Sunday, November 29, 2015

Outlook For Statewide Pennsylvania Deer Season Better Than 2014

A pair of 8 points taken by Bull Creek Secretary
Pete Denio and his son in 2014 in Clarion County
By Bob Frye 
Last year's statewide firearms deer season likely left more hunters than usual feeling disappointed.
According to Pennsylvania Game Commission harvest estimates, the kill of 303,973 was down 14 percent compared to the year before and by as much as 22 percent in some Western Pennsylvania wildlife management units.
Part of that was expected as the commission made available fewer antlerless deer licenses.
But opening day and both Saturdays of the season, which account for the majority of the hunting pressure and harvest, were miserable, said Chris Reidmiller, the commission's wildlife conservation officer in southern Indiana County.
“Each day had that 35 degrees and rain kind of weather. I think that played a part in how things went,” Reidmiller said.
“There were places I was at, with the rain and fog, that you couldn't see 50 feet,” said Shawn Harshaw, the commission's officer in northern Cambria County.
The good news? That might mean better hunting this time around. The 2015 deer season runs Monday through Dec. 12, and reports from around the region indicate deer numbers are looking good.
“This year, I've seen more deer than I have in the past three years. There are a lot of trophy-class bucks, too,” said Shawn Barron, a conservation officer in southern Somerset County. “It looks promising to me. It just seems like this year is going to be better than most.”
Other officers were equally optimistic.
Dan Sitler, who works northern Washington County, said he has seen and heard of more big bucks this year than last.
“We have lots of deer and lots of nice bucks running around. And it's not just in one place but all over. From the West Virginia line all the way to Peters Township and everywhere in between, we've got lots of deer,” Sitler said.
Chris Bergman, the officer in eastern Washington who also covers western Fayette, said deer are everywhere in both of those areas, too. Rod Burns, officer in eastern Armstrong, said the same is true there, as did officers Matt Kramer in southern Beaver and Mike Papinak in northern Westmoreland.
Steve Leiendecker, a land management supervisor for the commission who works in Fayette and Greene counties, singled out game lands 223 and 179 in Greene as potential hot spots.
“If I wanted to point someone in the right direction for deer, I'm thinking Greene County would be the place to go. It's really holding a good number of deer,” he added.
Even southern Cambria, where deer numbers were low just a few years ago, has seen the herd rebound where it's in good shape, officer Seth Mesoras said.
Things are a little trickier in southern Butler County. It also has lots of deer, said conservation officer Randy Pilarcik, who patrols from Slippery Rock south to Cranberry. But access is an issue, he said.
“We've got way too many deer. The problem is finding places to hunt,” he said.
That's not the case in northern Indiana County, said Nate Kimmel, the commission's wildlife conservation officer there.
“I've been seeing an exorbitant amount of deer,” he said. “I think it's a huge opportunity up here in Indiana County.”
There's ample public land, Kimmel added, including two of the southwest region's “deer hunter focus areas,” places where the commission is increasing access to get hunters to new timber cuts that potentially are full of whitetails. One is on game land 174, the other game land 262.
Other focus areas locally are located on game land 111 in Fayette and Somerset, 51 in Fayette, 223 in Greene and 108 in Cambria and Blair.
Maps of all are available at .
Dave Gustafson, the commission's chief forester, said hunters would be wise to spend time in those places. In years past, such timber cuts often have been tough to get to, being “remote destinations” far from roads, he said. But the commission is trying make things easier by opening roads leading closer to focus areas, he said.
“Our goal is to guide hunters within a half-mile or less of game lands locations where deer are taking advantage of these habitat improvements,” Gustafson said.
Regardless of the where they go, hunters always are advised to hunt places with lots of food for deer. This year, that may require some exploring.
Commission bear biologist Mark Ternent compiles the state's annual fall foods abundance survey. He said acorn crops are average or better in most places.
A couple of local counties, however, are lacking.
Mary Jo Casalena, the commission's turkey biologist, said the acorn crop in Somerset County is “below average.” Harshaw said the acorn crop in Cambria likewise was poor and already is largely gone.
Things look better in Fayette, Leiendecker said. The woods that make up game land 51 seem to have lots of acorns, especially in the higher elevations in the Dunbar area, he said.
Now if only the conditions are better this year.
“I feel as long as the weather cooperates, it should be a pretty decent season,” Bergman said.
Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Preliminary First-Day PA Bear Harvest Results

