Sunday, November 30, 2014

21st Century Has Become Golden Era For Big Game Trophy Bucks

By Bob Frye

The numbers tell the tale: the 21st century has been a historically great time to be a big buck hunter.

The Boone and Crockett Club has tracked big game trophies since 1830. Its record book includes 14,042 whitetails.

It took 185 years, from 1830 to 1999, for hunters to take the first 6,883 of those. That's 49 percent of the total. It's taken them less than 15 years to add the remaining 7,159, or 51 percent.

“It's 100 percent true, the years since 2000 or so have been the golden age of white-tailed deer,” said Justin Spring, assistant director of big game records for the Boone and Crockett Club.

That's been the case all across the country.

The top five whitetail states, by record book entries — Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Kentucky, respectively — all have seen significant jumps in trophy numbers.

Sixty-four percent of Kentucky's “Booners” have been harvested since 2000. It has been 59 percent in Wisconsin, 57 in Illinois, 48 in Iowa and 33 in Minnesota. Ohio, just outside the top five in total entries, put 70 percent of its bucks in over that time.

Similar things have occurred throughout the Northeast. Pennsylvania, for example, could only claim 86 Boone and Crockett bucks going into this season, but 66 percent of them were killed since 2000. Maryland put 50 percent of its bucks in the book since then, New York 48 percent and West Virginia 43 percent.

Credit for much of that here goes to antler restrictions, said Bob D'Angelo, big game records coordinator for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Before 2002, hunters could shoot any buck with at least one antler measuring 3 inches long.
Now a buck must have either three or four points on one antler to be legal.

That's made a dramatic difference, D'Angelo said.

“Yeah, we've noticed that. Maybe the last 10 years or so for us, the record book numbers have really increased,” he said.

Brian Murphy, executive director of the Quality Deer Management Association, said hunters all over America are letting bucks live longer, whether required to by regulation or not. The days of shooting any deer with antlers “as tall as a pack of cigarettes” are largely gone, he said. That more than anything is behind the surge in record book entries, he said.

“The culture's just changed. It's a very different world,” Murphy said.

The rise in record book bucks also can be credited to the sheer number of deer available and, to a lesser extent, more awareness of the record book, he added.

If there's any cautionary news, it's that the number of record book entries Boone and Crockett received last year was way down.

“2013 was an epic tank. I mean, it was a total fail,” Spring said.

Some areas of the country, even some of the “bread and butter” states of the Upper Midwest, saw an 80 percent decline in the number of big bucks they produced compared to prior years, he said.

That continued a bit of a recent trend. Spring said the number of record book entries, while still running ahead of decades past, has plateaued since about 2010.
There are a lot of theories as to why.

Some blame predators, Spring said. Others point to loss of habitat or habitat degradation.
A couple of really nasty winters might also have played a role.

Disease is another possibility. Outbreaks of EHD, or epizootic hemorrhagic disease, in 2007 and 2012, either of which alone would have represented a once-in-50-years event, killed a lot of deer nationwide, Murphy said.

The result is deer numbers are down from a record high of 32 million a few years ago to about 26 million now.

Spring is “cautiously optimistic” the number of record book entries is climbing again, though, based on applications he's received so far this fall.

He's hopeful last year was “just a blip.”

“My gut is telling me that we're going to have a better year in 2014, but we won't know for sure until March or April, when most of the records we'll get have come in,” he said.

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Allegheny County Buck Could Prove To Be State's Largest Ever Taken

Jeff Lenzi, of Carroll Township, holds the rack from the
giant whitetail he harvested earlier this fall in
Allegheny County. The animal, which he said weighed
302 pounds and had a 27-inch neck, may wind up as
the biggest typical deer ever taken in the state
By Bob Frye

Jeff Lenzi admits he was shaking like he hadn't in quite a few years.

The Carroll Township man was in his tree stand when a large buck — one the landowner nicknamed “Ghost” — walked out of the woods into a meadow. Lenzi looked, then looked again.

The deer was trotting, with its massive rack swaying. Lenzi remembers thinking he never had seen anything like that except on television.

“That's when I thought, ‘Oh, boy.' I started talking to myself, reminding myself to just calm down, to breathe,” Lenzi said.

The deer was a little more than 60 yards away. It seemed as if it were going to pass out of range, so he called on his grunt tube. That stopped the deer instantly.

Lenzi let a bolt fly from his crossbow and the deer went down.

When he found it dead 150 yards later, it was every bit as big as it had seemed.

“When I walked up to it, there was no ground shrinkage at all,” he said. “He was amazing. It's just a beautiful deer.”

And likely a new state record.

Lenzi shot the deer — he won't say where, beyond Allegheny County — on Oct. 10. He scored its typical rack himself, then had four official measurers from the Boone and Crockett Club and Safari Club International do the same.

