Sunday, January 22, 2017

Hunter shatters Pennsylvania record with non-typical buck

Few hunters ever will have an experience like this one.
Eric Carns of Hesston in Huntingdon County was out with his crossbow Nov. 5, on family property in Clearfield County. He was on the ground when a deer spooked by his father ran to within 20 yards of him. He made a quick decision to shoot.
Good move.
The buck's rack had 26 points and a 196/8-inch spread. This past week, it was certified as the new state record nontypical archery buck. It scored 2286/8.
The previous record was an Allegheny County deer killed in 2007 that scored 209 18.
What's more, Carns' buck ranks as the No. 3 nontypical in state history even when considering deer taken with firearms. The only two bigger bucks were one taken in 1942 that scored 2386/8 and one taken in 2001 that scored 2302/8.
“I've scored maybe a handful of deer over 200 inches. But that's the biggest I've ever scored,” said Bob D'Angelo, state records program coordinator for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
“It had everything — the points, the length, the mass.”
What made it score so well, he said, were its odd points. It had 13 on each side and was symmetrical that way. But each of the main points had another coming off them. They added nearly 51 inches to the rack's score.
“That's just tremendous. That just piled on the points,” D'Angelo said.
Carns himself hasn't said much. He asked the commission not hand out his contact information.
Tracked down anyway, he did not return any of several phone calls.
His only comments, in fact, were those made to WTAJ-TV, an Altoona television station.
“I shot a 10-point last year and got it mounted. It was 20 inches wide,” Carns told WTAJ. “This year's just makes it look small.”
His deer was the cream of what has apparently been an excellent crop across Pennsylvania. D'Angelo said large-racked bucks have become commonplace in recent years, with this past season especially good.
“A 140-class deer, I don't even get excited anymore. Although I've never killed one that big myself, I don't get excited when they come in to be scored because I see them all the time,” D'Angelo said.
That's the trend all across the country, it seems.
This past fall, a hunter in Tennessee killed what is now officially the new world record nontypical. It scored 312 38.
There have been media reports, too, of possible state-record deer being taken in Minnesota, Mississippi and Louisiana, where not one but two hunters might have broken the state's 70-year-old whitetail record.
While all those deer have yet to be certified, there's no doubt there are plenty of big bucks on the landscape these days.
That's not by accident, said Johnathan Bordelon, deer program manager for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
To reach their potential antler-wise, bucks need to live relatively long lives, he said. Once, hunters didn't permit that.
In 1981 in Louisiana, for example, Bordelon said, yearling bucks made up 80 percent of the annual harvest.
Now, things have flipped completely. Eighty percent of the harvest typically is made up of deer at least 2 12 years old, these days, and 67 percent 3 12 years, he said.
“Older-age harvest has allowed deer to grow larger and reach their growth potential. The result has been an increase in the number of large bucks harvested,” Bordelon said.
Much the same thing has happened in Pennsylvania.
In 2015, more than half of the bucks killed in Pennsylvania were 2 12 years or older. Mandatory antler restrictions that require hunters to pass on smaller, younger bucks partly explain that and are also the “most obvious” reason so many big bucks are showing up, said Chris Rosenberry, the Game Commission's chief deer biologist.
Those older deer grow larger antlers, he said.
But there's more to it than that, at least nationally.
Louisiana has some of the longest deer seasons in the country and no mandatory antler restrictions, for example.
“The increase in age structure is tied to hunter desires,” Bordelon said. “Long seasons have provided hunters a long window in which to be selective.”
At the same time, increasing numbers of hunters have come to grips with the idea that the key to large, healthy, big-racked deer is maintaining whitetails in “appropriate numbers,” said Adam Murkowski, big game program leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' division of fish and wildlife.
That can mean fewer deer than in decades past, he said.
“But I think a lot of hunters are coming to realize that the answer to growing big bucks is not to increase the size of the whole pyramid and hope to get a few more big ones at the top,” Murkowski said.
“It's to maintain that appropriate number of deer. You get more big bucks as a result of that.”
Still, bucks as large as the one Carns took will always be rare, D'Angelo said. It was, he said, “incredible.”
But every hunter who heads out can hope. Sometimes, he said, that's all it takes.
“You hate to say it, but a lot of these are just luck,” D'Angelo said.
Bob Frye is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via @bobfryeoutdoors.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

