January's Top Flintlock Deer Hunts

This is your last chance to fill those leftover buck or doe tags. Charge your pan, lock your frizzen, and then give these top-rated public hunting areas a try this month. (January 2006)

Photo by Kenny Bahr

Pennsylvania's late muzzleloader season is crunch time for hunters, the last chance to put some venison in the freezer for the winter. Sure, firearms and archery hunters have thinned the herd over the past three months. Sure, the weather's cold and the woods are bare. However, the late flintlock season is a super time to fill that remaining buck or doe tag.

According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission's harvest data, muzzleloader hunters last year bagged 1,090 bucks and 30,180 antlerless deer. The agency doesn't separate deer shot during the October muzzleloader season from deer shot in the late flintlock season, so there's no way of telling how many total deer were shot in the late season. However, only antlerless deer are legal game during the early season, so every one of those bucks registered was taken during the late season.

When you head out for a winter flintlock hunt, keep in mind the fact that deer have been chased around by hunters for quite some time. This means you need to look for deer in places other hunters aren't going to go -- thick brush, nasty swamps and up over steep ridges, to name a few. Rest assured, the deer are out there. It's up to you to find them.

If you're looking for a good place to carry your smokepole into the woods this season, the following five great flintlock hunts should get you started.

ALLEGHENY NATIONAL FOREST

The largest tract of public land in Pennsylvania, Allegheny National Forest covers 513,257 acres in Warren, McKean, Elk and Forest counties.

One area worth checking out is the Kinzua Quality Deer Cooperative in northwestern McKean County. This area covers 73,250 acres, including 36,600 acres of Allegheny National Forest land. The Bradford Municipal Water Authority, Collins Companies, Ram Forest Products Inc., and Commonwealth Forestry Improvements own the remaining acreage.

The Kinzua Quality Deer Cooperative is managed under the Quality Hunting Ecology program, which strives to improve deer quality, hunter satisfaction, forest ecosystem health and deer habitat. The Kinzua tract is west of Bradford and east of Route 321 from Westline north to the New York border. Access is off routes 346, 770 and 321, among other roads.

For information on the Kinzua Quality Deer Cooperative and the Allegheny National Forest and maps of the area, call the forest's headquarters at (814) 723-5150, or contact the Allegheny National Forest Vacation Bureau at (814) 368-9370.

FRENCH CREEK STATE PARK

In southern Berks County, French Creek State Park covers 7,475 acres. About 10 percent of the park spills over into neighboring Chester County. To get to French Creek, head south from Birdsboro on Route 345, which runs through the middle of the park.

Of French Creek's total area, about 6,000 acres are open to hunting. The park is a popular haunt among the locals, but visiting hunters willing to invest some time scouting should be able to find deer.

Compared with the northern end of Berks County, the terrain in and around French Creek State Park is flat. The land in the park is best characterized as gently rolling forest.

To hunt deer, try the woods around Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, which is bordered on three sides by French Creek. Hunting is not permitted in the Hopewell Furnace area, which serves as a sanctuary that always holds deer. Hopewell straddles both sides of Route 345 in the southern end of French Creek.

Another good bet is to park at the trailhead at Shed Road and Route 345. Take Mill Creek Trail east into a huge section of unbroken forest. Mill Creek Trail makes a six-mile loop through this roadless area.

The Pine Swamp Natural Area in the southwest corner of the park is another good place to find deer. The cover here is thick and the ground swampy. The conditions tend to keep hunters at bay, which means deer are going to pile in. Pine Swamp Natural Area is off Park Road.

For a map of French Creek, contact the park office at (610) 582-9680.

STATE GAME LANDS 118

Stretching across the top of Tussey Mountain along the county line separating Blair and Huntingdon counties is the 5,932-acre SGL 118, which is divided into two tracts south of the town of Water Street west of Route 26 outside Huntingdon Borough.

"SGL 118 is typical for this part of the state,'' said Don Garner, the Game Commission's information and education director for the South-central Region. "You have a long mountain ridge that's surrounded at the base by farmland. SGL 118 is on top of the mountain and the farms are down below. The deer go to the farms to feed, but they live on the mountain.''

Garner said SGL 118 is a good bet for deer hunters because the tract has a lot of deer and it sees little hunting pressure, even during the firearms season.

"The reason it is lightly pressured is because of accessibility,'' he said. "This is tough, up-and-down hunting, and you have to be prepared to do a lot of walking. If you do, you will find a lot of deer that haven't had much interaction with hunters.''

The northern section of SGL 118 is the least accessible. No roads cut through it and the only parking lot is along Route 22 east of Water Street, at the extreme northern tip of the tract. From there, hunters must hike up a steep ridge to get to the heart of the tract. This piece of SGL 118 is only about a quarter the size of the southern section, which is also more accessible. There are parking lots along state Route 2013 east of Covedale and next to a Game Commission storage building off township Route 397 east of the village of Larke.

For more information on SGL 118, contact the Game Commission's Southcentral Region office at (814) 643-1831.


These one- and two-acre food plots attract deer like magnets and hunters can expect to find them in the thickets nearby.
 

OHIOPYLE STATE PARK

Located in Fayette and Somerset counties, Ohiopyle State Park encompasses 19,052 acres surrounding the Youghiogheny River. Just over 18,000 acres of the park are open to hunting. The Youghiogheny River Gorge stretches for 14 miles through the he

art of Ohiopyle and is generally characterized by extremely rugged terrain. Flintlockers looking to beat the crowds should check out the gorge area. It's steep and it's deep, but there are flat sanctuaries where deer like to go to escape hunting pressure.

Other good bets are the undeveloped southwest corner of the park between Greenbriar and Dunbar roads, and the undeveloped northeast corner between Fire Tower Road and the Youghiogheny River.

To get to Ohiopyle State Park, take Route 40 east from Uniontown, and then turn north on Route 381, which bisects the park. For a map of Ohiopyle State Park, call the park office at (724) 329-8591.

FURNACE HILLS

Travel east of Harrisburg on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for about 30 minutes and you'll drive through a line of mountains known locally as the Furnace Hills on the Lancaster-Lebanon county line. The Game Commission owns 13,300 acres of land here in three tracts -- SGLs 145, 156 and 46.

Covering some 2,815 acres off Route 117 in southern Lebanon County, SGL 145 is the westernmost tract of public land in the Furnace Hills. Game Commission foresters say SGL 145 is dominated by trees that do not bear mast, which is why the agency has created a number of food plots on the tract. These one- and two-acre food plots attract deer like magnets and hunters can expect to find them in the thickets nearby.

About two miles east of SGL 145 on Route 322 is the 4,957-acre SGL 156 in Lancaster and Lebanon counties. A good bet for late-season flintlockers is the area south of Route 322 and west of Pumping Station Road.

Three miles east of SGL 156 is SGL 46, which surrounds the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area off Route 897. SGL 46 covers 6,254 acres in Lebanon and Lancaster counties. Deer hunting on a good chunk of the Middle Creek property is permitted only two days per year, so it becomes a sanctuary that deer seek out from miles around as the hunting season wears on.

Look for deer on the hardwood ridges east and west of Hopeland Road south of Middle Creek. Also, check out the agricultural fields along Sunnyside Drive. For information and maps on the Furnace Hills game lands, call the Game Commission's southeast region office at (610) 926-3136.

Pennsylvania's winter flintlock season is the last deer hunt of the year. Don't miss this last chance to fill your tags!

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