Friday, October 13, 2017

Increasingly popular blinds provide advantages for PA hunters

By Bob Frye
Perceptions have changed when it comes to ground blinds.
The numbers tell the tale.
Once a poor second to tree stands, pop-up blinds have grown in popularity among hunters, with sales very good for the last half decade or longer, said Jake Edson, spokesman for Primos Hunting.
“They're a pretty long-lasting product, say five to 10 years, so if sales are even steady year to year, that tells you their popularity is pretty strong,” Edson said.
It's no wonder why, say their proponents.
Ground blinds are perfect for those hunting with children, said Josh Lantz, spokesman for Ameristep hunting blinds. They're great for those who can't or don't want to climb trees. They're mobile, offer concealment and keep you dry if hunting in the rain, too.
Most importantly, they work for taking deer and other game.
“To me, if you're a serious deer hunter, the more tools you have in the tool box you have, the better off you are. And a good ground blind is another option for when you need it,” said Carl Drake, a pro staffer with Hunter's Specialties.
Many times, he said, they've saved the day when hunting a food plot or field and deer just won't come close enough to his tree stand to offer a shot.
He's put out a ground blind, maybe at the other end of the field or at least closer to where bucks are traveling. More than once, he said, that's allowed him to fill his tag.
“I put out that ground blind, let it sit for a few days, and suddenly I could kill that buck because it put me within 30 or 40 yards of that deer,” he said.
“You can plop that ground blind up and hunt deer you've patterned from your tree stand, so to speak,” agreed Lantz.
To be successful using a ground blind, though, hunters first have to make sure they get the proper one. Several considerations factor into that.
First, consider how easy it is to use, Drake said.
“Is it something that's going to take 10 or 15 minutes to set up? Or is it something you can take it out, pop it up and go? For me, it's got to be one that's easy to set up,” he said.
Second, consider size and how many people will be in it.
“If you're going to have more than one person in there, you need to make sure it's big enough that you can both be comfortable,” Lantz said.
A two-person blind should be 55 to 59 inches wide, he said. If that blind is taller rather than shorter, all the better, especially in archery season, he added. Then, hunters inside can stand to shoot.
Third, think about windows, Edson said.
He doesn't open every window in his blind when in the woods. Keeping at least one, like the back window, closed might limit visibility a bit, but that's more than offset by keeping weather out and scent in. It also prevents hunters inside from being silhouetted, he said.
What's most important, though, is where the windows are located. Think about their height in relation to whether you'll be standing or sitting when shooting, he said.
“You have to be cognizant of the muzzle of your gun and your arrow. An arrow especially, when leaving your blind, is going to be about 4 inches below your sight line,” he said.
If the window is too small, or too low in relation to your shooting position, you may end up shooting through the blind wall, he noted.
Drake likes windows that are held closed by magnets better than ones utilizing zippers or especially Velcro.
“If I'm sitting there and realize, ‘Oh shoot, I forgot to open one of my windows,' and you have to pull on Velcro, it makes a horrible noise,” Drake said.
Fourth, and speaking of sitting, it pays to have a comfortable seat, said Lantz. He likes one without arms that swivels. He can sit in it for a long time and adjust his position without making noise if he needs to shoot.
A tall chair, almost like a bar stool, is often best for children, as it gets their bow or firearm up to window level, Edson added.
Fifth and last, look for a blind that has an orange cap, Lantz said. Pennsylvania regulations say blinds used during firearms deer seasons must have 100 square inches of orange visible in a 360-degree arc within 15 feet of the blind.
An orange cap meets that safety requirement, Lantz said.
“Plus, you don't want anyone walking in on you,” he said.
Get the right blind, one that meets all of your needs, and it can be a game changer, Edson said. That's especially true now, early in the season.
“It's amazing the amount of movement they conceal. You could almost dance a jig in there, and deer won't see you at 20 yards,” he said.
“That's important to any hunter, but especially an archery hunter who's on the ground.”
Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-216-0193 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

Sunday, October 8, 2017

PA Fish hatcheries could close if there’s no vote on raising revenues

In the battle for wildlife agency funding, the hip boot may now be on the other foot.
Fish and Boat Commissioners have given executive director John Arway authority to slash $2 million in services if the state legislature does not act on raising license fees.
Arway is telling his “customers” that if their representatives fail to schedule a vote, he’ll close two warm water fish hatcheries and one trout hatchery and make “severe” cuts in Fish and Boat’s cooperative nur sery program during fiscal year 2018-2019. Waterborne first-responder training could also be in jeopardy, said Arway.
On the homepage of the Fish and Boat website, director Arway explains the agency’s fiscal dilemma and posts a link connecting voters with their state representatives. In effect, the state Fish and Boat Commission, a non-funded agency loosely linked to the executive branch, is suggesting that citizens withhold votes for targeted members of the legislative branch if they don’t hold a vote on increasing funding.
In legislative language those are fighting words -- a threat directed at politicians who bristle at being backed into political corners.
“I think we’re the ones boxed into a corner,” said Arway. “We haven’t had an increase in license fees since 2004. This agency gets no General Fund money from the state. We’ve cut personnel as far as it can be cut. State senators have twice voted to give us authority to control our own license fees, but the House won’t hold a vote on raising license fees and won’t hold a vote on allowing us to do it ourselves. We’re at the brink of reducing services because of that, and I think their constituents should know it.”
Fish and Boat operates on a $60 million budget. The $2 million gambit was raised against a backdrop years in the making. Hunting and fishing license fees are set by the legislature. Lawmakers, particularly in some parts of the state, are traditionally reluctant to face voters after raising license fees. No action is taken for years; agency costs continue to grow. When license fees are finally raised, the jump is so high and abrupt that the agencies independently report losing about 10 percent of license holders.
The last raise in hunting license fees was in 1999. The Game Commission’s $120 million budget is also stressed, but the agency has not joined in the Fish and Boat threat to withhold services.
The state Senate approved measures that would authorize both agencies to control their own license fees with legislative oversight, assuming the fees would increase gradually every year or two. In the state House, similar bills are stuck in committee without a vote scheduled for the fall term. Arway’s ultimatum has ruffled feathers, but the tactic may have backfired.
“It’s resonating with a lot of members. A couple of my colleagues are livid over the matter,” said Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-York, majority chairman of the House Game and Fisheries Committee. “The people who are most upset are very much in favor of authorizing [self-regulation of fees], but they take offense at being pushed into a corner. There has been damage done with the threats or release of information. We would have preferred that it would have been done another way.”
Gillespie said he strongly supports the self-regulation of fees, but can’t generate enough votes to move the bills beyond his committee.
“A bunch of my colleagues are not willing to give up that authority,” he said, and some don’t want the vote to be held months before an election year. Gillespie said he has heard of no linkage to other issues, such as horse-trading over support for a shale gas severance tax.
Arway said the service-reduction plan was based on recommendations of the Pennsylvania State University Ecosystem Science and Management College of Agricultural Sciences, which this year conducted an 85-page business analysis of the Fish and Boat Commission. If enacted the plan would, among other things, reduce the number of trout stocked by 7.5 percent -- 240,000 adult trout stocked in 61 streams and four lakes -- and affect the production and stocking of walleye, muskellunge, northern pike and channel catfish.
“It’s not like John’s being capricious,” said Gillespie. “He has mentioned the problem on numerous occasions. He’s saying Rome is burning and this is necessary.”