They came up with the same figure: 1947/8.

That's not final. The rack must go through a 60-day drying period, then be scored again.
It's not uncommon for green-scored deer to “shrink” a bit over that time, so its score could go down a bit, said Bob D'Angelo, big game records coordinator for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, who will give the deer a final score in Harrisburg in early December.

But there's no denying its potential, he added.

Pennsylvania's record typical archery buck was killed in Allegheny County in 2004 by Michael Nicola Sr. of Waterford. It scored 1782/8.

The biggest typical to come out of the state, period, was taken with a firearm in 1943 by Fritz Janowsky in Bradford County. It scored 188.

Barring something unforeseen, Lenzi's buck easily will set the archery mark, and it might top Janowsky's buck, too, D'Angelo said.

“I haven't seen the rack in person yet, and I don't usually like to talk about scores based just on pictures, but it looks like it might score in the low 190s or at the very least the high 180s,” D'Angelo said. “If that score holds, and it looks like it will just from the photo, it's probably got a good chance to be the new No. 1.”

That would put the buck high in Boone and Crockett's all-time record book, too.
There were 8,824 typical whitetails listed going into this fall. The biggest is the famous Milo Hanson buck. Killed in Saskatchewan in 1993, it scored 2135/8. Janowsky's deer ranks 222nd.

If Lenzi's deer scores between 190 and 1947/8, that would rank it no lower than 164th all time and perhaps as high as 60th.

Its rack has 10 main points, all of them long and thick like hickory hammer handles, and a 19-inch spread. Even the brow tines are nearly 10 inches tall.

What really makes it special, though, is its mass, said Lenzi, a taxidermist who sees his share of big deer.

“The girth on this thing is just insane,” he said. “It's just very unique, very heavy.”

Louis Cowger owns the Allegheny County property where Lenzi got his deer. It's posted against trespassing, as are the other properties on three sides of it, and only a few people are allowed to hunt there.

That's produced a lot of big bucks over the years, Cowger said.

“We've always had those kind of deer around. But come hunting season, we often don't see them,” he said.

He's glad Lenzi got “Ghost,” which gained its nickname for its whitish rack and ability to disappear. No one had seen it for weeks before Lenzi shot it.

“People ask me, ‘Aren't you mad he shot that deer instead of you?' But I'm not mad. I'm proud he got it off our land,” Cowger said.

For his part, Lenzi said he'd passed up a number of other legal bucks this fall, letting them walk because they weren't anything he “wanted to end the season with.”

“Then this deer came out, and I wasn't letting it go,” he said. “I knew he was big. But something like that, it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

Deer Season Tradition Awaits

Pennsylvania’s statewide firearms deer season opens Dec. 1.

          The night before often is spent tossing and turning, minds racing excitedly at the possibilities that lie in store.

          The morning begins early, with the coffee pot and breakfast griddle heating up well before the mercury in the thermometer.

          Parents and children choose their attire based on the conditions that prevail outside, always ending up looking alike, right down to the orange hats and vests.  

          And maybe, with just a little luck, one of the monster bucks that dashed through the hunter’s imagination the previous night will appear in all its majesty soon after first light. 

          For hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians, this describes the opening day of the statewide firearms deer season, which now is just 12 days away. 

          With deer populations increasing in some areas of the state, food sources readily available and hunter numbers appearing to be on the rise, the pieces are in place for an exceptional season, said Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough. 

          “Obviously, so much of what makes the firearms deer season and its opening day so special is the tradition behind it,” Hough said. “Families and friends make new memories together, and might relive some of the old ones, during this time. And each year adds a new chapter to those books of memories. 

          “That makes me proud to be a hunter, and proud to be a Pennsylvanian,” Hough said. “And the best news is that the elements are all in place for a standout deer season this year, all across Pennsylvania.”

Statewide season

The statewide general firearms season runs from Dec. 1 to Dec. 13. In many parts of the state, properly licensed hunters may take either antlered or antlerless deer at any time during the season. In other areas, hunters may take only antlered deer during the season’s first five days, with the antlerless and antlered seasons then running concurrently from the first Saturday, Dec. 6 to the season’s close.

Hunters who plan to hunt within Wildlife Management Units 4A and 4C should note there has been a change in the season’s format this year. WMUs 4A and 4C now are among those management units where only antlered deer can be taken from Dec. 1 to Dec. 5.WMU 4A includes parts of Bedford, Fulton, Franklin, Huntingdon and Blair counties. WMU 4C includes parts of Columbia, Luzerne, Carbon, Lehigh, Berks, Schuylkill, Lebanon and Dauphin counties.

Rules regarding the number of points a harvested buck must have on one antler also are different in different parts of the state, and young hunters statewide follow separate guidelines.

