hunt because they do a lot of their moving at night, when they're harder to see.”

Chestnut said a $700,000 per year allotment for coyote bounties may be too steep. Instead, he said the game commission could explore other ways to spend the money.

In addition, coyote pelts sell for $75 to $100 each, depending upon the fur market, which is more than the bounty program could offer, Chestnut said.

“Wherever you see deer populations, you'll probably find coyotes,” Chestnut said. “It's a beautiful animal, but I think around here, we have them under control, and they're not a problem.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. 

Between the fall and spring runs, winter weather adds few new angles to steelhead angling

By John Hayes / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Steelhead guide Mark DeFrank banks one in winter
When gale force winds whip the snowfall horizontally and ice separates you from the steelhead, you don't want to be fishing.

But while Erie winters can be notoriously cold, they can also be fickle. As temperatures fall and rise, a dangerously cold storm and ice-over that virtually denies all stream access can in a matter of days thaw to a 40-degree sustained snow melt and good fishing.

Between the fall and spring runs, winter steelhead fishing can be productive and safe, giving savvy anglers hours of time alone on the water.

Safety first. Slip and fall into ice cold water on a windy day and a long walk from the car and hypothermia is a real possibility. Steelhead fishing is to die for, but it's not worth dying for. Use good judgment; be careful out there.

Like all salmonoids, the steelhead trout prefers cool oxygen-rich water, and like you, it's not happy when the water turns crazy cold. By this time of year, most of the fall runs have slowed to a virtual stop -- fresh silver bullets nosing around the creek mouths have turned back for the more comfortable depths of the lake.

When the creeks ice over, many of the running steelhead return to the lake, while some big browns and steelhead winter over in the deepest pools. They can be catchable even when the water temperature dips into the 30s, but they're lethargic -- none of those porpoising, tail-walking, muscular fights for which the fish is famous.

"Most of the fish you're going to catch now are darker, older and mostly males," said Mark DeFrank of Uniontown, a Pennsylvania and Ohio steelhead guide and 2010 Pennsylvania State Fly Tying Championship winner. "The hens will drop back into the lake, but those big males hang around waiting to find new females. They'll winter over in the deep pools. But when that ice rips loose and you get ice jams, a lot of those fish get killed."

Despite the stresses, dangers and biological challenges of the spawning run, few steelhead lay eggs that hatch in Pennsylvania's silt- or shale-bottomed waters, hence the need for stocking.
"Some of those hens won't even drop the eggs," said DeFrank. "They can reabsorb the eggs back into the body before dropping them."

In his "younger, stupid days," said DeFrank, he'd punch holes in the ice to get at the steelhead, or even break up drifting ice sheets across the bottom of a pool until most of pool was open.
"But it's not worth it," he said. "When it's that cold, even if you eliminate the ice, you still have slush -- you can't get your line through that -- and the eyes on your rod keep freezing up."

In those conditions, find a spot where an incoming spring keeps the water from freezing over, or go to Sixteenmile Creek where outflow from a water treatment plant usually keeps much of the creek open.

"A lot of times, if you wait around until 10 a.m. to noon, a lot of that slush and skim ice will burn off," said DeFrank. "It gets a little warmer and you have the stream to yourself."

DeFrank often fishes the bigger, deeper steelhead waters of Ohio that often stay open longer than Pennsylvania's creeks.

When the water is very cold, presentations that require a fast attack from the slow-moving cold-blooded fish generally won't work. If you're spin fishing with spoons and flatheads, or swinging flies with a fly rod, slow your retrieve to a crawl.

"They're less likely to chase down a fly," said DeFrank. "You almost have to get it right in their nose."

In cold weather, smaller is better.

"A lot of guys say, 'Go small for winter.' If you're matching the hatch, this time of year all the nymphs are small -- they grow larger to adult size in the spring," he said
Size 12 hooks are good; in muddy water DeFrank goes as large as 10 or 8.

Winter bait anglers can be successful using jigs or Mini Foos tipped with maggots, or bait sacks with floats.

"For those big brown trout -- a single egg. It's deadly," he said. "Set it up so the only part of the hook showing is the eye. Thread the hook in, twist it and bring it back through so the hook isn't showing."

With less angler pressure in winter, steelhead may be a less antsy but just as line shy. No changes in tippet size are required.

By the end of February or beginning of March, the ice jams have abated and steelhead waters begin to reopen. Although strays stocked in Ohio and New York can enter Pennsylvania tributaries, steelhead stocked in this state tend to run in larger numbers in the fall. The spring runs, however, generally attract fewer but bigger fish.

