This marks an eventful week in the great out-of-doors for Pennsylvania’s fraternity of hunters as our increasingly crowded outdoors calendar swings into mid-October. Let’s take a look at the veritable cornucopia of outdoors options that kicked in Saturday, Oct. 14, starting with a few “one week only” specials.
For waterfowl fans things will be just ducky this week thanks to our early (but very brief) duck season that opened Saturday and runs here in the South Zone through Oct. 21. Stage two of our mourning dove season also reengaged on Oct. 14 running through Nov. 25 with shooting permitted all day long, not just starting at noon as in the first stage.
If you’re a black powder buff, this is also your week because our early muzzleloader season on white-tailed deer (antlerless only) began on Saturday and runs through Oct. 21. This statewide season permits the use of all muzzleloading rifles from classic primitive flintlocks shooting patched roundballs to modern in-line rifles fitted with scopes and loaded with state-of-the-art sabot bullets.
Since this narrow season overlaps our ongoing archery deer season, there may be some confusion about the fluorescent orange regulations affecting deer hunters this week so here’s some clarification: Early season muzzleloader hunters are required to wear a minimum of 250 square inches of orange on head, chest, and back combined, visible 360 degrees. Bowhunters, who normally favor a camouflage wardrobe when afield, must also wear a minimum of 250 square inches of orange on head, chest, and back visible 360 degrees but only when moving. Bowhunters may remove their orange trimmings once on stand and stationary. However, they then still need to post 100 square inches (visible 360 degrees) of orange within 15 feet of their location. Once the muzzleloader season ends after Oct. 21, archers may return to camouflage-only mode.
Joining those deer, dove, and duck hunters afield are small game hunters. The state’s early small game season also opened on Saturday when rabbit, squirrel, bobwhite quail, and ruffed grouse all became legal game. The first segment of this season runs through Nov. 25, but there’s a possibility that the season on ruffed grouse, whose numbers have been seriously impacted by West Nile Virus, may close earlier than scheduled. Small game hunters are also required to don 250 square inches of orange. No orange is necessary for dove and duck hunters.
For pheasant hunters, the main event won’t begin until Saturday, Oct. 21. There’s some controversy about the state’s pheasant hunting program this year since, for the first time ever, the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) has imposed an extra $26.90 fee for a special pheasant permit that must be signed and carried while hunting for pheasants. These permit fees are intended to help the PGC defray the costs of raising and stocking those long-tailed birds. Lifetime senior license holders, some of whom may gripe that they’ve been blindsided by this new requirement, are also required to purchase these permits if they plan to hunt pheasants. Most of these hunters (like yours truly) began their hunting careers back when wild pheasants were plentiful. But now, with wild Keystone State ringnecks as scarce as passenger pigeons and dodo birds, Pennsylvania pheasant hunting is 100 percent put-and-take, an operation that creates an expensive proposition for the PGC.
Even though pheasant production has been trimmed, hunters heading afield this fall shouldn’t notice much difference in the number of pheasants they flush. The PGC still plans to release about 170,000 pheasants, a reduction from the goal of 200,000 pheasants in recent years. And, due to the new fee, we’re likely to see far fewer pheasant hunters afield this fall.
In the meantime, to maximize the pheasant harvest, these birds now will be stocked primarily on game lands and other public lands that have the best hunter access, good pheasant habitat, and high harvest rates. These properties are showcased on an interactive map now available on the Game Commission website.
The PGC’s interactive map not only shows the properties where pheasants will be stocked, but it allows the user to zoom in on properties to view potential pheasant hunting areas, even parking lots. By clicking on the property, users can learn the total number of pheasants released there last year, as well as the number of releases, to get an idea of what’s happening there. Here in the southeast, public lands targeted for PGC pheasant stocking include State Game Lands 43, 220, 234, and 280; Chester Water Authority, Marsh Creek State Park, French Creek State Park, Blue Marsh Lake, Muddy Run, and Nockamixon State Park.
“It’s a valuable tool for pheasant hunters, especially those looking to explore new areas,” said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans.
“There’s never been an easier way for pheasant hunters to scout potential hotspots in putting together a plan for an action-packed day afield,” Burhans added. “If knowing where to go has been an obstacle for anyone wanting to experience all that pheasant hunting in Pennsylvania has to offer, this map breaks through it in a big way.”
Go to www.pgc.pa.gov/Wildlife/WildlifeSpecies/RingNeckedPheasant/ PheasantAllocation/Pages/default.aspx) to find the map online.
GRILLED VENISON >> What’s good for bowhunters can be a major headache for motorists this time of year. It’s the white-tailed deer’s annual ritual of the rut (aka breeding season) and it’s picking up steam right now. Lovesick bucks are on the move, throwing caution to the wind while chasing does all over the countryside and scattering clueless fawns and yearlings. You may have already noticed an uptick in road kills caused by deer playing in traffic. Expect the mortality rate to accelerate as the rut approaches its peak in early November. Motorists should be aware of this risk and keep a keen eye out for whitetail activity. Remember that when one deer runs across the road, others are likely to follow. As I’m fond of saying every year at this time, don’t be that unlucky driver who puts the “bam” in Bambi.