For a complete breakdown of regulations and WMU boundaries, consult the 2014-15 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, which is issued to hunters at the time they purchase their licenses. The digest also is available online at the Game Commission’s website,

One very important regulation that applies statewide is the requirement for each hunter to wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on his or her head, chest and back combined. An orange hat and vest will satisfy the requirement. And for safety’s sake, nonhunters who might be afield during the deer season and other hunting seasons might also want to consider wearing orange at this time.

Deer forecast

While deer populations are being tracked as stable or increasing in most of the state, many other factors influence deer hunting, said Chris Rosenberry, who supervises the Game Commission’s deer and elk section.

The availability of food sources in an area plays a role in the deer harvest at a local level, he said.

This has been a banner year for mast crops in much of the state, said Dave Gustafson, the Game Commission’s chief forester.

Production of soft mast crops, such as apples, berries and grapes, is very good this year, Gustafson said.

Meanwhile, he said, the availability of acorns statewide is good to great, with some areas –particularly in southcentral Pennsylvania – reporting bumper crops of red-oak acorns. Chestnut oaks and white oaks also are widely available, Gustafson said.

The southwestern part of the state seems to be the only exception, with the acorn crop there being spotty – abundant in some areas, absent in others, he said.

Some areas of the northcentral region also are reporting good beechnut crops this year, Gustafson said.

“Although not widely distributed, these can be key food sources that are highly desirable for deer, as well as bear,” Gustafson said.

Just what the abundance of mast will mean for deer hunters remains to be seen.

While finding those food sources can be key to hunting success, if food is available everywhere, deer don’t need to move to find it. Rosenberry said that when there is a good acorn crop, deer can become less visible because they might not as regularly frequent fields and forest openings.

What might bode well for hunters this year is their strength in numbers. License sales are trending slightly ahead of their pace from last season, and each year about 750,000 hunters participate in the opening day of deer season.

And the mere presence of hunters increases deer sightings for more hunters overall.
One thing hunters can do to increase their chances of success is to hunt longer into the day, Rosenberry said.

As part of an ongoing project, the Game Commission has placed GPS collars on several deer in different areas to study deer movements and other behaviors. New findings from the ongoing research into deer movements show that the middle of the day holds perhaps the best chances for seeing deer.

“Pack a lunch and stay on stand through lunchtime,” Roseberry advised. “You may have the best lunch date ever.”

Hough said that while the outcome of any hunt never is certain, good times afield await those who take part.

“There’s always the opportunity to take the buck of a lifetime during the firearms deer season, and hundreds if not thousands of Pennsylvanians do that each year,” Hough said. “But for many hunters, the opportunity to spend time afield with friends and family and celebrate a great tradition is just as important, and I consider them the most fortunate hunters of all.

Proper licensing

Hunters during the statewide firearms season can harvest antlered deer if they possess a valid general hunting license, which costs $20.70 for adult residents and $101.70 for adult nonresidents.

Each hunter between the ages of 12 and 16 must possess a junior license, which costs $6.70 for residents and $41.70 for nonresidents.

Hunters younger than 12 must possess a valid mentored youth hunting permit and be accompanied at all times by a properly licensed adult mentor, as well as follow other regulations.

Mentored hunting opportunities also are available for adults, but only antlerless deer may be taken by mentored adult hunters.

In order to harvest antlerless deer, a hunter must possess either a valid antlerless deer license or a valid permit. In the case of mentored hunters, the mentor must possess a valid tag that can be transferred to the mentored hunter at the time of harvest.

In addition to regular antlerless licenses, two types of permits can be used to take antlerless deer. The Deer Management Assistance Program, or DMAP permit, can be used only on the specific property for which it is issued.

The Disease Management Area 2 permit, which was created to reduce antlerless deer populations in the lone area of the state where chronic wasting disease has been detected in free-ranging deer, can be used only in Disease Management Area 2 (DMA 2), which encompasses about 1,600 square miles within Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Huntingdon and Fulton counties.

Meanwhile, regular antlerless deer licenses can be used only within the wildlife management unit for which they’re issued.

For many areas, antlerless licenses or DMAP permits might already be sold out. 

About 2,500 DMA 2 permits remained available as of the date of this release.

License availability can be checked online through the Game Commission’s website.

Licenses can be purchased online, but as the season nears, hunters might find it better to purchase licenses in person. Deer licenses purchased online are mailed, meaning they might not arrive in time if purchased too close to the start of the season.

DMA 2 permits also can be purchased online, but unlike licenses and DMAP permits, they’re available through The Outdoor Shop at the Game Commission’s website. The permit, which includes a report card, is then mailed to the hunter. It is mandatory for those with DMA 2 permits to send in a report following the deer seasons

Tagging and reporting

A valid tag must be affixed to the ear of each deer harvested before that deer is moved. The tag must be filled out in ink by the hunter.

