Our State Forest Whitetail Bonanza

Pennsylvania's vast state forest holdings contain some of the finest whitetail habitat in the region, and most of it is never seen by hunters. This is one public hunting opportunity you should not miss!

By Vic Attardo

Elbow room - that's why Pennsylvania hunters choose to pursue whitetails in our state forests. With over 2.1 million acres of publicly owned forestland in the Keystone State, there's room for a lot more elbows!

In addition, if you agree with the Game Commission's plan to save the state's damaged woodlands, many of the deer they'd like you to harvest reside in our state forests. The agency's desire is to rejuvenate tree growth by dramatically decreasing the deer herd, so it seems like it's the hunter's patriotic duty to go in and take some deer from these whitetail-ravaged lands.

Trophy hunters should not overlook Pennsylvania's state forest holdings, especially parcels that abut private agricultural holdings. The combination of dense woodland cover and farmland food seems to create ideal conditions to produce the "monster bucks" the agency promised would result from its augmented antler restrictions.

Whatever your personal reasons for hunting our state forests, the idea seems to be a good one. Here's a look at some of Pennsylvania's best state forestlands for 2004, including some brand new opportunities.

WYOMING STATE FOREST

It isn't every day that a substantial tract of land is added to a Pennsylvania public forest, but that's exactly what happened last year on Wyoming State Forest in three east-central counties.

Called the Roaring Creek Tract, a new 9,000-acre plot was opened to the public after 120 years of private ownership. The land, which lies along South Branch Roaring Creek in Columbia, Northumberland and Schuylkill counties, was quietly added to the Wyoming State Forest land, which already contained 43,570 acres.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

The new public land tract is well away from the existing Wyoming State Forest and perhaps could have been incorporated into another state forest, but there is no question that this is beautiful, unspoiled land. The basic shape of the new tract reminds one of the state of Tennessee, but in reverse, with the knife-like edge pointing west instead of east.

The Roaring Creek tract is in the eastern end of the ridge and valley section of the state, landforms characterized by steep mountains and deep valleys. South Branch Roaring Creek is at the bottom of the 10-mile-long valley between Big Mountain on the south and Little Mountain on the north. The mountains descend to a gap above the town of Shamokin.

Ownership of the land dates back to 1884, when it was used by the Roaring Creek Water Company. The water company built or expanded three reservoirs, but left the valley undeveloped. The reservoirs are now part of the Philadelphia Suburban Corporation, but the land has been obtained by the state.

The tract was unceremoniously opened to public hunting last season, and sportsmen in the know took advantage of it long before the final papers were drawn up.

Imagine being able to hunt land that hasn't been trod by sport hunters in more than a century!

Because it was undeveloped, access to the new public tract is not easy. Route 42 north of Centralia divides the eastern section. The majority of hunters making their way to the area use Route 42 as a parking lot. Route 54, on the far western edge of the tract, is near the most western reservoir. However, there are no roads that skirt through the valley or cross the tops of the two mountains. The only access is on foot.

The Roaring Creek Tract should offer some unusual hunting for years to come. This land will not even appear as a public holding on maps for quite some time, but the land is now open to hunting and other outdoor activities. State agencies are currently studying how to best increase its recreational opportunities.

For more information, contact the Wyoming State Forest in Bloomsburg at (570) 387-4255.

Connected to the southeastern end of the new state tract is SGL 329, a relatively new state game lands. This parcel is divided by state Route 2006 east of Aristes off Route 42. Follow state Route 2006 along Little Catawissa Creek across the Columbia and Schuylkill county lines to access this conjoined game lands.

DELAWARE STATE FOREST

For Philadelphia-area hunters, a 90-minute ride up the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike provides access to portions of the Delaware State Forest. Traveling east along Route 80, hunters then can be near the heart of this magnificent 82,000-acre public land.

This Poconos state forest is highly fragmented, but it does have something in common besides good numbers of whitetails. Despite being "in the mountains," the land is fairly easy to traverse. There are some tall, stand-alone peaks like the one west of Route 115 at the Pohopoco Tower, or the one along Route 402 north of Pecks Pond at High Knob Tower, but generally, this rolling plateau land is not difficult to hunt.

