Sunday, September 28, 2014

Studies detail buck behavior

By Bob Frye 

Andy Olson sits with one of the mature bucks he captured
and radio collared in Elk County for a study looking at how
deer relate to Pennsylvania habitat.
Every deer hunter has had the same dream at some point.

They want to go into the woods and come out with a deer. But not just any deer. They want a big one with the kind of rack that makes the people who put together outdoor magazine covers drool.

What are the chances of pulling it off? Well, on the eve of Pennsylvania's archery season — it opens statewide Saturday — there's good news and bad news, based on two recent studies.

One was done of mature bucks within Pennsylvania. It gave some strong clues as to where you might find big bucks at certain times of year and how vulnerable they are when focused on breeding.

On the other hand, another study, done in South Carolina, suggests bucks — big and small — become increasingly hard to hunt with even the slightest hunting pressure.

The Pennsylvania study was done by Andy Olson of St. Marys as a University of Georgia graduate student.

He put GPS collars on 19 mature bucks — those at least 312 years old — on a 7,000-acre tract of private property bordered by state game lands in northcentral Pennsylvania. He then tracked their movements. The collars provided locations for each deer on the hour in spring and summer and every 15 minutes during the hunting season, from October through December.

Olson's goal was to see how and where the deer moved in relation to habitat. That has been studied in a few other states before but never in the continuous hardwoods of Pennsylvania, he said.
It turns out big Keystone State bucks cover a lot of ground.

“What I found is that the average home range throughout the year is about 1,000 acres. I think it's larger than people really realize. It's larger than I thought,” Olson said.

They don't use that almost 2-square-mile area equally at all times of year, however. Their core areas were much smaller.

But bucks actually move more and cover more ground in fall than at any other time of year, he said. Food and females accounted for where they were likely to be.

The same bucks that frequented food plots and forest openings in spring and summer shifted to areas of mature hardwoods to feed on acorns starting in September, Olson said.
Later, during the rut — which Olson defined as the month of November — bucks are likely to wind up anywhere, he said. One walked 4 miles outside his home range, going up and down hills, then turned around and came back all in one day.

That was extreme, Olson said. Most bucks stayed within their home range even when seeking does to breed. But they move around a lot within that territory, he said.

“One thing I did notice, which was really cool, came from looking at movement in the rut versus pre-rut. Bucks moved up to eight times as much in daylight during the rut as before,” Olson said.

“So as a hunter, come November, if you can stay out there, you're going to increase your chances of seeing a mature buck by eight times.”
After the rut, bucks went back to food sources, he said.

The South Carolina study, meanwhile, showed that adding hunters to the landscape impacts deer movements greatly. It was done by Clint McCoy, then a graduate student at Auburn and now a deer biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

McCoy also put GPS collars on bucks from 112 to 412 years old. The collars recorded locations every 30 minutes.

The study area was privately owned, intensively managed for wildlife — with food plots and feeders — and limited to hunting by invited guests. Those hunters typically were driven close enough to their designated stands that they never had to walk more than 20 yards through the woods.

“So there wasn't much pressure, at least in the way you or I would think of hunting pressure elsewhere,” McCoy said.
Yet bucks proved very sensitive.

McCoy drew what he called a “harvest zone” around each of the established hunting stands.
He then examined how the number of hours a hunter spent on stand impacted the likelihood a deer would enter that zone during daylight hours and how that changed over time.

McCoy found that bucks learned to avoid those areas more and more as the season progressed. They were four times less likely to wander into a harvest zone by the end of the season than they were at the beginning.

Young bucks proved just as wary as did older — supposedly “wiser” — ones.

“Age was not a factor. It had no bearing on their likelihood to enter those zones, which was a surprise to us and probably will be to a lot of hunters,” McCoy said.

His study also showed bucks are slow to come back to a spot that has had a hunter. They exhibited “avoidance behavior” for up to three days after a stand was hunted, he said. It's wasn't until six days after a stand was hunted that deer again were attracted to that location.
Hunters would be wise to keep that in mind and perhaps rest a hunting stand periodically, he suggested.

“Trail cameras can be your worst enemy in that regard. You see a picture of that big buck, and you know he's there. You think, if I just sit in my stand long enough, maybe I'll see him,” McCoy said.