Within 10 days of a harvest, a successful hunter is required to make a report to the Game Commission. Harvests can be reported online at the Game Commission’s website, by clicking on the blue “Report a Harvest” button on the home page. Harvests also can be reported by mailing in the postage-paid cards inserted into the 2014-15 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, or successful hunters can call 1-855-PAHUNT1 (1-855-724-8681) to report by phone. Those reporting by phone are asked to have their license number and other information about the harvest ready at the time they call.

Mentored youth hunters are required to report deer harvests within five days. And hunters with DMAP or DMA 2 permits must report on their hunting success, regardless of whether they harvested deer.

By reporting their deer harvests, hunters play an important role in providing the most reliable estimates possible, not only on the number of deer harvested each year, but also on the deer population within each WMU. Estimates are key to managing deer populations, and hunters are asked to do their parts in this important process.  

Chronic wasting disease

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been detected in three areas of Pennsylvania, and special rules apply to hunters within each Disease Management Area (DMA).

There are three DMAs. DMA 1 encompasses parts of York and Adams counties. 

DMA 2 includes parts of Bedford, Blair, Huntingdon, Cambria and Fulton counties. And DMA 3 – which had not been established as of last hunting season – includes about 350 square miles in Clearfield and Jefferson counties.

For the specific boundaries of each DMA, check the Game Commission’s website or turn to the 2014-15 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest.

Hunters may not remove from a DMA any deer parts deemed to have a high-risk of transmitting CWD. The head, backbone and spinal cord are among those high-risk parts, and successful hunters who live outside a DMA can remove and deposit high-risk parts in dumpsters that have been set up on state game lands within each DMA. They can then transport the meat and other low-risk parts outside the DMA.

Hunters also can take their harvests to a processor or taxidermist within the DMA, and the processor or taxidermist can properly dispose of the high-risk parts. In some cases, processors and taxidermists just beyond the border of a DMA have been approved as drop-off sites and those facilities appear on the list of cooperating processors and taxidermists available on the Game Commission’s website.

The Game Commission will be taking samples from about 1,000 deer in each DMA, but just because a hunter drops a deer off at a processor or taxidermist, or deposits high-risk parts in a dumpster on game lands, doesn’t mean the deer will be tested for CWD.

To ensure a harvested deer will be tested, hunters can make arrangements with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Veterinary Laboratory. There is a fee associated with testing. More information about this process can be found online at

Transporting a deer head outside a DMA so the deer can be disease-tested at a lab is a permitted exception to the rule prohibiting the removal of high-risk parts from a DMA. Deer heads should be double-bagged in plastic garbage bags before they are removed from the DMA.

Chronic wasting disease is transmitted from deer to deer by direct and indirect contact. It is always fatal to deer that become infected, but it is not known to be transmitted to humans.

People are advised, however, not to consume meat from deer that test positive for CWD.

For more information on CWD and rules applying within DMAs, visit the Game Commission’s website.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

PA Elk Harvest Results Reported

Twenty-seven bulls taken in one-week season; harvest totals 88 elk.

          More than 82 percent of the hunters participating Pennsylvania’s 2014 elk hunt have taken home a trophy.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission today announced 88 elk were taken by hunters during the regular one-week elk season that ended Nov. 8. And for those licensed to hunt antlered elk, also known as bulls, the success rate was 93 percent.

The 2014 harvest included several large elk.  Sixteen bulls each were estimated to weigh 700 pounds or more, with the heaviest bull taken in this year’s hunt estimated at more than 872 pounds. That bull, which sported a 7-by-7 rack, was taken by Mark Colt, of Ligonier. 

The largest bull in terms of rack size was an 11-by-7 harvested Nov. 8 by Robert C. Baker, of Worthington. That bull weighed an estimated 851 pounds and its rack initially was measured at 414 inches, according to Boone & Crockett big-game scoring standards. 

The second-highest-scoring bull, taken by Michael B. Weaver, of Hanover, had a 7-by-7 rack initially measured at 398 inches. That bull weighed 786 pounds.


Other large bulls taken include a 7-by-8 weighing 830 pounds taken by Frederick J. Kass, of Glenside; a 7-by-6 weighing 837 pounds taken by George Oko, of Wilkes-Barre; a 6-by-7 weighing 829 pounds taken by John G. Trout, of Felton;  a 7-by-8 weighing 780 pounds taken by David L. Bailor, of Madera; a 5-by-6 weighing 772 pounds taken by Justin Forsythe, of Imperial; a 7-by-5 weighing 772 pounds taken by Llewellyn Kauffman, of Red Lion; an 8-by-7 weighing 715 pounds, taken by David Condie, of Pittsburgh; an 8-by-6 weighing 715 pounds taken by Dean Erney, of Telford; a 7-by-7 weighing 715 pounds taken by Mark Wickizer, of Dickson City; and a 7-by-8 weighing 702 pounds taken by Christopher Mumber, of Richlandtown. 

