Saturday, October 24, 2015

Pennsylvania Hunters Ready To Talk Turkey (and Pheasant and Rabbit...)

Fall season begins Oct. 31 in most parts of state; season lengths vary by WMU.
          One of Pennsylvania’s most exciting seasons will begin Oct. 31 as hunters head afield in pursuit of a most-coveted game animal – the wild turkey. Hunting season lengths vary according to Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) from closed season to three-plus weeks.
While season lengths in most WMUs remain unchanged from last year, the first season segment has been shortened from three weeks to two in WMUs 2E, 3D, 4A, 4B and 4D – to help those populations rebound from declining trends, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.   
          The three-day Thursday-through-Saturday season remains intact in WMU 5A to provide greater opportunity for hunters whose schedules do not allow for a weekday hunt. And, as usual, fall turkey hunting remains closed in WMUs 5B, 5C and 5D in southern Pennsylvania.  
          “Now is the time to check the dates of when seasons open and close,” Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said.  
          “As is typically the case for the fall turkey season, different season lengths apply in different units, and the seasons in a handful of WMUs have been shortened this year,” Hough said. “The changes are easy to follow, and are laid out clearly on pages 10 and 42 in the Hunting & Trapping Digest issued to all buyers of hunting and furtaker licenses.”  
          Hunters who didn’t participate in the fall turkey season during the last two years might be unaware of season length changes from 2013 and 2014 in some other WMUs, due to declining population trends and the results of an agency study that showed the longer the fall season, the higher the female turkey harvest.  
          “During the fall season, any turkey can be harvested because jakes, young males, are difficult to distinguish from females,” Game Commission wild turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena said. “Our research shows females (both juvenile and adult) comprise a larger portion of the fall harvest than males. Our management and research also have shown that we shouldn't overharvest females, so we shorten the fall season length when turkey populations decline to allow them to rebound.”  
          Additional information on turkey seasons, bag limits and other regulations can be found on pages 42 and 43 of the 2015-16 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest.  
          In most of the state, the fall turkey season opens Saturday, Oct. 31. The seasons are as follows: WMU 1B– Oct. 31 to Nov. 7, and Nov. 26 to 28; WMU 2B (shotgun and archery only) – Oct. 31 to Nov. 20, and Nov. 26 to 28; WMUs 1A, 2A, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4B and 4D – Oct. 31 to Nov. 14, and Nov. 26 to 28; WMUs 2C, 4C and 4E – Oct. 31 to Nov. 20, and Nov. 26 to 28; and WMU 5A – Nov. 5 to 7.  

          Casalena is hoping for similar hunting participation as last fall, when the number of fall turkey hunters topped 200,000 for the first time since 2005. This is especially encouraging because as recently as 2012 only 123,121 hunters hunted the fall turkey season.
          “Fall turkey hunting remains a strong tradition in Pennsylvania, as seen by how we rank with other states. In 2013 (the latest year data are available) Pennsylvania’s fall turkey hunters (199,098) were more than three times that of the state with the second highest number, Wisconsin (57,840). That year we ranked second in harvest (16,755) behind Texas (19,066) with 54,753 fall turkey hunters.” 
          Last year’s fall harvest increased for the third consecutive year to 18,292, from the low of 14,300 in 2011. Casalena said these increases in fall turkey harvest are related to growth in turkey populations and increases in hunter participation. And in WMUs with shortened seasons, the relatively new Thanksgiving three-day season provides additional opportunities for participation.   
          “Although turkey reproduction this summer was below average in many WMUs, translating to smaller flocks this fall in those units, reproduction did vary and many hens simply nested later than normal due to the harsh winter, and these poults may still be growing when the season opens,” Casalena said.  
          Casalena said acorn, beech and cherry production also varied across the state, with red-oak acorn production and soft mast, such as apples and grapes, seeing average to above-average production in many areas, but below average food production elsewhere. Areas with abundant food sources tend to make the flocks more nomadic and, therefore harder for hunters to find. Whereas lack of food tends to keep flocks congregated where the food exists and, therefore easier for hunters to find, she said.  
          Casalena said the fall season is a great time to introduce a novice turkey hunter to the sport. “It’s not only a great time to be in the woods, but novice turkey callers can be just as successful as a pro when mimicking a lost turkey poult,” she said. “And once a flock is located, I remind hunters that turkeys are tipped off more by movement and a hunter’s outline than fluorescent orange.”  
          Last year’s fall hunter success rate of 9 percent was a slight decrease from the previous three years (10 percent), but hunter success varies considerably depending on summer reproduction, food availability, weather during the season, and hunter participation. Hunter success was as high as 21 percent in 2001, a year with excellent recruitment, and as low as 4 percent in 1979.  
          Hopefully hunter success isn’t measured only by whether or not a turkey is harvested. Enjoying time afield with family, friends, a hunting dog, and/or mentoring a hunter also qualifies a successful hunt.  