Harvest includes a more than 700-pound bear taken in Blair County.
            The first day of Pennsylvania’s statewide bear season resulted in a harvest of 1,508 black bears, according to preliminary totals released Monday by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Archery and other early bear season harvest data still is being entered into the Game Commission’s database, and is not available at this time.

Bears have been harvested in 53 counties during the statewide season so far.
The top 10 bears processed at check stations by Monday were either estimated or confirmed to have live weights of 592 pounds or more.

The largest of those bears – a male estimated at 713 pounds – was taken in Blair Township, Blair County, by Richard A. Watt, of Gallitizen, Pa. He took it a 7:10 a.m. on Nov. 21, the season’s opening day.

Other large bears taken in the season’s opening day include: a 685-pound male taken in Letterkenny Township, Franklin County, by Dustin J. Foust, of Orrstown, Pa.; a 649-pound male taken in Limestone Township, Warren County, by Matthew B. Stanga, of Tarentum, Pa.; a 648-pound male taken in Brush Creek Township, Fulton County, by Andrew D. Fischer, of Crystal Spring, Pa.; a 640-pound male taken in Weatherly Township, Carbon County, by Kenneth J. Mehlig, of Weatherly; a 618-pound male taken in Blooming Grove Township, Pike County, by Brad D. Losito, Hamburg, Pa.; a 617-pound male taken in Henry Clay Township, Fayette County, by Glenn P. Pyeritz, of Markleysburg; a 614-pound male taken in Logan Township, Huntingdon County, by Glenn L. Hannah, of Warriors Mark; a 592-pound male taken in Packer Township, Carbon County, by Michael J. Ulinitz, of Barnesville; and a 592-pound male taken in Dunbar Township, Fayette County, by Jason K. Burns, of New Alexandria.

The 2015 first-day preliminary harvest is a decrease compared to 1,623 bears taken during the 2014 opener. Hunters in 2014 harvested a total of 3,366 – the seventh-largest harvest in state history. The largest harvest – 4,350 bears – happened in 2011, when preliminary first-day totals numbered 1,936.

Other first-day harvest totals were 1,320 in 2013; 1,751 in 2010; 1,897 in 2009; 1,725 in 2008; 1,005 in 2007; 1,461 in 2007; 1,461 in 2006; and 2,026 in 2005.

The preliminary first-day bear harvest by Wildlife Management Unit was as follows: WMU 1A, 10 (6 in 2014); WMU 1B, 35 (54); WMU 2B, 2 (0); WMU 2C, 133 (162); WMU 2D, 99 (84); WMU 2E, 20 (21);WMU 2F, 208 (171); WMU 2G, 275 (365); WMU 2H, 31 (49); WMU 3A, 27 (101); WMU 3B, 133 (133);WMU 3C, 41 (44); WMU 3D, 160 (105); WMU 4A, 76 (66); WMU 4B, 60 (67); WMU 4C, 46 (44); WMU 4D, 130 (132); WMU 4E, 17 (15); WMU 5A, 0 (3); and WMU 5C, 0 (1).

