Hotspots for Late-Season Deer Hunting

There is plenty of excellent deer hunting left for persevering Pennsylvania sportsmen this month. Here's a sampling of best bets near you!

Photo by Scott Steindorf

By Mike Bleech

One of the most exciting changes in Pennsylvania deer hunting recently has been that excellent sport can be had throughout the season. No longer are the overwhelming majority of bucks taken by the end of opening day. Through a combination of buck and doe seasons, antler restrictions and changing attitudes among hunters, the latter days of the annual deer season hold an equal degree of promise.

Primarily because of the new antler restrictions, there now seem to be bucks everywhere. These are not just small bucks, either. Because hunters must carefully scrutinize antlers and count before shooting, a lot of bigger bucks escape being tagged.

Also, fortunately for serious sportsmen, most deer hunters are casual hunters. After the first couple days of the season, the only time hunting pressure is heavy is on Saturdays, leaving a lot of deer and a lot of elbowroom for trophy seekers.

The 2003 hunting season promises to be one of the best ever. Though the new antler restrictions have only been in effect for one year, hunters are already seeing good results.

This might be your year to finally get that wall-hanger Keystone State whitetail you've been dreaming about!

SOUTHEAST REGION
Hunters in the Southeast Region find it nearly impossible to get away from hunting pressure on public lands. The best option might be private lands that are enrolled in one of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Farm-Game, Safety Zone, DMAP or LINK programs. The only way to locate Farm-Game Projects or Safety Zone Projects is to drive around and look for them because the Game Commission does not publicize their locations. The time for acquiring coupons for DMAP has passed, but it is something to explore for next year. For details on lands enrolled in the LINK Program, check the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Web site at www.pgc.state.pa.us, click on Hunting-Trapping, then click on LINK Program.

Some of the most rugged and remote public land in the Southeast Region is State Game Lands 110 on Blue Mountain, which is along the border between Berks and Schuylkill counties. This area consists primarily of mountain ridges covered by hardwood forest. Food plots have been established toward the western end at higher elevations. Access is limited and requires some serious climbing to several hundred feet in elevation.

To get there from the Philadelphia area, take U.S. Route 422 west to Reading and then turn north on state Route 61 to Port Clinton. SGL 110 extends westward from Port Clinton. Turn west on Mountain Road south of Port Clinton to access the eastern end of the state game lands. Getting to the top here requires a climb to about 900 feet elevation.

To access the western end, take state Route 183 north from Reading. Route 183 crosses the western tip of the state game lands. Or drive east to Shartlesville either on Old Route 22 or along Interstate Route 78. From Shartlesville, hunters can access SGL 110 by driving north on Forge Dam Road.

Information about local services is available through the Reading and Berks County Visitors Bureau, 352 Penn St., Reading, PA 19602; or call (800) 443-6610.

The Appalachian Trail extends along this series of ridges on public lands including several state game lands. In Schuylkill County, Dauphin County and Lebanon County, SGL 211, also known as Stoney Valley, is essentially a couple of mountain ridges separated by a large valley.

This area is large enough to provide a challenging, wilderness-type hunting experience. There is no motor vehicle access, but bicycles may be used to travel on a railroad grade through the valley. This is one of the best places in the Southeast Region for serious deer hunters.

Habitat in the region consists of forests with openings and a swamp at the eastern end of the valley. Most of the forest is in hardwoods, including oaks. There is also a considerable amount of hemlock along the slopes. Deer find excellent cover here in areas that have been logged, as well as in laurel thickets.

To get here from the Harrisburg area, take U.S. routes 22 and 322 north to state Route 225 at Dauphin, and then turn right onto state Route 325 into the state game lands.

Information on local services is available from the Capital Region Visitors Bureau, 1700A Harrisburg Pike, Carlisle, PA 17013; or call (800) 995-0969.

NORTHEAST REGION
In the Northeast Region, most of the land is still forested, and there are large state game lands and state forest tracts open to hunting.

Though surrounded by development, SGL 127 contains 25,519 acres with few roads. Inhospitable swamps limit accessibility. Hunters will need waterproof boots here, and the relatively flat terrain makes it very easy to get lost. Be sure to carry your compass or a GPS unit.