PA Game Commission Pheasant Chick And Egg Program Comes To An End

HARRISBURG, PA - Two long-running programs that enabled groups and individuals to
raise pheasants for release in their local areas have come to an end due to financially driven changes to the Game Commission’s pheasant propagation program.
The Pheasant Chick Program, started in 1933, provided day-old pheasant chicks free of charge to sportsmen’s organizations with approved propagation facilities. And the Day-Old Pheasant Hen Chick and Surplus Egg Programs enabled properly permitted organizations and individuals to buy chicks and eggs to raise and release.
Each of the programs served to augment the pheasant releases the Game Commission conducts each year before and during the pheasant hunting season. The birds that went to sportsmen's organizations were released on lands open to public hunting.
In an effort to cut costs, however, the Game Commission is implementing changes to its pheasant propagation program. The agency recently announced the closure of two pheasant farms, and will rely on the remaining two farms for all production. In closing the farms, the agency has also released birds that would have been kept as breeding stock.
Rather than raising chicks from the eggs laid by these birds, the agency will purchase day-old chicks from a privately owned breeder, and raise those birds for release.
Purchasing chicks is more cost-effective. And in making the switch and eliminating 14 positions that had been held by game-farm workers, the agency expects to save $1.5 million in the coming year.
The Board of Game Commissioners also is discussing creation of a $25 permit that would be required for all adult pheasant hunters, and would further help pay for Pennsylvania’s propagation program.
The application period for pheasant egg and chick programs traditionally opened in January.
Organizations and individuals that had planned on taking part in the program in 2017 might still be able to obtain pheasant eggs from private propagators.
Unlike most state agencies, the Pennsylvania Game Commission in not funded by tax dollars. It relies primarily on revenue generated through the purchase of hunting and furtaker licenses – the fees for which are set by the General Assembly and have not been adjusted for inflation in nearly two decades.
“Cost-cutting measures, like the changes we’re implementing to the pheasant propagation program are necessary to balance the agency’s budget until a license-fee increase finally is approved,” said R. Matthew Hough, the Game Commission’s executive director. “We’ve had to make a lot of difficult decisions in recent years, and a lot of them probably went unnoticed because initially we cut in areas we knew would have the least impact on those who rely on the services we offer. But as we’re forced to make bigger and more significant cuts at the program level, there’s no avoiding the impact to services. Unfortunately, more cuts will be needed to balance the budget for the coming fiscal year, and Pennsylvania’s citizens and wildlife resources have begun feeling the impact.”

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Fisher Resurgence: Once extinct in Pennsylvania forests, a big active predator is on the rebound