There also were some large antlerless elk taken in the harvest. Twelve of the 63 cows taken by hunters during the one-week season weighed over 500 pounds. 

Twenty-five of the 88 elk harvested were taken on the opening day of the elk season Nov. 3. 

The Pennsylvania Game Commission typically doesn’t release information about license holders, but those who are drawn to participate in the annual elk hunt often give their consent to release their names or other information. Information on successful hunters who do not sign and submit a consent form prior to the hunt is not released. 

To participate in the elk hunt, hunters must submit an application, then must be selected through a random drawing and purchase a license. The drawing annually attracts more than 20,000 applicants.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Area Habitat Dwindling For Ruffled Grouse

You're not going to find many ruffed grouse at the local strip mall.

Some species of wildlife — white-tailed deer, Canada geese, squirrels, raccoons, even black bears — can do well on suburban landscapes.
Grouse don't fit into that category.

They're a "habitat specialist" that requires a particular mosaic of forest types to thrive, said Lisa Williams, grouse biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. They need mature woods for their acorns, stands of pole timber to nest with their back to a tree and conifers for winter cover.

But more than anything, grouse need early successional habitat or brushy forests up to about 12 or 15 years old, she said.

"I always say a good grouse forest lasts about as long as a good grouse dog," Williams said. "You get about 12 years of real good habitat after a timber cut."

The problem is that kind of woods has declined by about 30 percent statewide since the mid-1980s, Williams said. Public and private forests aren't being cut as often or on as big a scale, she added.

That's meant tough times for grouse and grouse hunters. Hunters shot almost 273,000 birds across Pennsylvania in 1993, according to commission statistics, and nearly 109,000 as recently as 2008.

Last year's harvest was closer to 40,000.

The good news is there's a chance better days might be ahead, thanks in part to America's run on guns and ammunition.

The commission does about 6,000 acres of commercial timber cuts on state game lands each year, said Ben Jones, chief of the habitat planning and development division for the agency.

Those are ones where the agency identifies an area where it wants to create habitat and loggers interested in the lumber pay to get at it.

Since 2010, the commission has paid loggers to cut another 10,000 acres that weren't commercially valuable — like older aspen stands — specifically for the sake of grouse and other wildlife, Jones said.

It has gotten some money to do that from groups such as the Ruffed Grouse Society and National Wild Turkey Federation.

But much of it has come from the record amount of Pittman-Robertson funding flowing into the agency, he said.

That's money, collected in the form of a tax on the sale of firearms, ammunition and other sporting goods, that's redistributed to the states.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pennsylvania got nearly $28 million in funding in fiscal year 2014, more than every state but Texas and Alaska.
The money is likely to keep flowing, too.

According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, there were 6.95 million background checks for gun purchases in the first seven months of this year. That was the second highest for such a time period.

The resulting cutting has been terrific for grouse, Jones said.

"As soon as you start getting growth back in there, like blackberry brambles and greenbriar and Hercules club, the grouse start moving in. And those areas are really prime seven to 12 years post cut," he said.

"When they're really hard to get through, when they're literally tearing the shirt off your back, that's when it's really good."

It's not only the commission that has been cutting trees. The state bureau of forestry also timbers to the tune of 6,000 to 8,000 acres annually, said Scott Miller, chief of its silviculture section. Locally, there have been about 5,030 acres cut on the Forbes State Forest in Westmoreland, Fayette and Somerset counties since 2000, said Corey Wentzel, its forest assistant manager.

The emphasis recently has been on linking those cuts with the other kinds of habitat grouse need throughout the year, said Emily Just, a biologist with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

That's key, she said.

"Traditionally, we've seen a lot of habitat in small, isolated patches," Just said. "That's pretty hard for grouse to find and use."

Whether all of that will boost grouse populations remains to be seen.

The impact of habitat work on public lands is blunted, to a degree, if nothing similar is occurring on surrounding private land or if there's just no other forest nearby, Jones said.
There is evidence grouse impacted by West Nile virus in the early 2000s haven't completely recovered, Williams added, though that's something she hopes to study further. Suburban sprawl is also a problem, she said.

If those and other factors preclude a return to the grouse's heyday, the passion hunters feel for the birds remains, William said.

"They are a thoroughly wild and skittish bird, sort of a symbol of what's still wild. If you want them, you have to go and find them," she said.

"But that's sort of the romance of ruffed grouse. It's why there are so many paintings and books and magazine covers about them."