“Our research suggests that's maybe not the case.”

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ticks reduce moose population in northern states

By The Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine — Sportsmen hoping to bag a big moose are seeing increased competition from a tiny parasite that's cutting down moose populations in New England and across parts of the northern United States, prompting some states to offer hunters fewer permits or halt hunting altogether.

Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont are all issuing fewer moose hunting permits this year, citing the impact of winter ticks on their moose populations. In Minnesota, where ticks are among several factors that have cut the population by more than half in less than a decade, there will be no moose hunting season at all.

Thousands of ticks are sometimes found on a moose, and the parasites can bleed the animals and cause anemia and death.

“It's really that they bleed them dry,” said Lee Kantar, Maine's moose biologist.

Maine's moose season kicks off Monday, but the state is coming off a peak year for winter ticks, which have helped reduce the moose herd from 76,000 in 2012 to between 65,000 and 70,000, state officials said.

Maine reduced its number of moose permits from 4,110 in 2013 to 3,095 this year for a season in which more than 50,000 people, a typical number, applied for a permit. New Hampshire officials issued 124 permits — fewer than half of the 275 awarded in recent years — for the state's October season in the face of a decline in moose population from 7,600 in 1996 to about 4,400 now.

In Vermont, the moose population is estimated around 2,500, below the state's ideal range of 3,000 to 5,000. The state's moose herd topped out in 2008, when the state issued 1,255 hunting permits. This year it has issued 285, 70 fewer than a year ago, for its October hunt.

Minnesota's moose population, which suffers from predators and disease, has plummeted from 8,840 in 2006 to 2,760, according to state data. The state suspended hunting last year and is in the midst of a multi-year research initiative into possible methods to slow the decline.

The ticks occur in all North American moose populations except Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Alaska and far northern Canada, said Alberta-based biologist Bill Samuel, who added that the ticks are the “most important external pest of moose in North America.”
Many biologists tie the surge in tick-related moose deaths at least in part to warmer temperatures. Warm fall temperatures and early spring snowmelt improves conditions for winter ticks to thrive, biologists say. Samuel said more ticks survive to lay eggs when the early spring temperature is warm and the ground snow-free.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bull Creek's Fall Gun Bash A Big Success!

A special thanks to all who turned out for Bull Creek's annual Fall gun bash.  Over 500 in attendance enjoying the food and fun!!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

PA Game Commission To Host Tours

Game farm tours set for Sept. 28, game lands driving tours to follow.

Those looking to gain perspective into Pennsylvania’s wildlife, habitat and hunting heritage will have several opportunities in the coming weeks to take one or more tours being offered by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

          The Game Commission on Sunday, Sept. 28 is scheduled to host guided tours of its four game farms – two in Lycoming County and one each in Armstrong and Crawford counties.

          And Sunday driving tours on several tracts of state game lands across the Commonwealth are planned for Oct. 5 and Oct. 19. 

          The Sept. 28 game farm tours all will begin at noon and conclude by 3 p.m., and will be held rain or shine. 

          Those taking a tour will get a comprehensive look at the Game Commission’s pheasant propagation program, which again this year aims to raise about 200,000 birds to provide hunting opportunities statewide. Tour stops include hatcheries, brooder houses and the rearing, “grow out” and over-wintering pens. The tours also will inform on the objectives in propagation management, including the importance of sportsmen’s clubs and members of the public raising day-old hen chicks hatched at the farms, ultimately to provide hunting opportunities.

          The tours of state game lands provide an opportunity to talk to the personnel directly responsible for managing and protecting game lands, and four-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended for those taking driving tours on some tracts.

          Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said the tours provide an opportunity to show the public the many things being accomplished for wildlife and for Pennsylvania’s hunters.

          The state game lands system provides hunting and trapping opportunities on more than 1.4 million acres statewide, and many game lands tracts are stocked annually with pheasants raised through the propagation program.

          “We are exceptionally proud of our state game lands and our pheasant propagation program, and these tours provide an ideal setting for our staff to interact with the public and show them the many reasons why we’re so proud of these initiatives,” Hough said.