The top bear hunting county in the state on the first day of the season was Lycoming County, with 149.
Opening-day harvests by county and region are:
Northwest (277): Warren, 70 (69); Forest, 55 (32); Venango, 45 (42); Clarion, 41
(35); Jefferson, 40 (30); Butler, 10 (11); Crawford, 9 (15); Mercer, 5 (3); and Erie, 2 (11).
Southwest (144): Somerset, 45 (61); Fayette, 39 (62); Armstrong, 20 (21); Cambria, 14 (7); Indiana, 14 (5); Westmoreland, 11 (15); and Allegheny, 1 (0).
Northcentral (531): Lycoming, 149 (143); Clinton, 131 (91); McKean, 55 (60); Centre, 48 (60); Clearfield, 40 (36); Elk, 31 (46); Potter, 30 (64); Cameron, 19 (54); Union, 15 (24); and Tioga, 13 (130).
Southcentral (214): Huntingdon, 63 (45); Bedford, 43 (43); Fulton, 21 (19); Blair, 18 (20); Juniata, 17 (10); Perry, 15 (29); Franklin, 13 (6); Mifflin, 13 (22); Snyder, 10 (9); Cumberland, 1 (1).
Northeast (314): Pike, 77 (49); Luzerne, 44 (26); Monroe, 33 (25); Wayne, 32 (19); Sullivan, 29 (37); Bradford, 20 (31); Wyoming, 20 (13); Carbon, 18 (18); Susquehanna, 14 (23); Lackawanna, 13 (9); Columbia, 11 (6); Northumberland, 2 (2); and Montour, 1 (0).
Southeast (28): Dauphin, 12 (13); Schuylkill, 11 (17); Lebanon, 3 (1); Lehigh, 2 (0); Berks 0 (2); and Northampton, 0 (1).

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Despite Crowds, Opening Day Of PA Deer Season Offers Plenty Of Opportunities

Shoppers and retailers have Black Friday. Pennsylvania hunters have what might be considered Orange Monday.
It's opening day of the firearms deer season, and it draws a unique crowd.
About 750,000 hunters will take to Pennsylvania's woods Nov. 30 for a chance to bag a whitetail.
Two or three other states — Texas, Wisconsin, perhaps New York — have more deer hunters, but no one puts more hunters in a smaller space. Opening day here likely will see 20.5 hunters per square mile, said Kip Adams of Knox, the outreach and education coordinator for Quality Deer Management Association.
“And actually it's probably higher in places because when I looked at the size of the state and did the math, I included bodies of water and other places where you really can't hunt,” Adams said.
“If you were to look at just the amount of hunt-able land, the crowds would be even thicker.”
No other state has more than 16.5 hunters per square mile, he said, and in much of the country, there are fewer than five.
Pennsylvania hunters, though, can succeed despite the competition.
Many hunters don't enter the woods on opening day until first light, Adams said. And they get to their spot by parking in the same lots and following the same trails as everyone else.
That's a mistake.
“You're not using all of those other hunters to your advantage,” he said.
He recommends going into the woods an hour or two before dawn via roundabout routes. That will prevent spooking deer between the parking lot and your stand in the dark. It also leaves you in position to shoot deer that come by — pushed by late-arriving hunters — the minute it is legal to begin shooting, he said.
There's another advantage to being early, said Matt Ross, a biologist with the deer association.
Deer react quickly to the sudden presence of so many hunters, he said.
“But their vulnerability is going to be at its highest on opening day because they're not adapted to it,” Ross said.
Penn State researchers have been putting GPS collars on deer — bucks and does — for several years and tracking their movements on multiple sites in Pennsylvania.
Their work has shown “any deer that survives the hunting season is probably surviving because they have a hiding place,” said Duane Diefenbach, director of Penn State's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.
“My guess is, yeah, it's some of the thickest, nastiest cover they can find,” Diefenbach said.
“Anything you would look at and say, ‘Man, I wouldn't want to walk through that,' deer will look at and think that's good cover,” Adams said.
The key to hunting such “sanctuaries,” be they swamps, thickets or something else, is to get on the edges and ambush deer entering and exiting, Ross said.
One belief held by many hunters is that, once the crowds arrive, you have to go deeper into the woods to find deer. That's true, but only to a point, Diefenbach said.
“According to some of our research, about 500 to 1,000 yards from a road is where hunter harvest is highest. It's a sort of sweet spot, if you will,” he said.
Such places have the right combination of deer and hunters, Diefenbach said. Their mingling keeps deer on the move, visible and vulnerable, he said.
Inside that zone, deer typically are “using parts of the landscape that they haven't before,” Ross said. If there's spot most hunters avoid because it's too wet, for example, that might be a good “hidden space” to focus on, he said.
Research shows that whereas a deer's home range likely covered a square mile, or 640 acres, before deer season, it shrinks to 100 acres during daylight hours in season, Diefenbach said.
They don't stop moving altogether.
“At some point during the day, every day, during our hunting season, deer are up and feeding,” Adams said.
Movement peaks between 12 and 1 p.m., said Chris Rosenberry, chief deer biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
“About 90 percent of our collared bucks are moving at that time,” Rosenberry said.
Many hunters are heading back to camp or the truck for lunch by then. Those who stay and let the wandering crowds push deer may increase their chances of filling a tag, he said.
There's something to be said for staying on the stand until the last possible minute, said Brian Kosaglow of Irwin, a pro staffer with Primos Hunting.
Deer activity starts to wind down after 1 p.m., then picks up again as dusk approaches, Rosenberry said.
The problem for many hunters, Kosaglow said, is that they're walking, too, so as to be out of the woods by dark. They should be staying put, especially with other hunters moving, he said.
“I call it the secondary push,” Kosaglow said. “As guys are walking back out of the woods, if you stay in your spot, they'll most likely push deer past you. You've just got to be willing to sit it out. You have to be as willing to see the moon and the stars as you are the sun and the clouds.”
Hunters who want to avoid the crowds always can just wait. Opening day's massive wave doesn't last long.
There are crowds on the first Saturday — when antlerless deer become legal in most places — and again on the final one, said Chris Reidmiller, one of the commission's wildlife conservation officers in Indiana County. But on weekdays, there's usually little competition.
“I'd say there's probably 90 percent less pressure those days,” he said.
The key is to go when you can, Kosaglow said.
“There are plenty of quality deer out there, even on game lands. I'm seeing them on my trail cameras anyway,” he said. “But you have to be in the woods to be lucky.”
Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