The fisher, Pennsylvania’s second-largest member of the weasel family (the river otter is largest), is poorly named. “Mouser” or “squirreler” might be better.
Although fishers prey on diverse food sources, fish are not part of their diet. Small rodents, rabbits, squirrels and carrion make up much of the menu, and fishers are effective predators of porcupines where that prey is available. But biologists who have worked to re-establish the fisher, once extinct in Pennsylvania, concede it will eat almost any wild creature that doesn’t eat it first.
“In fishers, we’ve seen the most diverse diet, including each other, of all forest predators; there’s nothing they won’t eat,” said Matt Lovallo, wildlife biologist in the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Game Mammals Section. “With some food items like deer, whether it’s predation or scavenging, we don’t know. We do understand that hunters have an intuitive concern about turkeys because fishers are skilled tree climbers, but birds are very limited among the food items we’ve analyzed.”
The name fisher has roots in the older French word “fichet,” which applied to the polecat, a European weasel. Known to scientists as Martes pennanti, fishers are weasel-like in appearance but larger, cloaked in dark brown to black fur, sometimes brindled with white or silver. Big males can exceed 4 feet from snout to tail tip with the heavily furred tail accounting for about a third of the total length. The sharply triangular head is topped with short rounded ears. Adult males generally range between 9 to 12 pounds, with the largest specimens nearly doubling that weight. Females are smaller.
Should the state Game Commission invest resources into restoring extirpated wildlife or focus on improving conditions for Pennsylvania hunters?
Restoring wildlife
Improving hunting
Fishers are forest-dependent and currently range all across Canada’s forest belt, but their original distribution embraced the Great Lakes and extended southward along the Rocky and Appalachian mountain chains. As native Appalachian and Midwestern forests were cleared in the 19th century, fishers disappeared from the region. But as second-growth woodland reclaimed much of the landscape, biologists in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, Michigan and Wisconsin sought to re-establish fishers in those states.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Fisher Management Plan states that West Virginia released fishers captured in New Hampshire as early as 1969. New York followed in the 1980s by re-locating fishers from a remnant Adirondack population to other forested tracts. Most significantly, between 1994 and 1998, Game Commission biologists working cooperatively with Frostburg University released 190 fishers at six heavily forested sites across northern Pennsylvania. Fishers have been sighted, crushed on highways and caught accidentally in traps with increasing frequency ever since.
“Fisher reintroductions have been a success across the Northeast and Midwest, maybe at a quicker rate than we expected,” Lovallo said. “Although we released fishers in northern Pennsylvania, and they’re doing well, we believe the growing population in southwestern counties is a result of range expansion from West Virginia.”
Biologists know that fisher populations are growing and spreading within the state because they monitor legal trapping harvests, survey trappers to track incidental fisher captures and document road-kills.
The Fisher Management Plan reports that between 2001 and 2008 the number of fishers trapped incidentally rose from one to 105. The Game Commission’s Wildlife Management Unit 2C comprising mountainous Somerset, Fayette, Westmoreland, Indiana and Cambria counties accounted for nearly half of the 2008 total.
“Since we wrote that plan in 2008 the number of incidental captures has climbed to over 1,000 today,” Lovallo said.
Lovallo explained that incidental captures are fishers caught unintentionally by trappers targeting other species such as fox or raccoon, or trapped outside wildlife management units open to legal fisher trapping. Trappers are required to release these fishers unharmed if possible.
Since 2010 the Game Commission has regulated a limited trapping season (Dec. 17-28 in 2016) for fishers across 13 wildlife management units including WMUs 1B, 2C and 2D in Western Pennsylvania. Only one fisher may be taken per year and trappers must have a fisher permit.
“About 6 percent of our trappers with a fisher permit are successful. That rate has remained amazingly consistent since we started the season,” Lovallo said. “For example, [in 2015] 6,564 permit holders trapped 401 fishers in units with an open season.”
Jim Griffith, a veteran trapper from Somerset who also works as a fur receiving agent for Fur Harvesters Auction Inc. of North Bay, Ontario, has caught fishers in wide-ranging locations.
“I travel a lot buying fur and I trap in a lot of places,” Griffith said. “I’ll never forget the first thing I caught in a cable restraint in Pennsylvania was a fisher. Of course, I let it go because that was before we had a season. I carry a noose-pole and I slip the noose over one leg, stretch them out so they can’t bite and release them. Away they go.
“Being an aggressive predator, fishers are fairly easy to trap,” Griffith continued. “When the Canadians trap beaver in the remote bush they skin them on-site and take just the pelt. If a fisher gets on that beaver carcass it won’t leave it, even if it has to fight wolves.”
Griffith said signs of renewed interest in American fur from Chinese and Russian buyers, fisher pelts included, is encouraging news for local trappers and the fur market, .
“Right now, prices are as low as I’ve ever seen,” Griffith said. “But I’m optimistic and it can only go up from here. Not long ago a prime female fisher brought $200. Today, maybe $60 or $70.”
Female pelts fetch better prices than male fishers because the female’s fur is softer and silkier, Griffith explained.
Griffith’s top tip for trapping fishers?
“Use skunk scent as your lure. Fishers love it,” Griffith offered. “Around here, where you mainly find fisher is in heavy woods with hemlock or spruce where they can get red squirrels, but they have adapted well to all types of woodland.”
When asked to explain biologists’ motivation in re-introducing an opportunistic predator like the fisher, Lovallo doesn’t hesitate.
“The reality is that we had fishers in great numbers prior to the 1900s. Part of [the Game Commission’s] agency mission is to maintain and restore wildlife populations,” Lovallo reflected. “We’ve restored many such as elk, otter, eagle and beaver. Other large predators like wolves and mountain lions we’ve lost and probably never will get back, unless they do it on their own.”
Ben Moyer is a freelance writer from Farmington, Pa.

Monday, January 2, 2017

2017 Winter Trap League Schedule

Fight the Winter blues by coming out for the Winter trap league every Sunday starting January 8th 2017.  

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

January 8th at Frazier 
January 15th at West View
January 22nd at Bull Creek
January 29th at Frazier 
February 5th at West View (Super Bowl)
February 12th at Bull Creek

February 19th at Frazier
February 26th at West View
March 5th at Bull Creek
March 12th at Frazier
March 19th at West View
March 26 th at Bull Creek
TBD(Saturday) Banquet at Bull Creek