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

New Research Sheds Further Light On Field Dressing, Processing Game

Before spying that buck stepping into the open, before counting the points, before resting the sights behind the shoulder, releasing the safety and slowly squeezing the trigger, have a science-based plan for what you'll do after it drops.

The moment the heart stops pumping purifying blood through the muscles, harmful bacteria begins to grow.

The animal is now a carcass intended for consumption, lying on the ground and pooling blood. It will be field dressed in unsanitary conditions that would be illegal for a professional meat processor. Fatty tissue will start to go bad as soon as it's exposed to air, and the knife and bloody hands can spread meat-tainting contaminants. Open to the environment, the carcass will be dragged through the woods and transported in temperatures that might accelerate bacterial growth.

That's the case with all wild meats, not just venison. But despite the chance of minor to severe health risks or biting into an unpleasant flavor, researchers report that in the past 25 years better educated hunters have gotten better at handling wild game.

At Penn State University, new research in wild food preparation refutes some traditional field dressing practices, confirms emerging theories and identifies new ways to keep wild meat clean and improve its plate appeal.

Click here to read more

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Banner Bear Year In PA Nearly Here?

Populations are up, food is plentiful and more hunters are buying licenses as seasons approach.

          Recent years have been some of the best on record for Pennsylvania bear hunting, and one expert says there’s potential for that trend to continue.

          The annual statewide bear seasons again are about to kick off. 

          Leading the way is the statewide archery bear season, which opens Monday, Nov. 17. And after that five-day season comes to a close on Nov. 21, properly licensed hunters who still are in pursuit of a bear can participate in the four-day general season that opens Saturday, Nov. 22, then runs from Monday, Nov. 24 to Wednesday, Nov. 26.

          Extended opportunities to hunt bears during all or a portion of the deer-hunting seasons also exist in much of the state. 

          There’s been plenty of reason to get excited about bear hunting in recent years. 

          The 2013 harvest of 3,510 bears statewide represents the fifth-largest in state history, and continues a string of recent bear seasons taking their place in the record books. 

          Three of the five largest harvests have occurred in the last three years. Pennsylvania’s largest harvest on record – 4,350 bears – occurred in 2011, and the third-largest harvest – 3,632 bears – followed in 2012.  

          Mark Ternent, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s bear biologist, said many of the elements required for another exceptional bear harvest in 2014 already are in place. 

          Statewide black bear populations are at record levels, Ternent said, with an estimated 18,000 bears living within the Keystone State.

          Additionally, he said, the statewide acorn crop is markedly improved compared to last year. 

          What is described as a “bumper mast crop” is distributed throughout many ridges and valleys within bear country, with core bear-hunting areas within Lycoming, Clinton and Centre counties seeing some of their heaviest mast crops in the past 10 years, according to field staff with the Game Commission’s Northcentral Region. Other areas of the state also are reporting excellent acorn crops. 

          Higher mast yields typically lead to better hunter success, Ternent said. When plenty of food is available bears tend to stay more active during hunting seasons, rather than entering their dens early. They also tend to be more widely dispersed and travel less, which means that bears discovered during preseason scouting typically still can be found in the same area come hunting season. 

vAnother important factor in the bear forecast is what so far has been an increase in the number of hunters purchasing bear licenses. Through the end of October, bear license sales were up by nearly 7 percent, compared to year-to-date sales from a year ago. 

          With bear licenses remaining on sale up until the night before the general season, upwards of 170,000 hunters are likely to be licensed to pursue bear this year. 

          Ternent said that increased hunter participation typically leads to larger harvests and, in some cases, better hunter success. 

          Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said perhaps no other hunting season in Pennsylvania is as rich with tradition as the annual statewide bear season. Hough said the fact a record number of bear licenses likely will be sold this year reinforces that point, and shows it’s no longer a secret that Pennsylvania provides some of the best bear-hunting opportunities out there.

          “The pieces are all in place for yet another banner year of bear hunting in Pennsylvania,” Hough said. “Only time will tell if a record number of hunters will bring about a record harvest. But I can guarantee all of those who celebrate our hunting heritage in this special season have a fantastic opportunity to harvest an exceptional animal.”

          Ternent agreed that some very large bears await hunters in Penn’s Woods.

          In fact, the number of large bears taken during the 2013-14 seasons is one of the things that made that fifth-highest harvest year stand out. 

          Fifty-eight bears weighing 500 pounds or more, and nine weighing 600 pounds or more were taken during 2013. The heaviest bear in the harvest, taken in Lackawanna County during the statewide general season, weighed an estimated 772 pounds. 

          And the bear harvest was spread throughout 53 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties in 2013.