Handgun Hunting Of Deer Not All That Simple

Pennsylvania hunters need special licensing
to hunt with a handgun.
The allure includes easier portability, maneuverability in brush, having both hands free when moving, increased challenge and the excitement of pursuing deer with a novel sporting arm.
The disadvantages of hunting with a handgun include long-distance accuracy issues associated with the barrel length and the limited availability of effective non-speciality calibers.
But handgun hunters face an additional challenge that is not encountered by hunters using other legal sporting arms.
In addition to state Game Commission hunting licenses and permits, handgun hunters are required by the state Uniform Firearm Act, Title 18, to be in possession of a valid Concealed Carry permit or a Sportsman’s Firearm Permit.
The tags are not interchangeable. Pennsylvania is an open-carry state — it’s legal to appear in public with a gun that is visible. Carrying a firearm that is hidden from view requires a Concealed Carry permit issued by the county sheriff’s office. The Concealed Carry permit allows the user to carry the pistol hidden from view in most public situations, including hunting or transporting the firearm to or from hunting, target shooting or gunsmith locations.
The Sportsman’s Firearm Permit is a more restrictive subset of Concealed Carry. It authorizes a hunter to carry the gun while transporting it to and from hunting, target shooting or gunsmith locations. But it cannot be used in other Concealed Carry situations where the gun is hidden from public view.
“The main thing is transport in vehicles,” said Tom Fazi, spokesman for the state Game Commission. “From our perspective there is no provision in Game Law concerning this. As long as it’s a lawful device and not carried concealed, we don’t ask for a Sportsman’s Permit. It’s not our permit. We have no authority to request it.”
The Game Commission, however, regulates the type of firearm that may be used for hunting. Semi-automatics are unlawful — hunting handguns must be centerfire revolvers or single shot. To shoot at a state gamelands firing range, the Game Commission requires a valid hunting license or Public Shooting Range Permit. State and federal governments weigh in during the purchase of the handgun, which requires an FBI background check.
“In my experience you don’t see a lot of guys using handguns hunting,” Fazi said. “Those who do tend to be very knowledgeable about it. You see more guys in bear season who carry a rifle but maybe have a backup handgun on them, and they’d need the correct permit even if the handgun isn’t their primary sporting arm.”
Keith Savage, manager of Braverman Arms in Wilkinsburg, said that although the open carrying of a handgun while hunting without a permit is legal, he advises his customers to get a Sportsman’s Firearm Permit.
“Transporting the gun is the primary issue, but the way the law is written it isn’t entirely clear,” he said. “Due to the political climate, I’d recommend erring on the side of caution and getting at least the Sportsman’s permit if not Concealed Carry.”
Handguns used for hunting do not figure prominently in the debate over gun control. Shira Goodman of CeaseFire PA said the organization, “has not taken a position on the issue.” A spokesman for the National Rifle Association asked that his name not be used in this story and said the NRA “is not taking an official position at this time.’
Most pistols are made for self-defense or target shooting, and most of those are not efficient sporting arms. The .44 magnum is the most commonly used handgun for hunting. Savage said he wouldn’t go lower than .357 caliber. Hunting handguns normally have a barrel 6½ to 7½ inches long, and are milled to accept telescopic sights. Handgun hunters often use a bandolier-style holster that rides on the chest.
There are no special strategies or tactics associated with handgun hunting, said Savage.
“If you know what you’re doing, you’re going to able to shoot unbelievable distances even with a 7½-inch barrel,” he said. “Out to about 200 yards, handguns are as accurate as rifles, but it’s easier to be more accurate with a rifle farther out.”

