Double Up On Eastern-Region Whitetails

Many of eastern Pennsylvania's state parks also border state game lands holdings, providing double the options for fall bowhunters. Here's a look at where to go near you this season. (September 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

On the eastern side of the Commonwealth, our many state parks offer interesting opportunities for public-land hunting. In many locations, these public lands border state game lands, offering even more hunting opportunities.

Connected state parks and game lands give sportsmen excellent access to some prime hunting grounds. Here's a look at some of the best for some great hunting opportunities this fall:

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT UNIT 5C

On the eastern side of the state, in wildlife management units that border the Delaware River, WMU 5C had the highest estimated whitetail harvest during the 2006-07 season -- including 7,700 antlered deer, which was dead on with the previous year's estimate -- and 16,100 antlerless deer, which was a drop from the previous year's total of 17,600.

Of that number, 3,940 of the antlered deer were taken by archers, who ply their trade primarily in the fall bow season. Archers took another 5,350 antlerless deer.

Unfortunately, WMU 5C may be deer-rich but it's public-land-poor. Nevertheless, isolated locations in WMU 5C provide public spots to hunt. In particular, four state parks in the region offer good fall hunting. While they do contain wooded lands, most of these spaces are not deep forests.

Two of the four, French Creek and Nockamixon, have bordering state game lands.

FRENCH CREEK STATE PARK & SGL NO. 43

French Creek State Park provides the largest amount of huntable parkland in the region, with over 6,000 acres in Berks and Chester counties. In addition, the adjacent SGL 43 has another 2,300 acres.

Parts of French Creek State Park are the most thickly forested in the region. The park has plenty of acreage that features high, steep hills and deep, slanting ravines covered with pines and hardwoods -- and is a favorite with fall archery hunters.

While major parts of French Creek State Park are off-limits to sportsmen, huntable land exists on all four sides.

A major block lies north of Hopewell Lake and Park Road. Three rural roads divide this section and provide access. From east to west, Shed Road, Route 345 and Geigertown Road offer access from either Red Corner Road or Crusher Road.

West of the power line, Shed Road provides access to some good habitat in this section of the park. The slope on one side of Shed Road rises hard to the east, while the western face slides away into a deep ravine to the west.

Parking may be found along Shed Road, but this road has significant dips and winding curves, so be careful when parking your vehicle. Designated parking may be found at the intersection of Shed Road and Route 345 near the no-hunting boundary.

Route 345 roughly parallels Shed Road from Crusher Road south. The highway route provides access to the typical north park terrain. At various spots along Route 345, there are trailheads and designated parking spots. Hunters favor the Six Penny Trail near the northern tip of the park because it parallels Penny Creek.

For hunters not interested in following trails, hike east of Route 345 back toward Shed Road. This is a good alternative, particularly in the lower section where tiny creeks and private land holdings do not intrude.

For information on the state park, call (610) 582-9680.

SGL 43 is in several parcels on the park's southern boundaries. Access is primarily along Harmonyville Road off Hopewell Road. Another way in is to take Route 100 to Route 23, travel west to Warwick and then follow Laurel Road into the game lands.

The terrain of SGL 43 is similar to the park, but with PGC food plots providing man-made enticements for whitetails.

NOCKAMIXON STATE PARK & SGL NO. 157

About 3,000 acres of Nockamixon State Park are open to hunting, and the nature of these lands makes them a favorite of fall bowhunters.

In addition, the adjacent SGL No. 157 contains another 2,010 acres of public land adjoining the park. Some of this state game lands is on Haycock Mountain, the second-highest peak in Bucks County.

The wooded lands around Lake Nockamixon are not dense. A large amount of this land was previously in homesteads or farms, so there are wide parcels of open fields containing grass and brush where deer abound.

Route 563 is the major road on the north side of the park, and hunters park all along the roadway to gain immediate access to the grounds.

An interesting area to try is west of Sawmill Road, after Route 563 passes some park property that is closed to hunting. Soon after the intersection, Route 563 continues onto the Tohickon boat access and then the Haycock boat access.

In between, huntable parcels extend down to the waterline and also go up the northern slope on the opposite side of the highway.

At Sawmille Road and Route 563, a portion of the uphill land leads into a southern portion of SGL 157 that few hunters bother to explore because it's not near other roads.

