December's Top Deer Hunts in Pennsylvania

Early-season hunting pressure drives whitetails into thick cover where few hunters dare to tread. If you're looking for a challenging but productive late-season hunt, these top-rated game lands will get you started.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Kristine Latham

December deer hunting in Pennsylvania is some of the best in the East. Here's a look at where to find some great late-season whitetail hunting near you this month!

WESTERN REGION

State Game Lands 232

As recently as May 2003, the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) added 4,000 acres to State Game Lands (SGL) 232 in Washington County, which is considered some of the best farmland in southwestern Pennsylvania. When West Penn Power Company nixed plans to build a hydroelectric power plant on the land, it sold the ground to Washington County. The county then offered to trade the 4,000 acres of farmland to the commission in return for an old strip mine in an area more suitable for development.

Doug Dunkerley, the PGC's land manager for SGL 232, is excited about the potential for the new land.

Sharecrop farmers have already planted soybeans, corn, hay, oats and alfalfa in addition to several acres of sunflowers. The land contains a mixture of hardwoods and softwoods, with wetlands scattered among the flats, including Buffalo Creek.

If you're planning to check out SGL 232, take Interstate Route 70 west from Washington to state Route 231.

CENTRAL REGION

SGL 105

Barry Seth, another PGC land manager, recommends SGL 105 off state Route 268 north in East Brady and SGL 137 off Route 66 north from New Bethlehem.

According to Seth, these game lands are the most under-hunted in the region. Both areas are good late-season choices for December hunters.

Scott Bills, a Dauphin County land manager, thinks SGL 211 west of Philadelphia and Swatara State Park in Dauphin County off I-81 north of Lickdale should offer great December deer hunting this season.

"This is a great late-season hunting spot, with especially good hunting in the lowlands and creek bottoms," Bills said, noting that there are with approximately 79,000 acres of land available to December deer hunters. This game lands is most popular with first-day hunters, but by December you'll have the woods to yourself.

At 44,343 acres (the second-largest game lands in the state), SGL 211 offers great late-season hunting off state Route 322 in Dauphin County and Route 325 in Schuylkill County. Clarke's Valley Road cuts lengthwise through the game lands.

Bills said that SGLs 80, 110, 106, 211, 217 and 168 are called the "Wall of Game Lands" in the Blue Ridge Mountains. All boast great hunting northwest of Philadelphia, and hunters will also find good opportunities at Swatara State Park in SGL 211, and the famed Hawk Mountain in SGL 106.

The Pennsylvania National Guard and the Harrisburg Water Authority are involved in a proposed land swap with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. A proposed three-way deal would involve the National Guard buying 1,800 acres of the DeHart Reservoir watershed from the Harrisburg Water Authority, which would then turn the property over to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. In turn, the PGC would give up a six-mile strip of land along the north side of Second Mountain between Cold Spring Road and the Middle Paxton Township line.

National Guard officials say they need the land as a safety buffer for firing ranges on the south side of Second Mountain. A buffer zone the National Guard is asking for would extend down the north slope of Second Mountain to Stony Creek.

A National Guard spokesman said they would allow hunters and others access in the same way they allow access to other National Guard lands. However, some hunters pointed out that, as with other National Guard lands, it could be closed to the public to accommodate training activities.

In the other part of the three-way deal, the land the PGC would receive could link SGLs 211 and 210, thereby creating the largest game lands area in the state.

National Guard officials say the proposal is still in its early stages, and none of the three entities has yet approved the deal.

SOUTHCENTRAL REGION

Don Garner, Regional Education and Information supervisor of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Southcentral Region, suggests that hunters take a look at SGL 121 in Wood Township in Huntingdon County.

Garner said that this area is ideal for the confident hunter who is up for a challenging hunt. Parking can be found at the southern end of the game lands in New Grenada approximately one-quarter mile past SGL 121 at the access gate and on the right side a big flat - a good place to park and get away from the road.

A prime spot to hunt is at Sidling Hill (near the Pennsylvania Turnpike) one mile into the game lands on the right side, where hunters will find brushy growth, thick mountain laurel, rocks and a steep climb - a difficult spot to get to.

On one side of the mountain is Shore Valley and on the other side is active farmland, which, Garner said, is usually hunted hard during November.

Heavy hunting pressure in the valley is precisely the reason why Garner said the hard-to-get-to spot at the top of SGL 121 is the hunter's best bet to bag a December whitetail.

Why trek to the top of SGL 121? Because, Garner said, deer are pushed out of the neighboring valleys during the early weeks of deer season in November, but they begin to migrate back to the top of the mountain to hide in thick mountain laurel.

Shore Valley is a good place to put on a drive, Garner said. This game lands consists of mostly wooded, rocky mountaintops that are not hunted out, and deer are pushed into the area by eager early-season hunters. If you're up to the challenge, this is the place to go for December deer hunting.

After a long day of hiking to the top of SGL 121, you can find a good meal at local eateries off state Route 994 in the borough of Three Springs or in nearby Saltillo.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission maintains an excellent Web site with more information about the game lands mentioned in this article including maps, season dates and bag limits at www.pgc.state.pa.us.

The Pennsylvania D

epartment of Conservation and Natural Resources' Web site may be found at www. dncr.state.pa.us.

For important information on road conditions in Pennsylvania, go to the Pennsylvania Turnpike's Web site at www.paturnpike.com.

If you're looking for a great place to stay overnight in Pennsylvania, visit www.experiencepa.com.

All of the Web sites mentioned above may be found by going to Pennsylvania's state Web site at www.state.pa.us.

For additional information, contact the following regional offices: Northwest Region, (877) 877-0299; Southwest Region/Ligonier, (877) 877-7137; Northcentral Region, (877) 877-7674; Southcentral Region, (877) 877-9107; Northeast Region, (877) 877-9357 and Southeast Region, (877) 877-9470.



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