Thursday, November 19, 2015

2015 Pennsylvania Big Game Records Book Now Available

Find out where the big ones are being taken.
          Do you hunt deer or bear and want to know where the big ones are being taken.
          Check out the 2015 edition of the Pennsylvania Big Game Records book, which is now on sale.   The2015 Pennsylvania Big Game Records 
book contains more than 4,000 entries in 10 categories: Typical and nontypical deer taken with firearms and archery equipment, black bears taken with firearms and archery equipment, and typical and nontypical elk taken with firearms and archery equipment.
A few of the trophies listed in the records were taken 100 or more years ago, but many others have been taken in recent years.
Where in Pennsylvania can you find the top counties for trophy whitetails? Some of the answers might surprise you.
          The 2015 records book is available for $6, plus shipping, plus 6 percent sales tax. Make checks payable to and order from: Pennsylvania Game Commission, Dept. MS, 2001 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797; visit “The Outdoor Shop” at or call 1-888-888-3459 to make purchases with your credit card, or stop by the Game Commission’s Harrisburg headquarters to pick up a copy.
          Already listed in the record book?
Big-game hunters who are listed in the Pennsylvania records book will want to bag a special patch signifying being a member of this exclusive fraternity.
The record-book patch design, which features a bull elk, bear and buck on a Keystone State outline, was crafted by well-known graphic designer Mark Anderson.
This patch is available only to those trophy owners who are listed in the record book, and is sure to become a highly collectible and coveted item.
Patches are $10, plus shipping cost, plus sales tax.
          Funds from the sale of these patches will be used to support the Big Game Scoring Program.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Follow The Map To Whitetails On PA Gamelands

Deer Hunter Focus Areas point hunters to some of the best deer habitat on state game lands.
Scouting for deer is all about looking for sign.

 And this year, hunters also can look for signs – green-and-yellow paper placards reading “Deer Hunter Focus Area” – and follow them to some of the best whitetail habitat on state game lands.

Sections of game lands posted as Deer Hunter Focus Areas recently have undergone timber harvests or other habitat modifications that typically cause deer to concentrate because of an abundance of newly available food. Many of these areas are off the beaten path, and have been posted to alert hunters to their presence and the potential they hold.

          “Some of the best places to hunt deer on state game lands are in remote, often mountainous, areas where forest-management practices have opened the canopy to promote increased plant growth,” said Dave Gustafson, chief forester for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. “However, these areas often are in remote destinations, some distance from roads open to public travel.

          “That’s where this new program intends to help hunters. Our goal is to guide hunters within a half-mile – or less – of game lands locations where deer are taking advantage of these habitat improvements.”