          Casalena said the 2015 spring-season harvests (including youth, mentored youth and harvests from the special turkey license that allows hunters to harvest a second bird) totaled 41,180, which was similar to the 2014 harvest of 41,258, and a 6 percent increase from the previous long-term average of 38,697. Hunter success, 19 percent, was slightly higher than 2014, 18 percent, and the previous long-term average of 17 percent.   
          Pennsylvania hunters have consistently maintained spring harvests above 30,000 bearded turkeys since 1995, exceeding most other states in the nation. The 2013 harvest of 41,260 ranked second in the nation behind Missouri’s 47,603 spring turkeys.   

          Casalena also reminds hunters to report any leg-banded or satellite-transmittered turkeys they harvest or find.  
          Leg bands and transmitters are stamped with a toll-free number to call. Although the agency’s research project is completed and rewards are no longer valid, the information provided is still beneficial and hunters can learn the history of the bird. 

          In most parts of the state, hunters participating in the fall turkey season are required, while moving, to wear at least 250 inches of fluorescent orange on the head, chest and back combined. Orange must be visible from 360 degrees.  
          Hunters may remove their orange once in a stationary location, providing that a minimum of 100 square inches of fluorescent orange is posted within 15 feet of the location and is visible from 360 degrees.  
          In WMU 2B, which is open to shotgun and archery hunting only during the fall turkey season, turkey hunters, while moving, must wear a hat containing at least 100 square inches of solid fluorescent orange material, visible from 360 degrees. While fluorescent orange is not required at stationary locations in WMU 2B, it is strongly recommended.  
          Archery hunters who are hunting either deer or bear during the overlap with fall turkey season also must wear a fluorescent orange hat at all times when moving. The hat must contain at least 100 square inches of solid, fluorescent orange, visible from 360 degrees, and may be removed once in a stationary location.  
          Illustrations and a chart listing fluorescent orange requirements for different hunting seasons can be found on pages 62 and 63 of the 2015-16 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest.  
          Since fluorescent orange requirements have been in place for the fall-turkey season, fall turkey hunting shooting incidents have decreased from 38, three of them fatal, in 1990, to none in 2012. During the last two years there has been one nonfatal incident each year. 

          Pennsylvania’s fall turkey season is among those open to Mentored Youth and Mentored Adult hunters  
          The Mentored Youth Hunting Program sets out to introduce those under the age of 12 to hunting. Mentored Youth must obtain a $2.70 permit, and must be accompanied at all times by a licensed mentor 21 years or older.  
          The Mentored Adult Hunting Program is in its second year, and seeks to remove an obstacle for adults who have an interest in hunting and the opportunity to go hunting with a licensed mentor. The cost of a resident Mentored Adult permit is $20.70 – the same as the cost of a resident hunting license.  
          Mentored Youth and Mentored Adults can participate in only approved hunting seasons, and the seasons that have been approved for Mentored Youth are different from those for Mentored Adults. Different sets of regulations apply to Mentored Youth and Mentored Adults, as well.   
          During the fall turkey season, a mentor may transfer his or her fall turkey tag to a Mentored Youth or Mentored Adult hunter.  
          A full description of the programs can be found on pages 15 and 16 of the 2015-16 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tree Stands, Blinds Left On PA Game Lands Need To Be Tagged

New requirement also applies to other tracts under the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s management.

          If you harvest a deer, you’re required to tag it.
          And if you harvest it from a tree stand that was left on state game lands or other properties controlled by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, that stand, too, must be tagged.
          With hunting season underway, hunters are reminded a regulation that became effective earlier this year requires all tree stands and portable ground blinds left on lands under the Game Commission’s control be marked to identify their owners.
          The regulation applies on game lands, as well as on private lands enrolled in the Hunter Access program. All of these properties can be found on the State Game Lands Mapping Center at the Game Commission’s website,
          Here is a look at how the regulation applies to hunters. 

