Pennsylvania's Capital Country Bowhunts

There are thousands of acres of public land within a few minutes' drive of Harrisburg hunters. Try these five top-rated archery hotspots for some great early-season action in 2003.

By P.J. Reilly

Pennsylvania's deer-hunting tradition has deep roots. Fortunately for sportsmen who live and work near the state capital, good deer hunting can be found within an easy hour's drive of Harrisburg.

In fact, some great hunting awaits in the "wild" areas just beyond the city's boundaries. Here's a look at five top choices for Capital Country bowhunting this season:

STATE GAME LANDS 211
SGL 211 is the Southeast Region's largest game lands and is just 10 miles north of downtown Harrisburg. SGL 211 covers 44,300 acres in Dauphin, Lebanon and Schuylkill counties. This rugged, mountainous tract is heavily wooded and runs through the pristine Fishing Creek, Stony Creek and Clark Creek valleys.

SGL 211 is a good bet for deer hunters who aren't afraid of hoofing it, because vehicular access is limited to the outskirts of the tract on Route 22 to the west, Route 325 to the north, Route 443 to the south and Gold Mine Road to the east. Hunters will have to walk to access the tract's interior, but this is what makes SGL 211 a good choice for early-season bowhunters.

For additional access, an abandoned railroad line runs almost the full length of the tract from east to west for close to 20 miles. It begins at a gated parking area at the end of Singer Lane east of Dauphin and follows Stony Creek through the southern third of SGL 211.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission maintains a few food plots in the western third of SGL 211, but hunters are better off hiking deep into the tract's interior to a remote oak ridge or lush creek bottom, where they'll find pockets of prime deer habitat and few other hunters.

Photo by Tim Black

BLUE MOUNTAIN
Less than five miles south of SGL 211 is a line of three state game lands stretching to the east. SGLs 80, 110 and 106 follow Blue Mountain through Lebanon, Schuylkill, Berks and Lehigh counties beginning at Swatara State Park off Route 81 in Lebanon County and ending at Route 309 in Lehigh County. Together, the tracts offer bowhunters 30,000 acres of prime mountain ground.

To the west, SGL 80 includes 10,462 acres in Swatara Township in Lebanon County, Pine Grove and Washington townships in Schuylkill County and Bethel Township in Berks County. There's an abandoned farm off Swope Valley Road that has large hayfields the PGC keeps mowed to attract wildlife. Also, land management crews have done some timber cutting along Route 645 in recent years, creating new browse for deer.

About a mile east of SGL 80 across Route 183, SGL 110 covers 10,093 acres in Berks and Schuylkill counties. SGL 110 has some magnificent flats running along the tops of the mountains where the PGC has several food plots. The steep ridges along the Schuylkill River in the eastern end of the tract near Port Clinton are well-known deer haunts.

A small sliver of land separates SGL 110 from SGL 106, which begins along Route 61 on the east shore of the Schuylkill River and covers 9,470 acres in Schuylkill, Berks and Lehigh counties. Bordered by Weiser State Forest and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, SGL 106 is one of the wildest game lands in the region. Hunters should have no problem finding solitude and deer here.

FURNACE HILLS
Travel east of Harrisburg on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for about 30 minutes and you'll drive through a line of mountains on the Lancaster-Lebanon county line known locally as the Furnace Hills. The PGC owns 13,300 acres of land here in three tracts including SGLs 145, 156 and 46. In recent years the PGC has done a lot of habitat work on the Furnace Hills game lands and the deer population has exploded. Selective timber cuts and the creation of new food plots have given these tracts the habitat diversity that deer thrive on.

Bigger bucks have been coming out of the Furnace Hills in the wake of the recent habitat improvement efforts, according to Steve Martin, a PGC wildlife conservation officer who works in the area.

Covering some 2,800 acres off Route 117 in southern Lebanon County, SGL 145 is the westernmost tract of public land in the Furnace Hills. Dave Henry, the PGC's chief forester in the Southeast Region, said that SGL 145 is dominated by trees that do not bear mast, so the agency has created a number of food plots on the tract. These one- and two-acre 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 4,537-acre SGL 156 in Lebanon and Lancaster counties. A good bet for SGL 156 bowhunters is the timbered area south of Route 322 and west of Pumping Station Road. New browse created as a result of those operations has been a real boon for deer.

Three miles east of SGL 156 is SGL 46, which surrounds the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area off Route 897. SGL 46 covers 6,000 acres in Lebanon and Lancaster counties. Look for deer on the hardwood ridges east and west of Kleinfeltersville Road and in and around the agricultural fields along Sunnyside Drive.

Maps of state game lands can be obtained at any PGC regional office, online at www.pgc.state.pa.us, or by calling the agency's headquarters at (717) 787-4250.

TUSCARORA STATE FOREST
Roughly 45 minutes west of Harrisburg off Route 944 is a 45,000-acre section of Tuscarora State Forest, primarily in western Perry County and extending into parts of Franklin and Cumberland counties. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Forestry, this half of Tuscarora State Forest has everything a deer hunter could want, including good food and cover, remote areas and, of course, lots of deer.

Check out the benches and steep slopes of Bowers Mountain off Bower Mountain Road and Dead End Road west of Colonel Denning State Park. Another good bet is the lush forest surrounding Fowler Hollow Run between Couch Road and Hemlock Road south of Fowlers Hollow State Park.

If you're feeling really adventurous, also explore the remote country east of Route 233 and west of Kennedy Valley Road southwest of Landisburg. The limited public access roads and trails in this part of the forest tend to keep all but the heartiest of bowhunters away.

Bowhunters should call the local Bureau of Forestry district office in Blain at (717) 536-3191 to acquire a public use map. This map shows

all the highways, forest access roads and trails in the area.

MICHAUX STATE FOREST
Stretching through parts of Franklin, Cumberland and Adams counties southwest of Harrisburg is 85,000-acre Michaux State Forest. It is the largest, unbroken block of state forest in southcentral Pennsylvania and is an excellent choice for Capital Country deer hunters.

"Some really nice bucks are taken out of Michaux every year because there's such good cover for them. The cover gives them a chance to live a few years,'' said Mike Kusko, the district forester responsible for Michaux.

According to Kusko, Michaux is 90 percent oak forest with a good understory of white pine. Combined, the two provide excellent food and cover for the deer. From Hunters Run Road in Pine Grove Furnace State Park southwest of Mount Holly Springs in Cumberland County, hike south to the top of the mountain to find prime whitetail habitat. Another good bet is the East Big Flat Ridge west of Route 233 near Brysonia in Adams County.

A Michaux State Forest public use map is available by calling Kusko's office at (717) 352-2211.

To secure lodging for your Capital Country bowhunt, or for driving directions or other information, contact the Pennsylvania Tourism and Lodging Association at (717) 232-8880.

With a small investment of time and some pre-hunt scouting, you just might fill your tag in Capital Country this season.



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