In large tracts of forestlands, deer are drawn – almost immediately – to wherever any thinning of the forest canopy occurs. Such places quickly offer increased amounts of browse – forest plants and other succulent vegetation that are an important part of a deer’s diet. Thinned forest areas usually provide sufficient cover, too.

But drawing enough hunting pressure to these areas is key to maintaining that habitat. And as part of the program, more game lands roads will be opened to vehicles. That should help hunters cut the time it takes to travel and hike to their hunting spots, whether they’re hunting in a Deer Hunter Focus Area or somewhere else. 

“By getting hunters into these areas, we can keep deer numbers in balance with available food, and the land can continue to provide for deer there, making these places ideal hunting spots for years to come,” Gustafson said.

Of course, as a result of this new program, there also will be hunters who end up with more company where they hunt currently in game lands interiors. But the program, in its first year, will occur on only 30 or so tracts of game lands. Hunters seeking to avoid the crowds still have plenty of room and places to hunt on most forested game lands.

Signs identifying Deer Hunter Focus Areas contain a yellow keystone, surrounded by a green background with images of deer silhouettes in all four corners

          Maps of state game lands with sections posted as Deer Hunter Focus Areas can be found on the Game Commission’s website, Go to the homepage and select Deer Hunter Focus Area link.. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Young, Wandering Males To Predominate Pennsylvania Bear Harvest

By Bob Frye

Young male bears are the most likely to turn up in check stations this week and next.
Pennsylvania's statewide archery bear season runs Monday to Friday. The firearms bear season opens Saturday and continues from Nov. 23-25.
If history holds, the kill will be large.
The statewide bear population is estimated at a record 18,000. Bear hunter numbers are higher than ever before, too, with about 175,000 expected to take to the woods.
That combination has led to nine of Pennsylvania's 10 largest black bear harvests occurring in the past decade, with 3,366 taken last year. That was the seventh-highest tally ever.
Most of those animals were young.
For example, in the 10-county northwest region of Pennsylvania in 2014, 53 percent of the bears aged were 1 year, 10 months old. In the 10-county southwest, it was 49 percent.
That's not surprising, said Mark Ternent, bear biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
“Like with any other species, the younger age classes are the largest age classes, hence the largest proportion of the kill. Younger bears also are more vulnerable because of inexperience,” Ternent said.
Older, and consequently heavier bears are taken annually.
Butler County gave up 28 bears last year. Of the 19 aged, 15 were younger than age 3.
But one was 7 years, 10 months old and weighed 598 pounds. It was taken in Moraine State Park.
“Most of the roadkills I see come from Route 422 where it goes through the park, or turn up along Route 8 or Interstate 79 near the park,” said Randy Pilarcik, the commission's wildlife conservation officer in that area. “There's a healthy population of them there. But that was a really nice one.”
Bears can get even older.
Animals up to age 15 show up in the harvest just about every year, Ternent said, with some older ones sprinkled in. Last year, hunters took six bears that were 16 years, 10 months old, three that were 17 years, 10 months, one 20 years, 10 months and one 23 years, 10 months.
However, that's not the upper limit.
Two years ago, conservation officers had to put down a bear in Carbon County that a homeowner spotted in her yard, unable to walk. It was a record eight weeks shy of age 37, Ternent said.
“It was 6 years old when we put a collar on it in 1982, which means it was born in January 1976. Gerald Ford was president when that bear was born and it died in 2013,” he said.
But young bears are the norm.
What's more surprising, Ternent said, is how many of those bears are males.
Pennsylvania's bear population is roughly 60 percent female. Yet the annual harvest is “within 100 bears every year” of being 50-50 males to females, he added.
In the northwest region last fall, 50 percent of bears taken by hunters and subsequently aged were male. In the southwest, it was 52 percent.
“Males just lead riskier lives,” Ternent said.
There are several reasons, he pointed out. They're less likely than females — who spend all of their lives from age 3 on either pregnant or caring for cubs — to den early.
They have larger home ranges, too. That means they cross more roads and encounter more people.
And they're the explorers.
Female bear cubs rarely go far from where they were born, Ternent said. Males spread out farther and faster.
“Those peripheral areas, you expect young males to show up there first. They just find themselves there sooner,” Ternent said.
That's a hint of what might be to come locally, perhaps this fall.
No hunter has killed a bear in Greene or Washington counties since the commission began keeping records in the 1940s.
But Stephen Leiendecker, a land management group supervisor with the commission, thinks that might soon change.
There are bears living in Greene County year-round, he said. No one's seriously hunted them before this year, but there's been “scuttlebutt” of that changing, he said.
“I'm wondering if this isn't going to be the first year of harvesting a bear in Greene,” Leiendecker said.
There's no guarantee it will be a young male, Ternent said.
“Peripheral areas tend to get overlooked as having a huntable population for a few years after bears become established. Under this scenario, we might expect some older-age bears to be present because of the relatively light hunting pressure at first,” he said.
But he wouldn't be surprised if it is.
Beaver County produced its first bear this century earlier this year. It was a 223-pound male.
“Greene and Washington counties can't be far behind,” Ternent said.