          With autumn nearly here, Hough said, the tours should provide a splash of color and some of the best scenery the Commonwealth has to offer.

          The state game lands system has a long history in Pennsylvania. The Game Commission in 1919 was granted authority to purchase lands for the protection, propagation and management of wildlife, and provide areas for public hunting and trapping. Today, tracts of state game lands exist in all but Philadelphia and Delaware counties. Collectively, game lands make up a land base greater in size than the state of Delaware.

          With few exceptions, state game lands were purchased using revenues from hunting and furtaker license sales; state game lands timber, coal, oil, gas and mineral operation revenues; the state’s share of the federal excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition, known as the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Program; from Working Together for Wildlife artwork and patch sales; and from the Pennsylvania Waterfowl Management stamp and print sales.

          Information on the tours is as follows:

All to be held on Sunday, Sept. 28, from noon to 3 p.m. Directions to the game farms are as follows:

·        Loyalsock Game Farm: Lycoming County, 136 Game Farm Rd., Montoursville, PA 17754. The game farm is five miles north of Montoursville on Route 87.  The game farm is 1.5 miles east of Warrensville on Route 973. Tour starts at the hatchery.

·        Northcentral Game Farm: Lycoming County, 1609 Proctor Rd., Williamsport, PA  17701. The game farm is 18 miles north of Montoursville off of Route 87. Tour starts at the hatchery of the Proctor (northern) farm.

·        Western Game Farm: Crawford County, 25761 Highway 408, Cambridge Springs, PA 16403. The game farm is 3.5 miles east of Cambridge Springs on Route 408. Tour starts at the office/hatchery.

·        Southwest Game Farm: Armstrong County, 217 Pheasant Farm Rd., New Bethlehem, PA 16242.  The game farm is two miles south of New Bethlehem off Routes 66/28. Tour starts at the office/hatchery.


·        Berks and Schuykill counties: Sunday, Oct. 19, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. A vehicle tour of State Game Lands 110, which encompasses nearly 10,150 acres of historical, scenic and recreational property. The nine-mile trip will begin at the agency’s parking lot on Mountain Road, midway between the Shartlesville exit of Interstate 78 and Route 61. The tour will exit onto Route 183, north of Strausstown. Game Commission officers will be on hand to answer questions relating to Game Commission programs and activities. Also please note that due to the previously announced construction project on Ellendale Forge Road, the State Game Lands 211 tour will not be held this year. State Game Lands 211 is in Dauphin and Lebanon counties.

·        Bradford County:  Sunday, Oct. 5, State Game Lands 12, from 10:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. (rain or shine). This is a 28-mile, self-guided, circular driving tour through State Game Lands 12, and will take about two hours to complete. State Game Lands 12 consists of nearly 24,480 acres in Bradford County. The route will start at the game lands parking lot on top of Wheelerville Mountain on state Route 154, just south of Canton, Bradford County. Roads are passable for most vehicles, four-wheel drive is not needed but a good ground clearance is advised. The route travels east to the Barclay Cemetery, then down the hill to Laquin before turning west onto the railroad grade to Wheelerville. The tour ends at the intersection with state Route 154 in Wheelerville. From there, those on the tour can travel north on state Route 154 to Canton, or south to Shunk in Sullivan County. The tour goes by Sunfish Pond County Park so a picnic lunch may be the order of the day! Those taking the tour are sure to find the local history of the mountain and the Game Commission’s refuge system is intriguing. A pocket guide full of historical information and photographs will be provided to each vehicle at the start of the tour. 

·        Cambria County: Sunday, Oct. 19, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., State Game Lands 108, consisting of 23,086 acres. This 7.5-mile, self-guided, one-way, driving tour will highlight mountainous terrain and fall foliage on the Allegheny front. Items of interest along the tour route include a rehabilitated strip-mined area, which has been converted to small-game habitat. The area also serves as a study area for grassland nesting birds, including the Henslow’s sparrow, a grassland species of special concern. Northern harriers and endangered short-eared owls also inhabit the study area. Also highlighted are tree and shrub identification, wildlife habitat food plots and a deer exclosure fence. Each tour participant will be provided a brochure with directions and information about features along the tour route. The tour begins at the game lands access road three-tenths of a mile north of Frugality, along state Route 53, in White Township. Watch for the sign. The tour will conclude on state Route 865, near Blandburg in Reade Township. Game Commission land management, forestry, wildlife management, and law enforcement personnel will be on hand to explain the various habitat improvement projects on this state game lands, and to answer questions.