          To suppress conflicts that might arise from bear populations expanding into more inhabited parts of the state, an extended bear season exists in a handful of Wildlife Management Units. In WMUs 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D, bear season is open concurrent to the archery, early muzzleloader and firearms deer seasons. And hunters in other WMUs also have a limited opportunity to harvest a bear during portions of the upcoming firearms deer season. Those areas include WMUs 2C, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4B, 4C, 4D, and 4E.

          Extended seasons in WMUs 2C and 4B are new this year, and the seasons in each run from Dec. 3 to Dec. 6.

          WMU 2C has had a slightly increasing bear population trend. Highway mortalities of bears have been slowly increasing in the area, and there’s been a noticeable increase in human-bear conflicts.
WMU 4B also has had an increasing trend of human-bear conflicts, with several incidents in recent years involving home entry or injury to pets and people. Highway mortality of bears also has increased there, as has the bear harvest, which has tripled since 2003.  

A complete list of opening and closing days can be found on Page 33 of the 2014-15 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest issued to hunters when they purchase their licenses, or at the Game Commission’s website,

          All bear harvests must be reported to the Game Commission. 

          Hunters who harvest a bear during the four-day general season must take it to one of the Game Commission’s check stations within 24 hours. Taking bears to a check station also might be required in WMUs where bear hunting is permitted during all or a portion of the firearms deer season. 

          A complete list of requirements, check stations and their dates and hours of operation can be found on pages 34 and 35 of the 2014-15 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest.

          However, there are two changes to the check station information listed in the digest.

          First, a check station listed on Page 34 has been moved to another location. The check station in Monroe County in the Northeast Region, will be located at the Tobyhanna State Park Maintenance Facility on Church Street (SR 423), in Tobyhanna. GPS coordinates for the facility are  41.20226N,  -75.40477W. 

          There will not be a check station this year at the State Game Lands 127 building off Route 423. The building is under renovation, and it likely will return to being a check station site next year.

          Secondly, a check station in the Northcentral Region was omitted from the list that appears on Page 35 of the digest. There will be a check station in Union County at the Laurelton Bald Eagle State Forest headquarters. This station, located on Route 45 one-tenth of a mile west of Route 235, will be open during the extended season on Wednesday and Saturday, from noon to 8 p.m., as in past years.

          Hunters should also note the Indiana County check station that previously was located at Yellow Creek State Park, has been moved to the Homer City Fire Department, 51 W. Church St., Homer City. The new location is listed on Page 34 of the digest. 

          Hunters who harvest a bear during the bear archery season – or in any other period where check stations are closed – must within 24 hours contact the Game Commission region office that serves the county in which the bear was harvested for checking instructions.

Bear seasons

To participate in bear hunting in Pennsylvania, a hunter needs a general hunting license, as well as a bear license. Bear licenses can be purchased until the day before the statewide general bear season – for example, through Nov. 21 – but not during the season. After the general bear season, bear licenses can again be purchased until the day before the extended bear season – for example, from Nov. 27 through Nov. 30.

Bear hunters also must observe fluorescent orange requirements. In the bear archery season, hunters are required at all times while moving to wear a hat containing a minimum of 100 square inches of solid fluorescent orange material if hunting in an area also open to fall turkey hunting. The hat may be removed once the archer has settled in a stationary position.

During the firearms seasons for bear, hunters must wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on the head, chest and back combined. The orange must be visible from 360 degrees and must be worn at all times while hunting.

Hunting licenses can be purchased online from The Outdoor Shop at the Game Commission’s website, but buyers should be advised that because bear licenses contain harvest ear tags, they are sent by mail rather than printed at home.

Buyers waiting to the last minute to purchase a bear license might be better off making a trip to an authorized licensing agent and picking up a license there.

Licensing agents can be searched by county at the Game Commission’s website,, under the “Hunt/Trap” tab.

All bear harvests must be reported to the Game Commission and checked

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Fall Turkey Forecast Calls For Fewer Birds Scattered Over Wider Areas

By Bob Frye

Be warned: This year's fall turkey hunting might be tough.

The season opened Saturday in most parts of the state and continues through Nov. 8, 15 or 21, depending on wildlife management unit. It comes back in Nov. 27-29 across Western Pennsylvania, too.

A veritable ton of hunters — by recent standards, anyway — pursued turkeys last fall. Pennsylvania Game Commission estimates put the figure at about 199,000. That's a far cry from the almost 500,000 fall turkey hunters the state had at its peak in 1980, but it's significantly higher than the record low of 129,000 in 2012 and even the most recent three-year average of almost 146,000.

Maybe the extra-good hunting drew them out.

Thanks to a strong nesting season, there were a lot of birds in the woods last year, said Mary Jo Casalena, turkey biologist for the commission. Food supplies, meanwhile, were scarce and scattered.
That combination made flocks relatively easy to pin down, she said. Hunters who found one of the few places with acorns also found birds.