Weather impacts archery bear harvest
Pennsylvania's five-day archery bear season has been a rough one for hunters the past few years.
“Weather probably has the most impact on bear harvest, with the acorn crop being No. 2,” said Mark Ternent, the Game Commission's black bear biologist.
Conditions for the archery hunt have ranged from “brutally cold” in 2013 to cold and wet last year, he said. Comparatively poor hunting has been the result.
In 2010, hunters took 269 bears. That spiked to 304 in 2011 before falling back to 262 in 2012, 197 in 2013 and 170 last year.
No one can control the weather, but hunters can up their odds for success this week by finding dense concentrations of acorns, Ternent said.
“Food is just as important, and maybe more important, in the early season than it is in later in November. If you can find one area that's producing more mast than other ones around you, that's where the bears will be,” he said.
If acorns are scattered, he said, bears will be here today, gone tomorrow, always on the move in an attempt to bulk up before winter. Conversely, they'll stick around an area rich in acorns, Ternent said.
Hunters who don't get a bear in the archery season can try the regular season, and in places, an extended season. In wildlife management unit 2C, for example, hunters can kill a bear on the Wednesday to Saturday of the first week of deer season from Dec. 2-5.
The only requirement is that hunters have a bear license. The rules for buying them have changed.
In years past, hunters had to buy their bear tag before opening day of the statewide season. This year, licenses can be purchased right up until the last season closes.
— Bob Frye
Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Jefferson County Hunter Bags Giant Pennsylvania Bull Elk