Casual hunters usually hunt the fringes. Most serious hunters carry a well-stocked backpack and venture into the interior to find big bucks during the second week of deer season. They look for productive beech and oak trees on the higher ground. These attract hungry deer, and the dry ridges where these trees grow are used as travel corridors by deer. Also, look for funnels between swamps that constrict deer movements.

SGL 127 is in northern Monroe County. From the Philadelphia or Allentown areas, take Interstate Route 476 north to I-80 and then east to I-380. Turn north on I-380 to the Tobyhanna exit and then go west on state Route 423 into the state game lands.

Local services information is available from the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau Inc., 1004 Main St., Stroudsburg, PA 18360; or call (800) 762-6667.

In this corner of the state, Bradford County should not be overlooked. It has routinely been one of the state's top deer-producing counties, last year ranking second for buck harvest (5,505) and tops in overall harvest with 16,380 deer. It has the best average over the previous three seasons with 6,368 bucks per year.

SGL 289 and adjacent Mt. Pisgah State Park are north of U.S. Route 6 between Troy and Towanda. These relatively small public hunting areas can easily escape the notice of most deer hunters.

Bradford County's terrain is a mix of Allegheny Highlands and more gently r

olling glaciated areas. The elevation varies by about 300 feet, with fairly gentle slopes in most areas, making it a good fit for hunters who do not like to work too hard while hunting.

Turn north on Steam Hollow Road to get into the state game lands, or travel north on Baileys Corner Road and then right on Pisgah State Park Road to get into the state park.

Habitat here is a mix of second- growth hardwoods and overgrown farms with surrounding agricultural areas. SGL 289 has an area of 1,126 acres. About 1,100 acres are open to hunting in the state park. There is no camping.

For information about local services, contact the Endless Mountains Visitors Bureau, 712 Route 6 East, Tunkhannock, PA 18657; or call (800) 769-8999. For park information, contact the Mt. Pisgah State Park office, R.R. 3, Box 362 A, Troy, PA 16947-9448; or call (570) 297-2734.

SOUTHCENTRAL REGION
Although the Southcentral Region has the lowest deer harvests of the six Pennsylvania regions, the areas with the right habitat produce plenty of deer.

Bedford and Huntingdon counties are clearly the leaders for buck and antlerless deer harvests. Last year, Bedford County ranked 10th in the state with a harvest of 3,901 bucks and 11th for total harvest with 12,216 deer. Huntingdon County ranked 21st with 3,307 bucks and 22nd for total deer (10,506). Both counties produced deer at a rate of 12 whitetails per square mile, putting them well into the upper half statewide.

Most public lands in this region are along forested mountain ridges, while the valley bottoms are dominated by farmlands. State Game Lands 121 in southern Huntingdon County along Sideling Hill is a good bet for late- season action. It is a moderate-size area with 2,207 acres.

The terrain here is rugged and steep with rocky outcroppings. Habitat is primarily mature hardwood forest, but there has been logging done here during the past 10 years, and the brushy cover provides good deer cover.

There is strip mine reclamation area north of state Route 994, where SGL 121 extends west from Sideling Hill. The terrain is much less steep in this area and the habitat is more varied.

Route 994 provides the best access. It connects with U.S. Route 522 at Orbisonia to the east and with state Route 26 at Entriken to the west. A township road turns south from Route 996 through and alongside the game lands.

For information about local services, contact the Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau, R.D. 1, Box 222A, Seven Points Road, Hesston, PA 16647; or call (888) RAYSTOWN.

NORTHCENTRAL REGION
Though the Northcentral Region has lost its position as the top deer-hunting area in the state, deer hunting in the region is still outstanding. The trick is in knowing where to go, which means knowing how to read the forest.

When this area gained its reputation as "the deer woods," the forest was immature. There were vast expanses of brush. Now, the forest has matured. Except in areas where there are mast-producing oaks or beeches, climax forest cannot support the same number of deer. Hunters should scout for mast on the ground or hunt in areas that have been logged within the past 10 years.

A perfect example of this is the Kinzua Quality Deer Cooperative, a confederation of public and private forestlands in western McKean County. The deer density on this 72,280-acre area averages about 28 per square mile. But that density varies considerably within the area.

The goal of this 10-year project is to improve the quality of the habitat and the deer. Although most of this land is privately owned, all of it is open to public hunting. Steps have been taken to make it more hunter-friendly, most notably through opening forest roads that have normally been gated.