·        Carbon County: Sunday, Oct. 5, State Game Lands 141, which consists of nearly 17,048 acres.  Registration will be held from 8 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. at the large parking lot along state Route 93 on State Game Lands 141, Nesquehoning Township. Game Commission personnel will be on hand to explain various points of interest, including wildlife habitat-improvement projects. Four-wheel-drive vehicles with high clearance are recommended for this 9-mile, self-guided driving tour.  The tour will begin at the large parking area on the east side state Route 93 and travels east on a game lands road toward the Lehigh Gorge State Park, and back to state Route 93, exiting at the parking lot across from the game lands shooting range. The tour will pass habitat-improvement projects completed by the game lands Food and Cover Corps crew located in Carbon County, along with the National Wild Turkey Federation, The Nature Conservancy, and the Ruffed Grouse Society. Representatives from the Game Commission and conservation organizations will be on hand to explain the projects and answer questions.  Directions: Take state Route 93 north from state Route 209 and proceed 3.5 miles and turn right into the parking lot. Proceed through the gate on a dirt road. Each vehicle will be provided a map and brief explanation of wildlife and habitat management programs being carried out on this magnificent tract of public hunting land.

·        Elk County: Sunday, Oct. 12, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., State Game Lands 311. Start at the state game lands gate at the end of Dewey Road on Winslow Hill. For more information, contact the Game Commission Northcentral Region Office at 570-398-4744.

·        Luzerne and Wyoming counties: Sunday, Oct. 5, State Game Lands 57, which consists of nearly 44,600 acres. Registration to be held from 7:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. at the headquarters building complex on State Game Lands 57, Ricketts Station, Forkston Township, Wyoming County. Game Commission personnel will be on hand to explain various points of interest, including wildlife habitat-improvement projects. Four-wheel-drive vehicles with high clearance are required for this 30-mile, self-guided driving tour.  The tour will pass habitat-improvement projects completed by the State Game Lands 57 Food and Cover Corps crew, along with the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Quality Deer Management Association and Ducks Unlimited. Representatives from the Game Commission and conservation organizations will be on hand to explain the projects and answer questions. Directions: Take state Route 487 north from state Route 118 and proceed 7.5 miles. Turn right onto the dirt road near the game lands sign on the right. Travel 0.1 miles to “Y” intersection and proceed 0.3 miles to the headquarters complex. Each vehicle will be provided a map and brief explanation of wildlife and habitat-management programs being carried out on this magnificent tract of public hunting land.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Handguns Provide Hunters A Challenge

Dan Bowers reaches for the bullets he will use with the
handgun he uses for distance hunting Wednesday,
Aug. 20, 2014, at a shooting range near his house
in Armagh, Indiana County. Bowers has different handguns
 for every situation he would come across while hunting.
By Bob Frye

There's an irony here somewhere.

Dan Bowers' trips to the shooting range and woods sometimes can be “quite the production.” You're liable to see sandbags, rangefinders, wind meters and the occasional surveyor's tripod.

It's a lot of stuff, some of it large and bulky, almost cumbersome.
Then he pulls out his guns.

It wouldn't be fair to call them tiny or doubt their lethality. But they are among the smallest tools on these expeditions.

Bowers of Armagh, Indiana County, hunts exclusively with handguns.

“I used to really be big into archery, hunting and shooting competitively, but I'd taken it about as far as I could. I'd taken a hobby and turned it into a job that wasn't fun anymore. And picking up a rifle wasn't too appealing to me. It seemed too easy,” Bowers said. “So I've been handgun hunting ever since.”

Bowers estimates he's killed between 30 and 50 Pennsylvania whitetails over the last 17 years as well as everything from squirrels and rabbits to turkeys and antelope.

That kind of success doesn't surprise Gary Smith, the Austin, Texas-based editor of the online Handgun Hunter Magazine. He, too, hunts entirely with handguns. Over the last 35 years, he has taken everything from whitetails in his native Virginia to, this past year, Cape buffalo and a lioness in South Africa.

