Pennsylvania's Schuylkill County Whitetails
October 05, 2010
Bowhunters and flintlockers have an edge when it comes to Schuylkill County public lands, and keep in mind that some of the biggest bucks in the state are taken in this region. Sound good? Read on!
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
By P.J. Reilly
When Pennsylvania bowhunters think of big bucks in the Southeast Region, most think of largely suburban Chester, Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery counties, which surround Philadelphia. Bucks in these counties live long lives and grow big racks because they spend most of their time on private properties where hunting access is hard to come by.
An excellent pick for the top bowhunting county in the Southeast Region is sparsely populated, mountainous Schuylkill County, which has loads of public land open to hunting and plenty of big bucks. During the Pennsylvania Game Commission's 2001 trophy scoring session, Schuylkill County posted more typical Pope and Young bucks than any other Southeast Region county. Chester County came in second in the Southeast Region, with seven bucks, followed by Bucks and Berks counties, each with five Pope and Young qualifiers.
"Schuylkill County has big bucks because of good genes, good food, good winter forage, and the bucks have enough room to live a few years,'' said John Denchak, Schuylkill County wildlife conservation officer.
From 1997 through 2001, Schuylkill County's archery buck harvest ranked in the top five among the Southeast Region's 13 counties. The county posted the third-highest archery buck kill in the region in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
Schuylkill County is second in the region in total public hunting acres, but it ranks first in the number of public tracts open to hunting. The county has 14 state game lands parcels encompassing more than 31,000 acres, two state parks and part of the Weiser State Forest, and all are open to public hunting.
According to Will Dingman, another Schuylkill County WCO, the positioning of public lands in Schuylkill County is what makes bowhunting on those lands so productive. In many cases, public land covers the heavily wooded tops of mountain ridges that rise up from farmland valleys.
"During archery season, the deer will come down off the mountains in the evenings to feed in the farm fields, and then go back up into the woods in the morning,'' Denchak said. "A lot of the bowhunters take stands on the side hills above the farms and catch the deer as they move up and down the mountain.''
Dingman suggested that bowhunters scout these side hills before the season to find active deer trails. And the farther you walk, Dingman said, the more solitude you're likely to find during the season because the terrain is rugged and remote.
Here's a look at some of the best places to go for archery deer in Schuylkill County this season:
LOCUST LAKE STATE PARK Locust Lake State Park has 1,045 acres open to hunting. A section of Weiser State Forest abutting the park offers additional opportunities. The park sits on the side of Locust Mountain and includes a 52-acre lake. It is two miles southwest of the Route 54 interchange with Interstate Route 81 off state Route 1006.
Except for the lake and some ground around it, the park is heavily wooded with eastern hemlock and white pine trees mixed with mast-bearing northern red oak, chestnut oak and white oak trees, among other species.
Nearly half of the huntable land in Locust Lake State Park is limited to archery and flintlock muzzleloader hunters only. The restricted land is in the eastern half of the park, and is best accessed by Locust Lake Road, which skirts the 52-acre lake.
TUSCARORA STATE PARK Six miles east of Locust Lake State Park is 1,618-acre Tuscarora State Park, which offers about 1,100 acres of public hunting. The park is south of Route 54 and two miles west of Tamaqua. The forest habitat in Tuscarora is similar to Locust Lake SP, but hunters will also find 134 acres of meadows near the entrance of the park off state Route 1018 that are managed for wildlife food and habitat. Also, about 110 acres of the park were planted in the 1960s with a variety of evergreens that offer prime bedding areas for deer.
Tuscarora State Park has acreage reserved exclusively for archery and flintlock muzzleloader hunters. The restricted area is between state Route 1018 and the developed recreation areas along the north shore of Tuscarora Lake.
Maps of Tuscarora and Locust Lake state parks may be obtained by calling (570) 467-2404.
STATE GAME LANDS 106 SGL 106 covers nearly 10,000 acres in two tracts along the Blue Mountain ridge in Schuylkill, Berks and Lehigh counties. About 3,800 acres of SGL 106 is in Schuylkill County on the county's southern border. The westernmost piece of SGL 106 is between the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and a portion of Weiser State Forest, making it part of a huge block of protected forestland. Hawk Mountain separates the western half of SGL 106 from the eastern half, which overlooks the Red Valley farm country southeast of New Ringgold.
To access the east end of SGL 106 in Schuylkill County, take township Road 755 east from the hamlet of Rauschs. There are several improved and unimproved roads that will take you south of township Road 755 into SGL 106. To access the west end of SGL 106 in Schuylkill, hunters may hike east along the Appalachian Trail where it crosses Route 61 south of Port Clinton, or take Hawk Mountain Road east from Route 895, and then head south on Rockland Drive. Rockland Drive provides access to some good bowhunting along the Little Schuylkill River.
STATE GAME LANDS 211 SGL 211 covers roughly 45,000 acres of ridge and valley country in Dauphin, Lebanon and Schuylkill counties. About 4,800 acres of SGL 211 is in western Schuylkill County between Second Mountain and Broad Mountain in Tremont and Pine Grove townships. Take township Road 625 west from Lorberry to an unimproved game lands road, which provides access to the marshy eastern end of SGL 211 along Fishing Creek.
Another good bet is to take Outwood Road north from Route 443 to Old Forge Road on the left, which will take you to the Lebanon Reservoir. Go around the reservoir to the north side, and hike up to the benches along the long ridge that parallels Fishing Creek.
"The east end of SGL 211 has some really good, remote habitat,'' WCO Dingman said. "Hunters shoot a lot of bruins there during bear season.''
STATE GAME LANDS 80 South and east of SGL 211 is 10,500-acre SGL 80, which runs along Blue Mountain in Schuylkill, Lebanon and Berks counties. Almost half of SGL 80 is in Schuylkill County. The game lands is divided into three unconnected tracts stretching east to west along Blue Mountain between Interstate 81 and Route 183. In Schuylkill County, SGL 80 is in Pine Grove, Washington and Wayne townships.
One good area bowhunters will want to investigate is Swope Valley, which is below the easternmost section of SGL 80. Take Swope Valley Road west from Route 645 to an SGL 80 parking lot, and hike up the mountain ridge to the south. Hunt east along the steep hillside to intercept deer moving from the mountaintop to the farms in the valley below.
Or hunt the western end of SGL 80 southeast of Rock. Take Lovers Road south of Route 895 east of Rock to an unimproved road running into SGL 80. At the road's end, follow a network of trails that course through the southwest end of this section of SGL 80, or head east through a series of ridges and hollows.
For maps of the state game lands in Schuylkill County, contact the PGC's Southeast Region office at (877) 877-9470, or visit the agency's Web site at www.pgc.state.pa.us. For information on lodging, contact the Schuylkill County Visitors Bureau at (800) 765-7282.
Schuylkill County has everything a Pennsylvania bowhunter could want, including big bucks and plenty of public ground open to hunting. Give it a try this fall, and maybe you'll be the next one to bring a Pope and Young rack to the Game Commission's 2004 scoring session.
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