Friday, December 13, 2013

PA Game Commission Urges Participation In Christmas Bird Count

Volunteers sought for annual citizen-science survey.

Pennsylvania Game Commission officials are urging wildlife enthusiasts to join the tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the United States in the Audubon Society’s 114th Annual Christmas Bird Count, which will take place Dec. 14 through Jan. 5.
The Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running citizen-science survey in the world, and the data collected through the count allows researchers, conservation biologists, and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America.
Local counts will occur on one day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. Volunteers can pick the most convenient circle, or participate in more than one count. There is a specific methodology to the CBC, but everyone can participate. The count takes place within “Count Circles,” which focus on specific geographical areas. Each circle is led by a “Count Compiler,” who is an experienced birdwatcher, enabling beginning birders to learn while they assist.
Those who live within the boundaries of a Count Circle can even stay at home and report the birds that visit their backyard feeders.
In either case, the first step is to locate a Count Circle that’s seeking participants and contact the local Count Compiler on Audubon’s website,, to find out how you can volunteer.
There is no longer a fee to participate in the Christmas Bird Count.
Dan Brauning, who heads up the Game Commission’s wildlife diversity division, said the Christmas Bird Count makes an indispensible contribution to conservation because it monitors bird species that spend winters in Pennsylvania.
“Some of these species are much easier to count or monitor in winter because their breeding ground is so far north in areas where there are few people or roads to give access to habitat,” Brauning said.
The rusty blackbird, for instance, migrates from the boreal taiga forests of Canada and Alaska to the southeastern United States in winter, Brauning said. Pennsylvania is on the northern edge of its winter range, and it sometimes turns up in the Christmas Bird Count, he said.
Hawks also are more easily counted in winter, Brauning said.
Brauning said the Christmas Bird Count is a good way to introduce beginners to bird identification. It is much easier in winter to find birds through your binoculars, he said.

“Birds are easier to spot because the trees lack the leaves that hide birds from your eyes in spring and summer,” Brauning said. “And there are fewer bird species around in winter than at other times of year, so it is easier to learn bird species identification. In fact, many birders got started in this hobby in winter in a car with more experienced birders on a Christmas count.”

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Pennsylvania Merger Study and Crazy Rules

By Bob Frye, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

The latest study into whether it makes sense to merge the Pennsylvania Game and Fish and Boat commissions is nearly done.

Its public unveiling is still a ways off.

Phil Durgin, executive director of the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, which did the study, said the several-hundred-page document has been given to both commissions for their review. A final version reflective of their comments should be done before Christmas.

It likely will be released to the public in a hearing January at the Capital in Harrisburg, he said.

Durgin would not reveal what the study found. It sounds, though, as if the report will suggest a merger wouldn't bring about huge savings.

Those favoring a merger over the years have suggested it would eliminate duplicate jobs. They point to the fact Pennsylvania is the only state with separate game and fish commissions.

This study, though — like nearly identical ones in 1989 and 2003 — called for maintaining revenues in separate accounts even in a merged agency, Durgin said. Hunting license dollars would go into a game fund, to be spent on wildlife, he said. Fishing license revenues would go into a fish fund, while boating revenues would go to a boating fund. Under that scenario, personnel, programs and activities only could come from specific funds, he said.

That's a real limiting factor, Durgin said.

“If you're going to maintain separate funds for fishing and boating and game, that really cuts down on your efficiencies,” Durgin said.

Still, the report will not offer a recommendation one way.

“We'll just lay out the facts,” Durgin said. “This will just say what would be achievable if a merger were to happen.”

The study will have cost taxpayers between $110,000 and $120,000 by the time it's done, he said.

California gets lead out

The Game and Fish and Boat commissions are not in favor of a merger.
But, no matter what happens, they can take solace in knowing they're not in California.
Recently, state lawmakers approved and Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law legislation that makes California the first state to have banned the use of lead ammunition.
Those who pushed the idea said it will protect condors.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Deer season finally arrives in Pennsylvania

By Bob Frye

Pennsylvania's orange army is about to make its annual invasion.

Monday is opening day of the state's firearms deer season, the busiest hunting day of the year. About 750,000 licensed hunters will disperse across the countryside hoping to bring home a whitetail.

That's more people with guns than you would find if you dropped the German, British, French and Canadian militaries into the Keystone State all at once.

As always, the run-up to the opener has been busy.