It's not a gimmick, he said.

“A lot of people, even a lot of hunters in the United States and some people in game departments, they don't understand what handgun hunting is and what these guns are capable of. But there's nothing that a handgun that's been set up correctly for hunting can't handle, from elephants right on down,” Smith said.

Bowers hunts with single-shot bolt-action handguns like the Remington XP 100, Thompson-Center Contender and the Competitor Corp. pistol. All come chambered in flat-shooting rifle calibers.

Smith prefers revolvers. He hunts with Freedom Arms wheelguns in mammoth calibers like .44 Magnum, .454 Casull and .475.

The two agree on one thing, though: To be a successful handgun hunter, you have to commit to practicing.

A single-shot handgun with a scope can “shoot half-inch groups at 100 yards all day,” Smith said. Even a good revolver with open sights can be effective out to 75 yards or so.

But you've got to make sure your abilities match the gun's, he said.

“If you think you can go out there and buy a box of shells and go to the range and shoot a few of those and be good to go, I can tell you that you're not,” Smith said.

Range time with the gun and ammunition you'll be using afield is the best practice, Bowers said. Practicing at home has its place, too, though.

Firing an unloaded gun — triple-checked to be sure it contains no live rounds — or one containing snap caps at things like light switches will teach you about grip tension, trigger squeeze and sight acquisition, he said.

Hunting small game with a .22 comparable in size, shape and action to your big-game handgun, meanwhile, teaches you about real-world conditions, he said.

All that practice will help you with “wiggle,” Smith said. That's the wobble you'll notice when trying to hold a handgun sight on target.

“Your sight picture will never be as steady as with a rifle. Some guys can never overcome that,” Smith said.

That's why it's imperative to always have a rest of some kind, be that a tree to lean against or a shooting stick you carry with you, he added.

Even then, to be ethical, you have to understand your limitations and live within those boundaries, Bowers said. Handgunning is much like bowhunting that way, he said.

“It's about truly assessing your practical range and waiting for game to get within that range. If you're only confident with putting your shots into a 6-inch circle at 40 yards, you have to wait for that animal to get within 40 yards. If it's 60 yards away, you have to let it walk,” Bowers said.

That might make handgun hunting sound tough, and it can be, Smith said. That's why so many people try it only hesitantly. They take a handgun into the woods but carry a rifle, too. In the end, they never kill anything with their handgun because — at the moment of truth — they fall back on the rifle, Smith said.

The moment you commit to leaving the long gun at home is when you become a real handgun hunter, and that's special, he said.

“It's something different,” Bowers agreed. “If you're a sportsman, and you're getting bored with what you're doing, it's a new challenge to take up.”

Handgun hunting rules

There are about 13.7 million hunters in the United States, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's last count, in 2011. Some estimates suggest about 1.4 million hunt with a handgun at least on occasion, said Handgun Hunter Magazine editor Gary Smith.

The rules for their use vary by region.

New York, for example, limits handgun hunting to state residents. Delaware will let anyone hunt with a handgun but only for white-tailed deer.

Handgunners get their own season, though.

It attracts about 12 percent of the state's deer hunters, said Joe Rogerson, a biologist with the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife.

In Pennsylvania, hunters must be at least 21 to hunt with a handgun and obtain either a sportsman's permit from a county treasurer or a concealed carry permit from a county sheriff. Most hunters opt for the latter because of the extra privileges it provides, Indiana County sheriff Robert Fyock said.
Beyond that, hunters can use handguns — revolvers and single shots but not semiautomatics — in existing hunting seasons, said Pennsylvania Game Commission press secretary Travis Lau. They must be sufficiently large to do the job, however.

“That handgun isn't necessarily restricted for hunting a certain species so much as the handgun has to be of a high enough caliber for that species,” Lau said.

Modern handguns for big game must be at least .45 caliber; muzzleloader handguns must be least .50 caliber, he said. Hunters can use things like .22-caliber handguns for small game.

The commission does not track handgun use or harvest, so there's no telling how many sportsmen use them in Pennsylvania or how much game they take, Lau said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.