Five Great Flintlock Deer Hunts
October 05, 2010
Keep your cow's knee tight and your powder dry as Pennsylvania's flintlock deer season gets underway this month. These five proven whitetail hotspots are where the action is this season.
Photo by Jeri Bleech
By Mike Bleech
How appropriate it is that the Pennsylvania flintlock deer season is scheduled for the midst of winter - the most hearty of hunters wandering the woods in the most challenging of weather conditions.
Snow and cold fingers make this difficult game even more challenging, but that does not seem to bother this rugged bunch. There is a certain satisfaction that comes with carrying a truly primitive arm into the forest, and while flintlock hunters have the choice of buck or doe, antler restrictions have led to many more bucks being available after the modern firearms season.
Having to pause to count points is not so much of a chore for flintlock hunters, who never have been concerned with making quick shots.
This special season deserves special hunts, special places. Here are some places that will remind you why you have taken up the challenge of winter deer hunting with a flintlock rifle:
STATE GAME LANDS 57
Sprawling over 44,492 acres in Luzerne and Wyoming counties, SGL 57 features mountainous terrain befitting a modern-day mountain man. Elevations vary by more than 1,000 feet. Habitat includes dense, maturing forest, ponds and wetlands. Access is generally good, barring severe storms that could make driving the back roads difficult.
The forest includes some oak, maple and a lot of beech, with hemlock along the creeks. Key to locating deer will be scouting for the remaining mast crop.
"Beechnuts in most areas seem to be better than average," said Tim Conway, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Northeast Region information and education supervisor, noting that beechnut crops are inconsistent. "When they do produce, it's usually great hunting.
"White seem to be of more interest to deer than red oaks," Conway added. "There are some areas with scrub oak and the deer always seem to do real well in those areas."
If there is snow on the ground, look for beechnuts on top of the snow. You should be able to see where deer have been digging in the snow for acorns. Of course, you will save a lot of hunting time if you can locate the most productive mast trees before the flintlock season.
The deer population appears healthy in the region, too.
"Local experts are saying that the population is bouncing back. There is a good doe crop, and they're seeing some pretty good bucks there as well," Conway said.
Another factor limiting deer movement during the flintlock season is the weather. There is a lot of thermal cover on SGL No. 57 in the form of thick hemlock stands along the creeks. During stormy weather and in severe cold, try still-hunting these areas.
"Walking in the big timber at 20 degrees is not going to be very productive," Conway said.
For information about accommodations and other services in the area, contact the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau Inc., 1004 Main Street, Stroudsburg, PA 18360; or call (800) 762-6667.
STATE GAME LANDS 232
"Game lands in Washington and Greene counties ought to be a good place to go. Just take your pick," said Mel Schake, information and education supervisor for the PGC's Southwest Region. "Those game lands are all leaders in deer harvests each year."
Schake mentioned specifically SGL 232, which has increased in size considerably during the past few years. Starting close to the West Virginia border in Washington County and extending eastward along Buffalo Creek, it covers 5,266 acres.
"There was a land exchange down there and we ended up with some of the nicest game lands around," Schake said. "There's a nice mix of habitat."
About a third of this rolling terrain is sharecropped, about a third is mature forest and the remainder is a mix of reverting farmland and wetlands. The forest is composed of cherry, sugar maple, red oak, white oak, shingle oak and hickory. But because of the agricultural activity, deer do not have to depend on mast crops.
For information about local services, contact the Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency, 273 South Main Street, Washington, PA 15301; or call (800) 531-4114.
STATE GAME LANDS
262 AND 174
These state game lands are in northern Indiana County. SGL 262 covers 5,415.5 acres; SGL 174 is 3,914 acres. In addition, Zaffuto mentioned that the surrounding land is not heavily posted.
This is rugged, mountainous terrain. Habitat types range from strip-mined hilltops to hardwood forest and deep hemlock bottoms where deer get thermal cover during nasty winter weather. One key to finding deer during the flintlock season is the autumn olive that has been planted at reclaimed strip mines.
For information about local services, contact the Indiana County Tourist Bureau, 2334 Oakland Avenue, Suite 7, Indiana, PA 15701; or call (877) 746-3426.
STATE GAME LANDS 143
SGL 143 is on the extreme western edge of the Allegheny Highlands in Warren County. It is a rugged ridge surrounded by rolling farmland.
Except for a few maintained openings where pheasants are stocked, the habitat is a combination of mature timber and very thick wooded areas that have been logged. Deer get into these thick areas and escape hunters during the regular firearms hunting season.
"There seems to be a pretty good (deer) population," said land management group supervisor George Miller. "Of course, the areas near the roads get hunted hard."
The key to finding deer here during the flintlock season will be locating mast.
"It looks like red oak production will be good, but it will vary from area to area," Miller said. "You probably won't find much white oak mast. Beech is doing well in spots. Soft mast is really doing well this year - the apple crop was tremendous."
Find acorns and beechnuts and you will be close to deer. Getting up to those oak ridges requires some steep climbs of several hundred feet, so be prepared. Apples, if you can find some still hanging
on the trees, will be at lower elevations.
"Hunters who are willing to put in some time to get back to those areas should do pretty well. In muzzleloader season that area is under-hunted and there are a lot of deer left," Miller said.
Local information is available by contacting the Northern Alleghenies Vacation Region, 315 Second Avenue, P.O. Box 804, Warren County, PA 16365; or call (800) 224-7802.
STATE GAME LANDS 39
SGL 39 is in southwestern Venango County, west from Route 8 along Sandy Creek. This is rolling hill country that is steep in places. Most of this area is forested.
"Gypsy moth damage forced a different timber management strategy," noted land management group supervisor Jim Deniker.
Gypsy moth infestation during the 1980s took a severe toll on the oaks on SGL 39, prompting salvage cuts. Those areas have now grown into the pole timber stage, which is not good deer habitat, but there are still plenty of deer in the area.
One key to successful muzzleloader hunting will be staying out of the pole timber and focusing on the available hard mast or soft mast.
Acorns are spotty this year, and although this is not good for deer, flintlock hunters can turn this to their advantage. Deer will be concentrated in relatively small areas wherever there are still acorns on the ground.
This state game lands has maintained openings that have been planted with native grasses and clover mixes specially designed for wildlife. Wetlands have been reestablished along Sandy Creek where the land had been drained for farming.
"We've also established several apple orchards," Deniker pointed out.
These apple orchards include various varieties chosen so that the apples drop at different times. Finding apple trees that have held their fruit into winter could be a huge advantage during the flintlock season.
You can get information about local services by contacting the Oil Heritage Region Tourist Promotion Agency, Inc., P.O. Box 128, Oil City, PA 16301; or call (800) 483-6264.
For more about flintlock hunting in Pennsylvania, contact Pennsylvania Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797; or call (717) 787-4250.
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