By Bob Frye 
Mark Martino poses with his giant Pennsylvania elk.
He won the chance to hunt it by buying
$100 worth of raffle tickets.
Mark Martino knew what he wanted and he held out until he got it.
Even though that more than once meant resisting 800-plus pounds of temptation on the hoof. And tough questioning from his guides. And his own aching feet.
He's convinced it was worth it.
After all, few people get to hunt Pennsylvania elk in the heart of the rut and end up with an animal that could be, if not a state record, close to it. But Martino did.
The resident of Walston in Jefferson County this fall shot a nontypical 8-by-8 bull that greenscored around 440 inches. It's got to dry for 60 days, then be scored again for official record purposes, and some shrinkage is typical.
But the existing state record, taken in 2011, is 442 6/8, so it should be close, he believes.
“Oh, I was just happier than heck,” Martino said. “I'm not real good at scoring elk, but I knew it was big. It looked really huge.”
That's what he wanted — a giant. So when he got his chance after winning the elk license raffle sponsored by the Keystone Elk Country Alliance, having bought six tickets for $100, he made it his only priority.
The winner gets to hunt anywhere in the elk range for 60 days starting Sept. 1. A self-employed mechanic, Martino closed his business for September, paying his monthly bills from his savings. He was prepared to do the same for October if necessary, all so he could be in the woods every day.
Initially, his guides — the raffle winner gets a week's service from Elk County Outfitters — found him a big bull sporting a Pennsylvania Game Commission collar. They showed him pictures and he agreed to target it.
That led to some exciting encounters as the rut began.
“That was the best part of everything,” Martino said. “Brian (Hale, one of the guides), he'd rake the brush and those bulls would come in looking for a fight. We had that four or five days. They'd be within 20 yards, 15 yards.”
None of them was the big collared bull, though. In fact, weeks into September, he'd never laid eyes on it.
Some of the others he'd come across were nice, and he'd been tempted to pull the trigger multiple times but didn't. That led to some consternation, if not tension.
“I know some of the outfitter guys were kind of upset because they kept asking me, ‘What exactly are you looking for?' ” Martino recalled. “I said I wanted to get as close to the state record as I could. I kept saying, I've got 45 days left, I've got 42 days left, 41 days left, 40 days left. I still had time to hunt. I wasn't getting too excited.”
He was getting whipped.
Starting on Sept. 1, he hunted every day Monday through Saturday. Sundays he was in the woods scouting. That often meant four-mile hikes into the woods followed by four-mile hikes back out.
“I was to the point where I wanted to do a lot less walking,” Martino said.
About then, his guides — who stayed with him longer than required, hunting all or parts of 18 days — found him another bull, one running with a harem of cows that included one with a collar.
They spend several days chasing it, getting only occasional long-distance glimpses, before Martino was able to shoot it at 10:20 a.m. Sept, 25.
It's gotten a lot of attention and deservedly so, say some of those most familiar with the region's elk.
“It's a really good bull, no matter how you slice it,” said Rawley Cogan, executive director of the Elk Country Alliance. “I've seen it. It's impressive.”
Jeremy Banfield, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's biologist, agreed. The commission manages the elk herd to provide lots of branch-antlered bulls, those age 2 12 and older, he said. There are quite a few 5 12-year-old 6-by-6 bulls, too. They satisfy most people, he said.
But animals like Martino's are rare, he said.
“The really massive bulls, those in the 400-class, those are animals that are 8 and 9 years old,” Banfield said.
What's also exceptional about Martino's bull is where it was taken, said Jack Manack Jr., the Mt. Pleasant man who owns Elk County Outfitters. He got it in zone 10, in the 75-square-mile, 48,000 acre Quehanna Wild Area of Elk and Moshannon state forests.
It's very different than the private farm fields and woodlots where some other elk hunting occurs, Manack said.
“That place, up in the middle of the Quehanna there, it's pretty awesome. All that public land, some of the biggest tracts we have, it's just a great setting for hunting elk,” Manack said.
Martino is happy with how things worked out. Fifty-two-years-old and a devoted hunter, he's taken plenty of deer, but never anything like his elk.
“Right now, it's still pretty exciting. It was a lot of fun,” Martino said.
Other elk, other hunting
Mark Martino is not the only hunter to take a monster Pennsylvania elk already this fall.
Each year, one elk license is auctioned off to the highest bidder by a conservation organization, with most or all of the money raised going to the Pennsylvania Game Commission specifically for elk habitat and management.
This year, a hunter paid $52,500 for that tag, then immediately transferred it to his wife.
According to Jack Manack Jr., that woman — in her second year as a hunter — took a typical elk that could prove to be the biggest ever for the Keystone State. It greenscored 414. He expects it will ultimately net around 392.
The existing state record typical elk scores 3877⁄8. It was taken in 2010.
The hunter doesn't want to be identified. Manack declined to provide her name; the Elk Foundation referred calls for that information to the Game Commission. A spokesman there said he had no details to share.
Some other hunters get their chance at an elk this week. The state's record elk season runs Nov. 2-7.
A total of 116 licenses were issued in a lottery that drew nearly 28,000 applicants. Twenty-one of those licenses are for bull elk, 95 for cows. Hunters must hunt within specified zones.
Any who don't fill their tag can continue hunting Nov. 9-14 during the “extended” season, but only for animals that might have wandered outside the boundaries of the state's elk management area.
— Bob Frye
Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.