Almost 17,000 hunters — 16,755, to be exact — filled their tag. That was about a 10 percent jump in harvest over the recent average.

Things may be more difficult this time around.

Many hens entered spring drained by the long, bitter winter, Casalena said. They nested late, if at all, and broods were small. That will translate into fewer juvenile turkeys than usual, she said.

At the same time, it's been a banner year for acorns — the turkey's favorite fall food — across much of Pennsylvania.

The result will be smaller flocks spread over a larger part of the landscape.

“They're just kind of out there wandering around the woods more than last year, so I think hunters are going to have to put more time into moving around and searching around for flocks,” Casalena said.
“I don't want to discourage people or suggest they not go hunting. But I know myself I expect to put a lot more miles on my boots looking for turkeys this year than usual.”

To find birds, hunters should use their eyes and ears, said Steve Hickoff, a Pennsylvania native living in Maine who serves as Realtree's turkey hunting editor and wrote the book, “Fall and Winter Turkey Hunter's Handbook.”

“You've got to spend time in the woods listening and looking. If you're not hearing them on the roost — and they do talk a lot on the roost in the fall — then look for all of the things we associate with turkeys such as scratchings, tracks in the mud, dropping and especially in the fall, molted feathers,” Hickoff said.

From there, the technique for hunting them is pretty standard. The advice offered by the Missouri Department of Conservation, for example, is the same put forward across the eastern turkey's range.
“The basic strategy for fall turkey hunting is to find and break up a flock, scattering them in all directions. Then locate yourself as near as possible to the spot where you broke up the flock and wait 15 minutes” before calling, the department suggests.

How a hunter calls depends on the specific birds he's scattered, though, Hickoff said.

“In the fall, you want to get a good idea of what kind of flock you're dealing with,” Hickoff said. “You want to call like the birds you're hunting.”

If the flock is a family group, assembly hen yelps and kee-kee runs are the way to go, he said. A flock of barren hens might respond to higher-pitched clucks and yelps, he said, while one made up of gobblers often will respond to raspier yelps, fighting purrs and even gobbles.

Hickoff doesn't think hunters can call too much in the fall — turkeys are more likely to be “pressure shy” than call shy — but some patience may be in order.

“When you scatter a family flock, they start regrouping almost immediately. Within 45 minutes to an hour, they start getting back together,” Hickoff said.

Gobbler flocks are different. On a recent hunt in New York, it took two hours to call in one gobbler and two hours more to kill another, he added.

“Which is nothing to a whitetail hunter. But I think a lot of turkey hunters, unless they have confidence in their scatter, aren't willing to sit that long,” Hickoff said.

Of course, hunters can do everything seemingly right and still not kill a turkey. That's just part of the game, Hickoff said.

“They're still a great mystery to me, even though I hunt them a lot,” he said. “But that's the cool part of it.”

Best turkey hot spots around the state

Wondering where are the best places to hunt turkeys in the fall?
Wonder no more.
While 20 of the state's 23 wildlife management units offer fall turkey seasons, some are better than others.
There are three ways to measure that: overall harvest, birds harvested per square mile and hunter success rate. Only four units last year ranked in the top five in all three categories: 2D, 1A, 2F and 4C.
Unit 2D, which takes in Armstrong County and parts of Butler, Clarion, Indiana, Jefferson, Venango and Westmoreland, was the state's hottest spot. It ranked first statewide in success rate with 14.84 percent of hunters bringing home a bird. It also finished second in overall harvest (1,543) and harvest per square mile (0.62).
Unit 1A, which takes in Mercer and Lawrence counties and parts of Beaver, Butler, Crawford and Venango, was nearly as good. It ranked first in harvest per square mile (0.63), second in hunter success rate (13.56 percent) and fourth in overall harvest (1,162).
Unit 2F, which includes Forest County and parts of Clarion, Elk, Jefferson, McKean, Venango and Warren, ranked third in overall harvest (1,454), third in harvest per square mile (0.60) and fifth in hunter success rate (11.82).
Unit 4C in southcentral and southeastern Pennsylvania was the other top finisher, ranking fourth in harvest per square mile and hunter success rate and fifth in overall harvest.
For comparison's sake, unit 2G, the largest in the state, ranked first for overall harvest (1,722), fifth in harvest per square mile (0.55) and sixth in hunter success rate (11.14). Unit 2C, which takes in Somerset County and parts of six surroundings counties, was sixth in overall harvest (1,007), 10th in hunter success rate and 12th in harvest per square mile. Unit 2A, west and south of Pittsburgh, ranked seventh in hunter success rate (11.03), 10th in harvest per square mile (0.41) and 11th in overall harvest (738).

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