Does my stand or blind need to be tagged?          
Hunters are permitted to place portable tree stands and blinds on state game lands and Hunter Access properties and leave them there temporarily.
          Stands and blinds may be placed no earlier than two weeks before the first deer season in the wildlife management unit (WMU) being hunted, and they must be removed no later than two weeks after the close of the last deer season in that WMU.
          Overnight placement of portable hunting blinds additionally is permitted during the spring turkey season within the WMU being hunted.
          Regulations now require any tree stand or blind left overnight or longer on state game lands or Hunter Access properties be marked with a durable tag bearing information that identifies its owner. 

Tagging stands or blinds
Stands or blinds left temporarily on state game lands and Hunter Access properties must be conspicuously marked with a durable and legible identification tag that includes either the owner’s first and last name and legal home address, the CID number appearing on the owner’s hunting license, or a number issued by the Game Commission to the stand or blind owner.
          Any of the three methods of identifying the owner is acceptable.
          Unique numbers identifying the stand or blind owner can be obtained at The Outdoor Shop on the Game Commission’s website, Once at The Outdoor Shop, click on “Permits,” select “Tree Stand Identification Number” and fill out the electronic form. There is no cost to obtain a number.
          Hunters can tag stands or blinds in any manner that meets the requirements the tags be durable, legible and conspicuously marked. A hunter could engrave his or her CID number onto a metal tag and wire it to the stand or ladder, or do the same with a painted plastic tag. Many methods will meet requirements.

Why are stands and blinds now required to be tagged?
The regulation to require tree stands and blinds to be marked with information identifying their owners serves to address the problem of the stands too often becoming permanent fixtures on some of these properties.
          When stands are placed out earlier than allowed on state game lands and Hunter Access properties, or are not removed as required following the close of the final deer season, the stands may be taken down by Game Commission personnel.
          But without a way to contact the owner, the stands typically must be stored and, eventually, disposed of if the owner does not come forward.
          Requiring all stands and blinds left on state game lands and Hunter Access properties be tagged provides the Game Commission with a mechanism to contact the owners if stands are placed too early or left out too long.
          Violating the requirement to tag tree stands and blinds left on Game Commission-controlled property is punishable by a fine up to $200.

Game Commission-controlled property
The requirement for hunters to tag tree stands and blinds left overnight applies on state game lands and private lands enrolled in the Game Commission’s Hunter Access program.
          Lands enrolled in the Hunter Access program might be known as Forest Game, Farm Game or Safety Zone access properties.
          All of these tracts appear on maps available through the State Game Lands Mapping Center at the Game Commission’s website,
          The State Game Lands Mapping Center can be accessed by clicking on the “State Game Lands Mapping Center” button at the top of the home page at the Game Commission’s website.
          At the Mapping Center page, you can watch a number of video tutorials on how to use the Mapping Center, and you can access the Mapping Center itself by clicking on the map or the “Mapping Center” link.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

