Our Finest Archery Deer Counties

Thanks to new harvest regulations and redesigned deer management unit boundaries, things are looking up for Keystone State bowhunters in 2003. These top-rated public hunting areas should be high on your list this season.

By Vic Attardo

Gary Alt, the architect of the Keystone State's new deer management plan, believes the number of bucks reaching at least 2 1/2 years of age in 2003, many with 8 or more antler points, will double from last year's population estimate.

Biologists estimated that there were more than 250,000 antlered deer in the state prior to last hunting season. The total 2002 archery harvest was 69,648 and included 36,145 antlerless and 33,439 antlered deer. So Alt's claim could mean a lot of trophy bucks for this year's archery seasons.

While antler restrictions will continue this season, a major change concerns geography. No longer is the PGC following county boundaries in establishing regulations and harvests. Instead, wildlife management units cut across county boundaries and follow highway routes.

Hunters in WMUs 1A, 1B, 2A and 2D must follow an antler restriction of 4 points on one side. These WMUs are in the western region of the state. In WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D, hunters still have the old antler restrictions of one antler of 3 or more inches in length, or one antler with at least 2 points. In all other WMUs, hunters will be required to abide by a restriction of 3 points on one side. Antlerless permit allocations will also be governed by WMU, not by county.

Pennsylvania's 2003 archery seasons will run from Oct. 4 to Nov. 15 and again from Dec. 26 to Jan. 10, 2004.

Based on previous harvest figures and the availability of public land, the best archery counties are scattered throughout the state.

Photo by John R. Ford

In 2002, Butler County, which is now in WMUs 2D, 1A and 2B, recorded an archery harvest of 793 antlerless deer and 966 antlered deer.

Butler County has over 10,200 acres of state game lands within its boundaries, plus more than 12,000 acres enrolled in the state's Cooperative Farm-Game Project. The county even has a large state park where hunting is permitted.

State Game Lands 95 in the northwest corner of the county contains the lion's share of the state land, covering over 9,300 acres. Game trails radiate from 400-acre Glade Lake, which is inside SGL 95.

There are numerous access roads leading to SGL 95. Between Moniteau and Annandale, Route 308 skirts a sizable chunk of the game lands. Tinker Road off Route 308 goes directly into huntable land. From Annandale and Route 308, use county Route 4010. Higgins Road from Higgins Corner leads to another chunk of SGL 95 that features old rail lines and Slippery Rock Creek.

SGLs 164 and 304 are small, lightly wooded public lands, each about 450 acres in size. SGL 164 is east of the city of Butler. Take Route 422 from Butler to Carbon Center to Montag Road to state Route 1015.

SGL 304 is on the western edge of Butler County in the river valley. Take Route 128 from either West Kitanning or Freeport. At Ford City, follow state Route 3007 to the game lands.

Moraine State Park in the west-central area of the county actually offers more public hunting acreage than all three SGLs combined. The state park contains 13,500 acres of hunting land around Lake Arthur.

A major attraction to Pittsburgh- and Butler-area hunters, Moraine State Park is accessible by numerous major highways east of Interstate Route 79. From Pittsburgh, take I-79 to Route 422 east. From Butler, follow Route 422 directly to the lake.

A plus for early-season hunters is that there are rental cabins at the state park. For more information, contact the park office at 225 Pleasant Valley Road in Portersville at (724) 368-8811.

For additional information on accommodations in the region, contact the Butler County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism at (888) 741-6772 or visit the chamber's Web site at www.butlercountychamber.com.

There is no WMU confusion in Somerset County. Every blade of grass in its 28,400 acres of state game lands is in WMU 2C. In addition, a large portion of Forbes State Forest, with some 52,000 acres, is in Somerset County. It's also in the 3-point antler restriction zone.

Typically, between 750 and 800 antlered deer are taken in the county, while between 450 and 620 antlerless deer are harvested here.

Fayette County's typical archery harvests are between 850 and 1,000 whitetails. The county contains over 21,500 acres of state game lands. Fayette County is in WMU 2C and 2A. It also contains a large chunk of Forbes State Forest, a major draw for southern tier archery hunters, is situated along the Laurel Hill Ridge between routes 119 and 219. Bisecting roads include the Pennsylvania Turnpike (Interstate Route 76) and routes 30, 31 and 653, all on an east-west axis. From Addison and Route 40, numerous township roads between routes 523 and 669 lead to Forbes State Forest and nearby SGL 271, with an additional 1,800 acres of public land.

Along the Somerset-Fayette county line is SGL 111, with 10,520 acres along Laurel Ridge. SGL 111 contains a maze of mountainous woodland above the Youghiogheny River. Also, a portion of SGL 111 borders Ohiopyle State Park.

Access is gained by taking state Route 2014 east from Nicolay, or go north from Draketown.

Farther east on Meadow Mountain is SGL 231, and slightly east of the mountain is SGL 82. SGL 231 contains 429 acres, while SGL 82 covers over 6,708 acres. SGL 231 is along Route 219 east of Grassy Run Junction Station. SGL 82 is off Route 160 near Wittenburg.

Near the town of Somerset, archery hunters have another 3,158 acres to consider on SGL 50. From Route 219, take township Road 505.

For accommodations, Laurel Hill State Park and Kooser State Park in western Somerset County offer camping facilities. However, only Laurel Hill allows hunting on about 4,000 acres of public land.

For more information on Laurel Hill State Park, call (814) 445-7725. For Kooser State Park, call (814) 445-8673. For information on Forbes State Forest, call (412) 238-9533.

For additional trip-planning information in both counties, contact the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau at (800) 333-5661. For hunting informa

tion, contact the PGC's Southwest Region office at (877) 877-7137.

Berks County is now part of three WMUs (5C, 5B and 4C), and Schuylkill County is part of units 4C and 4E.

Berks County contains over 18,500 acres of state game lands and includes at least three parks and over 50,000 acres in the PGC's Game-Farm Project. Typically, over 1,600 antlered deer and over 1,200 antlerless deer are taken here each season by archers. Schuylkill County has over 31,200 acres of game lands and its whitetail archery harvests average between 1,500 and 2,000 annually. The state game lands that run along the Blue Mountain is in both counties.

At 9,374 acres, SGL 106 is divided into at least three sections. Some of it lies on the 1,600-foot crest of Blue Mountain. Another portion is below Eckville. Yet another piece of SGL 106 is on the north side of the steep crest known as the Pinnacle, where archery hunters will find heavily wooded habitat rich in hardwoods and pines. Some hedgerows and fields, managed for small game, are in the Schuylkill County zone.

The gap road leading to SGL 106 between Eckville and Drehersville is state Route 2018. Eckville is not far from the village of Kempton, a crossroads town on the southern side of Blue Mountain.

Immediately northeast of Port Clinton, SGL 106 is an easier hike. There are still plenty of gullies and streams, including Rattling Run; however, the land is not as steep in most areas.

SGL 110 contains some 10,000 acres in Berks and Schuylkill counties from Route 61 at Port Clinton southwest to Route 183. On the western side of SGL 110, township roads off Route 183 and Route 895 provide access.

Also on Blue Mountain, SGL 80 is at the western end of the Berks and Schuylkill county boundaries. It contains over 10,600 acres and is easily accessible to Harrisburg- and Philadelphia-area archers. Take Route 183 through the gap to Route 895 west. Numerous rural roads run south toward the mountain from Route 895.

More information is available from the PGC's Southeast Region office at (877) 877-9470. For trip-planning help, call the Reading and Berks County Visitors Bureau at (800) 443-6610.

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