Continuing on Route 563 to Top Rock Terrace, turn left and then follow the terrace to lesser-known portions of the state park and more of SGL 157. After Top Rock Terrace, the highway crosses the Haycock arm of Lake Nockamixon. Hunters often park on the road before the bridge and work into the flat and swampy terrain north of the bridge.

Continuing over the bridge, the eastern boundary of the state park has rocky, terrain and high, wooded hills above. There is private land just outside this border, and whitetails are often seen coming down to the lake from this direction.

For more information on Nockamixon State Park, call (215) 529-7300.

EVANSBURG STATE PARK & SGL 134

While SGL 134 is a little distance away, the lands around Evansburg State Park are great places to hunt. There is such a patchwork of properties divided by major roadways and private land that, at first glance, the terrain here might not appeal to fall hunters. But look again! Skippack Creek serves as a focal point, and the moderately dense woodland surrounding the stream means this public la

nd is highly huntable.

Evansburg State park has over 1,000 acres of open hunting grounds, and access is excellent. In addition to woodlands along the creek, there are also agricultural sections situated away from the waters.

Five bridges within the state park offer access to varied parcels and habitat. From east to west, Old Forty Foot Road bridge, Skippack Pike (also called Route 73), Kratz/Anders roads, Germantown Pike and Ridge Pike all cross Skippack Creek and have nearby parking.

The first eastern bridge, Old Forty Foot Road, has parking at nearby Hedrick Road. This area has some of the least developed ground in the park -- a combination of stream land with hardwood buffers.

Route 73 is a major crossing with parking on the north side of the bridge. Near the placement of this bridge, Skippack Creek is nearly at its widest, and there is good woodland cover, particularly on the southern side of the stream. Stump Hill Road marks the private-land border.

Toward the center of the park is the Kratz/Anders roads crossing, with parking on the south side of the stream. While there is huntable land on both sides of the creek, hunters should consider walking south along Anders Road to the open field that lies between Green Hill Road and Anders Road.

Farther west, the Germantown and Ridge pike bridges lead to some truly thick and brambly land in the area of the bridges and along Old Baptist Road in the middle of this section.

West of Ridge Pike, there are pieces of developed land where hunting is not permitted. The section between Grange Avenue and the creek is worth a look.

For information on Evansburg State Park, call (610) 409-1150.

SGL 234 covers 350 acres in two parcels west of Route 29 and Schwenksville in terrain very similar to the state park, but without the creek.

WMU 3D

Naysayers continue to assert that there are no deer in the Poconos. But an estimated 12,400 successful whitetail hunters might say otherwise.

WMU 3D, which includes the bulk of the Poconos plus the Blue Mountain entrance, accounted for an estimated 5,000 antlerless deer in 2006-07, up from an estimated 3,900 antlerless deer the year before.

The antlered harvest declined slightly, from 7,400 two years ago to 7,300 last year.

WMU 3D contains a combination of steep, elevated ridges and mountain chain plateaus, all thickly wooded. In addition, there is agricultural land in large pockets in the eight counties that make up WMU 3D.

Public holdings in this unit consist of a state forest, significant state game lands and a federal recreation area bordering the Delaware River.

As late as mid-March, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources issued another "deer warning" regarding the Poconos:

"Preliminary findings from ongoing, extensive forest studies of the effect of white-tailed deer population on woodland regeneration show habitat damage is heaviest in the north-central and Pocono Mountains areas of the state," said Michael DiBerardinis DCNR secretary. "For these reasons, it would be premature to draw any conclusions that would support an increased deer herd, even in areas where we observed relatively low-browse damage."

TOBYHANNA/GOULDSBORO STATE PARKS & SGLs NOs. 312 & 127

These adjoining quadruplets just cannot be separated. Tobyhanna State Park contains 5,400 acres, and Gouldsboro has 2,800 acres, most of which are open to hunting. SGL 312 has a significant 3,912 acres, and SGL 127 has an incredible 25,500 acres open to hunting.

The physical connections between the two state parks and two state game lands are tight, making it easier for hunters to make plans.

Though the four lands lie high on the Pocono Plateau, they are actually flat, with the southwest sections of SGL 127 and a north portion of SGL 312 being the hilly exceptions. In addition, the wetlands surrounded and encompassed by the public lands are wildly significant. Of great interest are Black Bear and Bender Swamps between the two state park lakes.