“It hasn't stopped for two weeks,” said D.J. Casto, manager at Woodlands World, a sporting goods store in Uniontown. “They've been buying guns, licenses, anything to do with hunting.”
Carl Roe, executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, predicted “tens of thousands of lasting memories will be made in the hours, days and weeks that follow” opening day.

Only a portion of those will involve killing a deer, or more particularly, a monster buck.
Deer populations are stable or increasing across most of the state, said Chris Rosenberry, supervisor of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's deer section.

But fewer than two of every 10 hunters — about 18 percent — will kill a buck, based on statistics from the last two seasons. Far fewer will kill a buck worthy of the record books.
Those deer are out there, though.

The Boone & Crockett Club, the official repository of big game records in North America, recently published its “28th Big Game Awards, 2010-2012” book. It lists all of the records certified in that three-year period. There were 4,921, counting species from whitetails to black bears to pronghorn antelope to elk.

Pennsylvania put 18 whitetails in the book during that time, 15 sporting typical racks and three with non-typical, said spokesman Steve Wagner. Only 14 states did better.

Thirty-nine typical whitetails qualified for the Game Commission's own, less rigorous, record book last year alone.

Figuring out when and where you might find one of those big-racked bruisers is the trick.
Some assuredly will fall on opening day. That's a reflection of just how much of the total harvest occurs then.

In wildlife management unit 2F in northwestern Pennsylvania, 62 percent of the bucks that ultimately will be taken there will be harvested Monday, said Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau. No other unit gives up a bigger proportion that early.

Every unit in the state but one, that surrounding Philadelphia, will surrender at least 41 percent of its bucks on opening day. Fifty-nine percent will be taken in unit 1B, 55 percent in 2D and 49 percent in 2C.

Still, there's no need to give up if you don't get yours right away. The state's record book shows hunters continue to find big bucks as long as the season goes, said Bob D'Angelo, big game scoring program coordinator for the commission.

“It's impossible to say for sure without going through every score sheet … but just from my experience of measuring hundreds of deer racks, trophy deer are killed throughout the season,” D'Angelo said.

Big bucks come from all over. The 18 that made Boone & Crockett's most recent list came from 15 counties.

The 39 bucks that made the state record book last year came from 24 counties.
To narrow things down, look for food sources.

Food always concentrates deer, and that's especially true when supplies are scarce. That seems to be the case in many places this year, according to reports.

Acorns are generally spotty statewide this year, said David Gustafson, the commission's chief forester. A late spring frost this year that impacted white oaks and chestnut oaks and a cold and wet spring last year that impacted red oaks — which take two years to produce — are to blame, he said.

If you can find the places where food supplies are relatively abundant, though, the deer should be there, Gustafson said.

Doug Bergman, one of the commission's wildlife conservation officers in Fayette County, said he has seen varying levels of deer in his travels.

They can be hard to see in the part of his district within wildlife management unit 2C, he said. It's mountainous and woody.

The part of his district within unit 2A offers comparatively easier living, so “I would say the deer numbers there are pretty good still,” Bergman said.

Armstrong County has its share of deer if not more, said Rod Burns, a conservation officer there.

“I think we're absolutely infested with deer,” Burns said. “As far as the largest bucks, I'm seeing a lot of bucks, but none that I'd call exceptionally large trophy-class animals. Well, I shouldn't say none. I've seen some that would be mountable deer.

“But I've been seeing a more smaller bucks, if legal ones, than larger ones, though I'm sure they're out there.”

For now, every hunter still is looking for a deer, and all can dream, Roe said.
“Considering deer and hunter numbers both are good, the pieces are in place for a great season,” Roe said.

The season

• The statewide general firearms deer season runs Dec. 2 to Dec. 14. Hunters are limited to shooting bucks only from Monday through Friday in units 2A, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3B, 3C, 4B, 4D and 4E. Antlerless deer become fair game in those units starting Saturday. Hunters can shoot a buck or doe throughout the season in all other units.

• Hunters with a deer management assistance program, or DMAP, tag can harvest a doe on the specific property their tag is good for at any time throughout the two-week season in all units.

• Antler restrictions remain in place. Across most of the state, hunters can shoot any buck that has three points on one side, with the brow tine counting as one of the points. In units 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B and 2D, however, a buck must have three points not counting a brow tine to be legal.

• All hunters must wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on their head, chest and back combined. An orange hat and vest will satisfy the requirement.

• Hunters who kill a deer must tag it before removing it from the woods and report it to the Game Commission within 10 days via mail, online at or by phone at 1-855-724-8681.