PA Game Commission Aims To See How Many Stocked Birds Go To Hunters

You might have heard a certain football coach in Pittsburgh say “the standard is the standard” a time or two.
In this case, there is no standard.
A number of states stock ring-necked pheasants for hunters. Few, apparently, have any idea how many get harvested. There are no nationwide guidelines for what constitutes a successful stocking program, either.
Rather, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” said Jared Wiklund, spokesman for Pheasants Forever.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, for example, stocks 15,000 pheasants a year. How many go home in a hunter's hands is a mystery.
“We don't have any data on that. Unfortunately, there's no good way for us to say how many of the birds we release are harvested,” said wildlife communications specialist John Windau.
Similarly, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation annually stocks 30,000 adult birds and gives another 40,000 chicks to sportsmen's clubs to raise and distribute on lands open to public hunting.
It put radio collars on some of those birds in 2009 and monitored them in two areas. Harvest rates ranged from 21 to 31 percent, said spokeswoman Wendy Rosenbach.
But whether that's typical, or even enough to make stocking worthwhile, are questions without answers. The agency doesn't know whether harvest rates have changed over time, nor does it have a “threshold harvest rate” by which it validates its program, Rosenbach said.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is hoping — with the help of hunters — to get better answers here.
“We do have a reward band study going on where we're going to be measuring harvest rates on our pheasants this fall,” said Bob Boyd, chief of the commission's propagation division. “We did this in 1998, and we're going to repeat it that this year.”
That earlier study found hunters took one of every two birds released, with success better on public land than private, Boyd said. The commission made changes to its stocking program as a result. This will be the first look to see whether they boosted harvest rates, he added.
Roughly 5,500 leg-banded pheasants will be released, 1,000 of them good for cash rewards. Hunters who take any — the statewide season begins Saturday, with a two-bird daily limit through Nov. 28 — are being encouraged to say so using the bands' toll-free number, commission biometrician Josh Johnson said.
He said he's hoping for cooperation, and it's easy to see why. The stakes are comparatively high.
Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection requires anyone wanting to chase pheasants to buy a pheasant stamp. That money — and only that money — pays for birds.
“The number of pheasants that are purchased is directly correlated to the number of pheasant tags sold in Connecticut during the previous season, the revenue derived from pheasant hunters and the price paid for each pheasant,” reads the agency's explanation of the program.
This year, the agency sold 106 fewer stamps than last year, while the price of birds increased. The result is hunters will be getting 14,935 birds, or 650 fewer than last fall.
The Game Commission's program, by comparison, is gargantuan, costly and shared by all.
The commission raises 200,000 pheasants annually, at an estimated cost of about $4 million. Fewer than 10 percent of license buyers will hunt them, yet all will subsidize the program, said Dennis Duza, who retired from the commission as its northcentral regional supervisor a few years ago.
That's not fair, he said. Speaking to commissioners at their recent meeting, he suggested the agency — which has asked lawmakers to increase licenses fees for the first time since 1999 — also ask for a pheasant stamp to support stockings.
At least two commissioners aren't interested.
Tim Layton of Windber said many youngsters get into hunting through small game. He said his son still is involved in the sport only because he took a pheasant incidentally, he said. If he had been required to have a pheasant stamp, he never would have pulled the trigger and might not even be a hunter now, Layton said.
“I understand the cost of the program. We talk about this all the time. We know that it's, for lack of a better term, a burden on the commission,” Layton said.
“But it's one of those things we can give back to hunters, and if by a result of that we can turn our youth into long-term small-game hunters, I mean, that brings a lot to the table.”
Commissioner Brian Hoover admitted the commission spends a lot on ringnecks. But he said it also spends a “tremendous amount” on wildlife habitat benefiting a variety of species.
“So what do we do next?” he asked. “Do we then charge the hunter for a buck stamp, or a buck tag, on top of his license because we spend millions of dollars on habitat improvement for that? Do we do the same thing for grouse hunters? Where does it stop?”
Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Statewide PA Archery Season Starts October 3rd

               Pennsylvania Game Commission wishes bowhunters safe days afield.
          Pennsylvania’s archery deer season begins Saturday, Oct. 3, and its return is prompting the Pennsylvania Game Commission to issue some helpful reminders. 

          Archers statewide can hunt for antlered or antlerless deer from Oct. 3 to Nov. 14, and during the late archery deer season, which runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 9. 

At the time of the statewide opener, archery hunters in three urbanized areas of the state will have had a two-week head start to their seasons. An early season for antlered and antlerless deer was implemented in Wildlife Management Units 2B, 5C and 5D, and that season kicked off on Sept. 19.

Properly licensed bowhunters in WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D, also may take antlered and antlerless deer during an extended late archery season, which runs from Jan. 11 to Jan. 23.

Archery hunters may use long, recurve or compound bows, or crossbows. Bows must have a draw weight of at least 35 pounds; crossbows must have a minimum draw weight of 125 pounds. 

The Game Commission encourages hunters to spend as much time as possible afield this fall prior to and during the hunting seasons to pattern deer movements and identify areas where fall foods are abundant.

“Those hunters who, during the preseason, thoroughly scouted the areas they hunt, greatly improve their chances at early season success,” said Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough. “And when the season begins, there’s simply no substitute for getting out there and seeing for yourself what’s happening in the deer woods, and having a great time doing it.” 

Bowhunters are urged to take only responsible shots at deer to ensure a quick, clean kill. For most, that’s a shot of 20 yards or less at a deer that is broadside or quartering away. Archery and crossbow hunters should shoot only at deer that are within their maximum effective shooting range – the farthest distance from which a hunter can consistently place arrows or bolts into a pie pan-sized target.

Hunters may use illuminated nocks for arrows and bolts; they aid in tracking or locating the arrow or bolt after being launched. However, transmitter-tracking arrows still are illegal.

Tree stands and climbing devices that cause damage to trees are unlawful to use or occupy unless the user has written permission from the landowner. Tree stands – or tree steps – penetrating a tree’s cambium layer cause damage, and it is unlawful to build or occupy tree stands screwed or nailed to trees on state game lands, state forests or state parks. 

Hunters are reminded portable hunting tree stands and blinds are not permitted on state game lands until two weeks before the opening of the archery deer season, and they must be removed no later than two weeks after the close of the flintlock and late archery deer seasons in the WMU being hunted. 