Some tracts of the forest are more heavily used than others, but three parcels that don't get much attention are south of Route 6. The first is west of Hickory Run State Park and is connected to SGL 129. This is the Pohopoco Tower Tract south of the Pocono International Raceway in Monroe County. Off Route 115, there is a parking area on Slutter Road beside an old logging road that cuts right across this tract. Another way to access the area is to follow Schoch Mill Road through SGL 129. A parking area is on the western end of this logging trail.

One of the smaller and lesser-known tracts of the state forest is east of Brodhead Creek and Route 447. The northeast boundary of this parcel is at Snow Hill Road off Route 447. From there, follow Laurel Run Road through the forest. To reach an old logging road for more access, continue on Snow Hill Road to Schoolhouse Road and turn south. There is a gated parking area not far from the intersection.

Poplar Run is a small stream that divides this section of the forest. It can be hunted from one end of this tract to the other. Continuing on Snow Hill Road, there is another parcel of the forest, but this one is heavily used because the main access is along busy Marshall Creek Road.

East of Shohola Lake is another piece of the state forest pie. This parcel is divided by Interstate Route 84, and there are few secondary roads through this section. One way into this area is to backtrack on Route 6 to Frenchtown Roa

d.

Other sections of Delaware State Forest are more accessible, but no less "wild." Route 402 south of Route 6 runs through White Deer Lake, High Knob and the Pecks Pond area of the forest. Continue south on Route 402 and there are large areas just below Porters Lake and also around Twelvemile Pond, though the pond is privately owned. Route 6 near Germantown and Route 739, south of I-84, also enters the forest with gated parking along the roads.

For more information, contact the district forester in Stillwater at (570) 895-4000.

SUSQUEHANNOCK

STATE FOREST

For many Pennsylvania hunters, Potter County is still the mecca of whitetail hunting in the state. While it no longer measures up to "the good old days," hundreds of deer are taken here every year. Potter County still offers fine whitetail hunting and there are plenty of places across the state that only wish they had it so good.

One important aspect of the region is its large public holding. One of the largest and most unified is Susquehannock State Forest. The 265,000-acre forest is in Potter County, with other pieces in Clinton and McKean counties. Much of this ground is also connected to four other state forests: Tioga, Tiadaghton, Sproul and Elk.

Because Susquehannock State Forest does not have as many gated parking areas as some other state forests, much of this land does not suffer the pressure that other public hunts endure.

Susquehannock State Forest contains over 180 miles of roads, 200 miles of snowmobile trails and nearly 30 miles of cross-country ski trails, all of which hunters use to gain access to the deep woods.

A good place to start is the area near the two scenic overlooks along Windfall Road north of the proposed Hammersley Wild Area. Also, try the area northwest of Oleona and Route 144 between the Miller Run Trail and the Sawmill Trail. The convoluted folds and ridges between the trails make great whitetail hiding spots. Also, try hunting west of Costello along Portage Road and the network of small streams that cut through this section near the Cameron County line.

If you want easier accessibility to parts of the state forest, try the woods West of Lyman Run State Park. Lyman Run Road runs through a vast section of this parcel all the way to Denton Hill. Follow Route 44 from Carter Camp west through Cherry Springs State Park and on through Patterson State Park, where there is plenty of roadside parking.

Susquehanna State Forest has easily accessible and more challenging areas, as would be expected in such a large public holding.

For more information, contact the district forester in Coudersport at (814) 274-3600.

MOSHANNON STATE FOREST

Western Pennsylvania hunters have two major trails and more than a dozen side paths totaling 244 miles to guide them through Moshannon State Forest. Hunters can use these trails to traverse the forest's ridges and deep valleys, all of which are highlighted by thick woodland, timbered grounds and some extensive wetlands along with a thriving whitetail population.