State Route 59 cuts through the KQDC between Warren and Smethport, intersecting with U.S. Route 6 at both ends. Approach from the Pittsburgh area by driving north along Interstate Route 79 and east on Interstate Route 80, go north again on state Route 8 to Franklin, and then take U.S. Route 62 to Route 6 west of Warren.

For a brochure about the KQDC, including a map and other information about local services, contact the Allegheny National Forest Vacation Bureau, 80 East Corydon St., Suite 114, Bradford, PA 16701; or call (800) 473-9370.

SOUTHWEST REGION
The Southwest Region has been the top deer-hunting region in Pennsylvania for the past several years. Even though Pittsburgh is at the core of this region, there are still places where ambitious sportsmen can get away from hunting pressure, thanks to the region's rugged terrain.

One such place is State Game Lands 108 in the Allegheny Mountains of northeastern Cambria County. According to Barry Zaffuto, land management supervisor, hunters can walk for miles into this tract, and some get lost every year.

SGL 108 consists of five separate tracts. Three of these border Prince Gallitzin State Park; one very small tract is to the north and a huge tract is along the Cambria-Blair county border. The total area is 18,019 acres.

The larger tract features rugged mountain terrain. On the flat ridgetops, a large portion of the vegetation is scrub oak, pitch pine and blueberry bushes. Numerous food plots have been established.

Prince Gallitzin State Park is an ideal base of operations for hunting SGL 108. Camping is allowed here through the regular deer season. The park has an area of 6,249 acres, with about 5,900 acres open to hunting.

To reach the park from the Pittsburgh area, take U.S. Route 22 east to U.S. Route 219, and then continue north to Carrolltown. From here, turn onto state Route 4015 to Patton, and then take state Route 1021 to the park.

For park information, contact the Prince Gallitzin State Park office, 966 Marina Road, Patton, PA 16668-6317; call (814) 674-1000 or (814) 674-1007 for the campground office.

NORTHWEST REGION
Pennsylvania's Northwest Region boasts some of the most varied habitat in the state. On the east side are the densely forested Allegheny Highlands. On the south, the Pittsburgh Plateau is a mix of forest and farms. The northwestern corner contains gently rolling farm country.

A large portion of this region is managed under antler restrictions requiring at least 4 points on at least one side. This is already one of the better trophy buck areas in the state, and these restrictions should make it even better.

Numerous smaller state game lands dot the farmlands of Erie and Crawford counties. State Game Lands 162 is a local hotspot for small-game hunting, but the thick cover and surrounding agriculture makes it a perfect place to find big bucks late in th

e season. The habitat on this 761-acre area includes corn fields, fallow fields, thick brush, swamps and wooded hillsides.

Because so much of the cover here is so thick, it is difficult to hunt alone. Hunters coordinating their efforts can move deer out of the cover past ready standers. Walkers must do a lot of zigzagging, however, and they should be willing to plod through some nasty cover. You can walk within 10 feet of a deer and not move it. Wear clothing that resists thorns and briars because you're going to need them!

To reach SGL 162 from the Erie area, drive south on state Route 8 a few miles past Wattsburg. From the Pittsburgh area, take Interstate Route 79 north to U.S. Route 6N, east to Route 8 at Union City, and then north to the game lands. There are parking areas off Route 8 and the side roads.

Another area with good trophy buck potential is State Game Lands 101 on the border of Erie and Crawford counties close to the Ohio border.

Known locally as Jumbo Woods, this 5,050-acre tract is virtually flat. Habitat is mostly woods in various stages of development, with maintained openings and a lot of wet ground. Because of the flat topography, it is easy to get lost, so carry a compass or GPS unit.

From the Pittsburgh area, take I-79 north to Route 6N, then go west past Albion to state Route 226 and turn left. Watch for Griffey Road, a left into the state game lands. From the Erie area, take U.S. Route 20 west to Route 6N, then travel east to Route 226 and turn right.

For information about local services, contact the Erie Convention and Visitors Bureau, 109 Boston Store Place, Erie, PA 16501-2312; or call (800) 524-3743.

Maps of most state game lands are available on the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Internet Web site at www.pgc.state.pa.us. For more information about deer hunting in Pennsylvania, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg PA 17110-9797; or call (717) 787-4250.

For travel information, contact the Pennsylvania Office of Tourism, Room 404, Forum Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120; or call (717) 232-8880 or (800) VISIT-PA.



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