Tree stands placed on state game lands also must be conspicuously marked with a durable identification tag that identifies the stand owner. Tags may include the owner’s name and address, the CID number that appears on the owner’s hunting license, or a unique identification number issued by the Game Commission. Identification numbers can be obtained at The Outdoor Shop on the Game Commission’s website.
Safety tips for bowhunters·                          Make sure someone knows where you’re hunting and when you expect to return home. Leave a note or topographic map with your family or a friend. Pack a cellular telephone for emergencies.

·                          Always use a fall-restraint device – preferably a full-body harness – when hunting from a tree stand. Wear the device from the moment you leave the ground until you return. Don’t climb dead, wet or icy trees. Stay on the ground on blustery days. Keep yourself in good physical condition. Fatigue can impact judgment, coordination and reaction time, as well as accuracy.

·                          Always carry a whistle to signal passersby in the event you become immobile. A compass and matches or lighter and tinder also are essential survival gear items to have along. An extra flashlight bulb also can be helpful.

·                          Use a hoist rope to lift your bow and backpack to your tree stand. Trying to climb with either will place you at unnecessary risk.

·                          Don’t sleep in a tree stand! If you can’t stay awake, return to the ground. ·                          Always carry broadhead-tipped arrows in a protective quiver.

·                           If you use a mechanical release, always keep your index finger away from the trigger when drawing.

·                          Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for all equipment and check your equipment before each use.

·                          Practice climbing with your tree stand before dawn on the opening day of the season. Consider placing non-slip material on the deck of your tree stand if it’s not already there.

  ·                          Never walk with a nocked, broadhead-tipped arrow or bolt.

·                          Cocked crossbows should always be pointed in a safe direction.

Hunting in Disease Management Areas          Archers hunting and harvesting deer within any of the state’s three Disease Management Areas (DMAs) must comply with special rules aimed at slowing the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Pennsylvania. 

High-risk deer parts include multiple tissues in the head (brain, tonsils, eyes, and lymph nodes), the backbone/spinal cord, spleen, upper canine teeth (if root structure is present), and any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord. These tissues are where the CWD prion accumulates to high concentrations and these may not be transported outside the DMA.

Parts that are safe to move include meat, without the backbone; the skull plate with attached antlers, if no visible brain or spinal cord material is present; tanned hide or raw hide with no visible brain or spinal cord material present; the cape, if no visible brain or spinal cord material is present; the upper canine teeth, if no root structure is present; or finished taxidermy mounts.

Harvested deer can be taken to a cooperating taxidermist or deer processor associated with a specific DMA, and the processed meat and/or finished taxidermy mounts may be removed from the DMA when ready. 

Successful hunters who intend to do their own processing and who need to transport deer meat or other low-risk parts outside a DMA may stop by one of the many high-risk parts disposal sites established within the DMAs.

A list of those sites and their exact addresses or GPS coordinates are available on the CWD information page at the Game Commission’s website, Lists of cooperating processors and taxidermists also are available on that page.

          Successful hunters who live in a DMA also may use the high-risk parts disposal sites, but those hunters can also dispose of high-risk parts by bagging them with household trash and sending them for disposal to a regulated landfill. 

Regardless the method of disposal, hunters are asked to do their part to make sure high-risk parts end up in a regulated landfill, and off the landscape and away from free-ranging deer. Because CWD can be passed from deer to deer through direct as well as indirect contact, and because the prion that causes CWD can remain infectious for years in the soil, hunters should understand that dumping deer carcasses or high-risk parts on the landscape only increases the risk of spreading CWD.

The state’s three DMAs are the result of deer in those areas testing positive for CWD, which is 100-percent fatal to deer and elk, but is not known to be transmitted to humans. 

DMA 2, which encompasses about 2,400 square miles in Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Fulton, Huntingdon and Somerset counties, is the only DMA in which CWD has been detected in free-ranging deer in Pennsylvania.
DMA 1, which encompasses 600 square miles in York and Adams counties; and DMA 3, which totals about 350 square miles in Jefferson and Clearfield counties, each were established after CWD was detected in captive deer. To date, surveillance for CWD in free-living deer in these areas has not identified any positives.  Maps detailing the perimeters of the DMAs also are available at the Game Commission’s website.
Hunters within DMA 2 are reminded the DMA boundary has expanded again this year.
And hunters everywhere should be aware that the boundaries of Disease Management Areas can and do change due to new cases of CWD. For the most up-to-date information on CWD, including updated DMA maps, visit the Game Commission’s website.
More information on CWD is available at the Game Commission’s website.