One thing that separates 183,000-acre Moshannon State Forest from some other public holdings is its network of rural roads. Connected to its curvy, two-lane highways is an extensive network of hiking paths. The Allegheny Front and Quehanna trails are the longest of these.

Quehanna Trails extends from Parker Dam east of Route 153 to Sinnemahoning in Elk State Forest. Hunters can pick up the western end of the trail along Laurel Ridge Road, Laurel Run Road or Tyler Road. The latter two roads bisect the trail a number of times in upper Clearfield County. Caledonia Pike, which runs from Route 879 to Route 555, cuts through miles of state forestland, with numerous trailheads along the road. Interspersed in this area are five separate sections of SGL 34, with another 9,000 acres of public land.

The Allegheny Front Trail is east of Philipsburg and south of I-80. A major access to this parcel is Route 504, or Rattlesnake Road. From Philipsburg, Route 504 leads to a trailhead in Black Moshannon State Park.

Good whitetail habitat can be found by following Rattlesnake Road past the tower of the same name to Underwood Road in the southeast corner of the tract. In this area, the Allegheny Front Trail climbs to scenic vistas with steep ridges running down to the east with broader, rounder mountains off to the northwest. This is all good whitetail habitat. SGL 103 lies to the east of this section of the forest and is characterized by a collection of peaks that reach heights of over 2,100 feet.

For more information on Moshannon State Forest, contact the district headquarters in Penfield at (814) 765-0821.

BALD EAGLE STATE FOREST

Nearly everything in Bald Eagle State Forest runs along a directional axis from the northeast to the southwest. Part of the ridge-and-valley section of the state, 196,000-acre Bald Eagle State Forest is characterized by sandstone ridges that are nearly uniform in height. Stand on a mountaintop at 2,000 feet and, as far as you can see, it appears that the landscape has been shaved at the same level. What lies below is a craggy mass of steep, rocky hillsides, narrow stream cuts and, frankly, some very difficult terrain.

While it may be unfair to paint all of Bald Eagle State Forest with such a broad brush, much of this public ground contains the most rugged land outside Pennsylvania's Grand Canyon. Its numerous steep slopes seem to be endless and there is little even ground. However, this challenging terrain has some of the best forest habitat for whitetails in the state.

The terrain throughout this mountainous region of Pennsylvania is rich with laurel, which provides excellent cover for some huge bucks, and the irregular landscape of Bald Eagle State Forest seems to have more than its share of thick laurel and wild rhododendron. Tree species in this forest also include a mix of oak, white pine, hemlock, birch, poplar and ash. The picture is of a varied forest habitat that has been supporting a good whitetail population for many years.

One area of Bald Eagle State Forest worth trying is along Nittany Mountain south of I-80. Cutting across the Union and Center county lines, this parcel has an extensive network of forest roads and trails. From the Route 880 interchange, continue on to Route 447 at Eastville. From there, Swenks, Breon, Garden Hollow and McCall Dam roads crisscross Nittany Mountain. Farther east, White Deer Road follows White Deer Creek along one base of the mountain.

This is the core area of Bald Eagle State Forest, but Route 880 to Loganton or Booneville and north leads to Big Mountain. Or, Low Place Road connects with Rag Valley Road along a mountainside deep inside the parcel. Also, try taking Route 447 back across I-80 toward Salona. This section of Route 447 runs through a section of the state forest that is usually neglected by hunters unfamiliar with the region. Another way i

nto this zone is from Loch Haven to Route 447. All of this area is on the north side of I-80.

On the south side, continue on Route 880 to Tylersville and SGL 295, which abuts the forest. The core area of the forest entertains its share of hunters, but these disjointed sections sometimes experience less activity.

RV camping is permitted at some 40 designated sites in Bald Eagle State Forest. Camping permits are required. For more information, contact the district forester in Laurelton at (570) 922-3344.

For more information on Pennsylvania's state forest deer hunts, contact the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Forestry, P.O. Box 8552, Harrisburg, PA 17105; or visit the agency's Web site at www.dcnr. state.pa.us.



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