These swamps may be traversed by established trails, but the pathways may be obscured in wet years. In fact, the 3.2-mile Frank Gantz Trail, from Gouldsboro to the Tobyhanna lakes past Black Bear Swamp, can be particularly difficult to negotiate, but it's also rich with whitetail sign.

SGL 127 is a monster of a public holding with some rugged land at the southwest sector, which is reached by taking Exit 8 off Interstate Route 380. Follow Route 423 toward Lake Naomi. Along the way, there are numerous designated parking areas and pull-offs along Tobyhanna Creek and the ground that surrounds it.

Deer may be found all along this exceptionally curvy and dipping road. Thinning of the woods on the north and west sides of the road seems to have reduced the number of road kills that once reached staggering proportions.

For information on the two state parks, which are operated by a joint office, call (570) 894-8336.

WMU 4C

The lower, southeast portion of WMU 4C borders the Susquehanna River at Dauphin and then swings wide to the northeast to capture a major portion of Pennsylvania's old coal country in Schuylkill County.

Both ends of WMU 4C feature differing habitat. In fact, WMU 4C is one of the more geographically diverse of all 22 wildlife management units.

French Creek State Park provides the largest amount of huntable parkland in the region, with over 6,000 acres in Berks and Chester counties.

A surprising thing about WMU 4C is that its antlered-deer harvest increased in two years while its antlerless harvest declined, even though the antlerless license allocation remained the same, at 39,000.

For the 2006-07 season, hunters harvested an estimated 6,100 antlered deer, up from 5,900 the previous year. For antlerless deer, the harvest was 8,900, down from 9,800 the previous year.

The overall topography of WMU 4C is rather mountainous, with the highlight being the junction of some steep Appalachian Mountain ridges.

Blue, Second, Peters and Stoney mountains all point rugged fingers at the Susquehanna River north of Harrisburg.

SWATARA STATE PARK & SGL 180

Continuing with the theme of state parks surrounded by state game lands in eastern Pennsylvania, consider Swatara State Park and SGL No. 80 in Lebanon County.

Steep, rocky and wooded, these two public lands offer a double dose of public hunting northeast of the state capital.

Swatara State Park contains 3,515 acres and most of it is open to hunting. SGL 80 has 10,600 acres, and its ridgeline along Blue Mountains features the Appalachian Trail.

Huntable land at the state park is on both sides of Swatara Creek, roughly from I-81 east to the intersection of Greenpoint School Road and state Route 433. Access is along state Route 443 on the north side of the park and along Old State Road on the south side.

Good places to hunt in fall are where the creek curves away from Old State Road and on a large wooded tract of land between the two boundaries. Old State Road is not a major highway like state Route 443, and there is better parking along the more rural road.

At the first bridge crossing from Route 72 into Swatara State Park, state Route 1022 lies beneath a portion of SGL 80, but this is steep and rocky.

A better way to access a lower portion of the state game lands is to continue on Old State Road through three-quarters of the park to Swopes Valley Road. Instead of crossing the bridge, turn right and continue for a short distance to a trailhead off Swopes Valley Road. The trail leads into the north side of the game lands.

Continue on Swopes Valley Road, T-649. This is a winding road that cuts into another portion of SGL 80 between Blue Mountain and Swopes Mountain.

SGL 80 traverses the Schuylkill-Berks county lines, and a large portion of its 10,600 acres includes the northeast corner of Lebanon County. In fact, in addition to the Swatara State Park entrance, SGL 80 has easy access in Lebanon County along Monroe Valley Road and Camp Straus Road east of Route 645.

Whatever part of SGL 80 you hunt, be prepared for a lot of uphill hiking. Deer hunters gain access to SGL 80 at the Appalachian Trail trailheads, setting up well off the trail to avoid any conflicts with hikers.

In this way, a bowhunter can go just a few hundred yards from the trail and use the fall activity of trekkers to move deer around the area.

The tactic works!

For additional information about public-land bowhunting opportunities in eastern Pennsylvania, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission in Harrisburg at (717) 787-4250.

For more travel information, call (800)-VISIT-PA.

Find more about Pennsylvania fishing and hunting at: PAgameandfish.com

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