December Hotspots For Public-Land Whitetails

Here's where to go for some great game lands deer hunting in Pennsylvania this month. (December 2007)

Photo by Ralph D. Hensley.

There are many public lands in the Keystone State where December deer hunters can enjoy their sport in relative solitude. On many of these areas, the chance of a trophy buck exists.

One fact of deer-hunting life is that once opening day has come and gone, hunting pressure tends to wane, even on public hunting areas.

Select public areas may not see the level of attention gotten by other places, such as state game lands better known for their waterfowling opportunities, or federal flood-control lakes rimmed with properties open to hunting. With all this in mind, consider these five options for a Pennsylvania deer hunt this month:


Swamp Whitetails

Crawford County is better known for its abundance of waterfowling options on public lands. But hunters will find whitetails in good numbers on bordering uplands that rise up gently from the swampy areas.

These areas lie within an hour's drive of Erie, and are also a reasonable distance from Pittsburgh. Interstate Route 79 provides a convenient corridor for hunters visiting the area from both the north and south.

State Game Lands No. 213 surrounds the outflow of Conneaut Lake. Officially, this 5,555-acre game lands is called Conneaut Marsh, though locally referred to as Geneva Marsh.

An extremely popular waterfowling destination, especially during the early seasons, Geneva Marsh also provides whitetail habitat along its fringes, where the marshland gives way to field and forest.

Most of the deer habitat lies within the western portion of this game lands. Some upland cover may be found around other portions of the game lands, though it is a narrower band of habitat between the swampland and surrounding private land.

Access into the interior of SGL 213 is by way of primary and secondary roads that skirt the area, as well as a few gravel roads.

State Route 285 runs along the southern side of the game lands, through the town of Geneva. A few parking areas may be found along this road. Backcountry roads crossing the marsh intersect with state Route 285, as well as the B&LE railroad tracks. A propagation area exists within the marsh, downstream of the railroad.

Crawford County's swamp deer also call SGL 214 home. This game lands contains Pymatuning, the popular Canada goose controlled-hunting area. This game lands covers about 5,400 acres, much of which lies outside of the controlled-hunting area.

The situation on State Game Lands No. 214 is similar to that found at Conneaut. A significant portion of the public-hunting area surrounds a series of impoundments and the adjoining uplands known as Hartstown Marsh.

Enterprising deer hunters will find opportunities within the buffer that separates the swampland from the private land. State Route 18 runs along the western side of the marsh. Hunters coming from the east or west may use Route 322.

Download good maps of both areas from the Game Commission's Web site at


In the northeastern corner of Armstrong County, this U.S. Corps of Engineers dam on Mahoning Creek backs the creek up for several miles.

Since the maximum capacity of this flood-control dam is over 60 feet above the normal summer pool, a significant amount of acreage in the watershed above the dam lies in the public domain.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission manages the flood zone lands surrounding Mahoning Lake. This is a common practice on many federal flood-control lakes.

Public hunting is allowed on about 1,280 acres. Other than in developed areas, hunting is permitted throughout the project property. Hunters visiting Mahoning Lake will find a variety of terrain and cover. It's an easy drive from the Pittsburgh area.

The public hunting lands at Mahoning extend upstream along the creek into both Indiana and Jefferson counties. The terrain close to the dam is rugged and heavily wooded.

Using a boat to access more remote hunting areas is a possibility, unless a significant winter drawdown -- which typically occurs during mid- to late-October -- leaves the Milton boat access at the upper end of the lake high and dry. A secondary ramp near the town of Dayton extends into the lake at winter pool. The road leading to the area is narrow and winding. For this reason, the U.S. Corps of Engineers closes the road in winter.

The pool's length at winter pool is less than two miles.

If you decide to use a boat to access these steep ridges, a 10-horsepower limit is in place.

The more significant public areas are upstream of Milton along state Route 839. Township Road 371 intersects with Route 839 near Milton and runs along the northern portion of the property.

Here the terrain flattens out dramatically, and the tract is much wider. Sharecroppers farm a portion of this land, which is a mix of cultivated terrain, brush and woods.

Access to the other side of the area requires wading across a shallow section of Mahoning Creek.

This is fertile bottomland with a mix of mature hardwoods and younger growth.

Farther upstream, Little Mahoning Creek joins Mahoning Creek. An iron bridge spans Mahoning Creek at the junction. Public lands also straddle Little Mahoning a couple of miles upstream toward Smicksburg, and extend up Mahoning Creek toward North Point.

One fact of deer-hunting life in the Keystone State

is that once opening day has come and gone, hunting pressure tends to wane, even on public hunting areas.

Boat hunters should keep in mind that fall weather will impact hunting. Before planning a water-based hunt, be sure to call ahead for daily lake conditions at (814) 257-8017.

To contact the park office, call (814) 257-8811.


Located on the West Branch Susquehanna River, the flood-control project on Curwensville Lake is one of those off-the-beaten-path pla

ces that many sportsmen pass up.

That's true of fisherman, even more so of hunters.

But Curwensville Lake is popular among duck hunters, and it has possibilities for deer. The project lies about 30 miles from DuBois and 13 miles from Clearfield. Not far from the Interstate 80 corridor, the area is a good bet for hunters.

Expect steep, wooded ridges running alongside the reservoir. Hiking trails that extend from the lake's recreation area provide access to the hunting areas. Hunting is not permitted in the developed areas of Curwensville Lake.

The project area extends from the dam upriver to the Lumber City area. State Route 969 runs along the northern edge of this project.

The lake's main recreation area may be reached by taking state Route 453 south out of Curwensville.


Another excellent option for central Pennsylvania hunters is the land surrounding Raystown Lake.

As you might expect from a lake that stretches for nearly 30 miles along the Raystown Branch Juniata River, there's a significant amount of public hunting land here.

Much has been done to make the hillsides surrounding Raystown Lake friendly to deer hunters. Many gates that are closed to the public during the rest of the year are open to allow better access in late fall. Red blazes on trees mark the division between private land and project property.

State routes 26 and 994 provide access to the two sides of Raystown Lake. Secondary roads bisect both of these corridors.

More information on this area is available on the project's Web site at //

Contact information may be downloaded from this site, as well as detailed maps that show hunting areas.


State Game Lands No. 280 next to Berks County's Blue Marsh Lake provides 2,681 acres of public hunting land for hunters in the southeastern portion of the state.

State Route 183 provides the primary access to this tract, which contains a variety of upland and bottomland habitat. Sharecroppers actively farm the area, and habitat improvement is ongoing.

The game lands exist in two separate parcels. The largest tract is on the northern side of the lake. A network of roads off state Route 183 provides access to this area, which is near Pleasant Valley. A smaller parcel lies along the southwestern portion of the lake near Brownsville.

A map of this state game lands can be downloaded from the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Web site, noted above.

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