Outdoors

Woods & Waters: Opportunities abundant for state’s sportsmen

At this time of year, there always seems to be much more to write about than what can possibly be covered in a bi-weekly column here on every other Sunday.

A bill that could negatively impact the power of both our fish and boat, and game commissions is moving through the state’s House of Representatives.

In the hunting world, Pennsylvania had another exciting elk hunt, and I have more stories to relate from that hunt. Bear season began yesterday, and weather permitting, a large harvest is expected. Watch for a full report on this page on Dec. 8. We are also just eight days away from deer season, which begins on Dec. 2.

Licenses are being purchased, rifles sighted in, and hunting clothes located. Most area hunters are counting down the days to the most highly anticipated hunting season of the year. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, approximately 750,000 hunters are expected to take to the forests and fields on the opening day.

While the opener is still the first Monday following Thanksgiving, by the calendar, 2013’s rifle deer season starts later than usual. Last fall, the season began on Nov. 26, and the year before, it began on Nov. 28. Maybe the later start will increase our chances of having snow.

County deer population

I have seen deer almost every day during the past month — while archery hunting, trout fishing, hiking, or just driving to the grocery store. There were even several deer in my yard following the Nov. 12 snow. A friend reported spotlighting over 140 deer one evening in western Centre County, while some archery hunters spent deerless mornings and/or evenings in their treestands. According to the PGC, deer populations are stable or increasing in nearly all of the state’s 23 wildlife-management units.

Locating a buck this year could be tricky because of the sparse acorn crop. The few acorns and beechnuts that fell on my Taylor Township property were cleaned up before archery season started.

The Game Commission’s chief forester, David Gustafson, explained what happened.

“This year has produced a spotty acorn crop statewide. A late spring frost affected white oaks and chestnut oaks. And a cold and wet spring in 2012 affected red oaks, which take two years to produce acorns. Those conditions have combined to limit acorn availability in many areas,” Gustafson said.

One thing for sure — if you find the food, you will find the deer. Scouting is always important, and maybe more important this year than usual.

Follow the rules

Most hunters know to consult Page 14 of the Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest to calculate the correct legal shooting time for the area of the state where they will be hunting. For central and eastern parts of Centre County, the starting time is 6:47 a.m. Legal hunting hours for the western third of the county will begin 4 minutes later — at 6:51.

In both wildlife management units that include Centre County — WMU 2G in the north and WMU 4D, south of I-80 — only bucks are legal during the first week of deer season. To be legal, a buck must have at least three points on one side of his rack. A brow tine is counted as a point.

Big bucks

There are still a few hunters who might dispute this, but antler restrictions are protecting some of the younger bucks and producing bigger-antlered deer statewide. Mark Jackson, of Warriors Mark, arrowed the biggest buck of his life — a trophy 11-point — while hunting near Petersburg in early October. My brother, Frank, saw the largest buck of his life last season while hunting state game lands in Blair County. That buck got away, but I know that come December 2, Frank will be out there looking for him.

PGC records show that a good crop of adult bucks is produced each year. Last year’s harvest resulted in about 200 new entries into Pennsylvania’s Big Game Records Program, which recognizes exceptional whitetails, bears and elk.

CWD

Chronic wasting disease was discovered last fall in free-roaming deer in Blair and Bedford counties. If you hunt south of Centre County in the Disease Management Area, be sure to read all of the rules, regulations and safety precautions that apply to that area. Hunters can find the maps and details of the regulations on pages 52-54 of the Digest. An informative article about CWD, authored by wildlife veterinarian Walt Cottrell, can also be found on Pages 63-64. It will take nothing short of a miracle for hunters not to have CWD reach Centre County within the next few years. You can do your part to help make the miracle happen.

Safety

All hunters are required to wear at least 250 square inches of fluorescent orange on their head, chest and back areas combined. This must be worn at all times while hunting - whether moving, standing or waiting in a treestand.

More deer hunters are hurt each year while climbing into or out of treestands than any other way. Think safety if you are hunting from a permanent or portable treestand. High winds and fungi damage treestands each year, and steel rusts. Be sure to check your stand over closely before trusting your life to it.

Since I have spent more than a few hours hunting from a tree, I have discovered one absolute law. If something (hat, glove, apple, thermos, etc.) can fall out of a treestand, it will. Do not let that something be you or your rifle.

There are never enough deer to satisfy all of the hunters, but hopefully many will locate the buck of a lifetime and make this late-starting deer season the best ever. I always begin the season with high hopes, but I will enjoy the entire experience even if Lady Luck does not look my way.

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