By Vic Attardo
If you’re the kind of bowhunter who enjoys a mixture of rolling terrain, hardwood stands and fertile farmland, along with easy access, then you’re living in the right state. Pennsylvania boasts numerous public grounds that meet these criteria and contain good whitetail populations to boot.
Unlike our state forests, which tend to be rugged, steep and densely wooded, our “gentler” state game lands are apt to have more terrestrial variety. This is true, in part, because numerous food plots are maintained within state game lands boundaries, and many of these lands are purchased because of their proximity to small streams and wetlands.
“Best” in terms of archery deer hunting not only means a healthy whitetail population, but also the availability of habitat, food and edge cover or open spaces where archers can successfully hunt from the ground or a tree stand. These are some of the conditions that qualify a particular public ground as a top bowhunting prospect.
Here is a look at some of the “best” places the Keystone State has to offer this season:
State Game Lands 205 in Lehigh County offers some excellent tactical locations for archery hunters. From its broad, open farm fields beside the parking areas on Route 100, this 1,303-acre public-hunting area dips down toward a long line of thin hardwoods. The border between woods and cropland has proven to be a perfect strategic ambush point for many Southeast Region bowhunters.
SGL 205 also has land around Jordan Creek east of Route 100. This is stream bottomland, dense with brush and tall grasses. The soft banks of Jordan Creek are an excellent place to pick up game trails that lead deep into the woods. Above the creeks, the hills are short and somewhat steep, but this is not difficult hiking ground.
The way this rolling land is laid out, it’s possible for hunters to set up along a number of small ravines along the creek. Cautious whitetails often follow the stream’s course, and a ground blind set up along the creek can be a good interception tactic.
All of this land sits in the shadow of Blue Mountain and is surrounded by a series of shorter hills to the north. In the early season, the deer are found in the lowlands beneath the mountain depending, of course, on the availability of food.
The easiest way to find SGL 205 is from the intersection of routes 100 and 309 at Pleasant Corners. Drive south on Route 100 and look for the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s maintenance buildings on the left side of the road.
When it comes to plentiful sight lines, it’s tough to beat SGL 234 in Montgomery County. This game lands exists in two parts, with 158 acres in Linfield and another 142 acres in Schwenksville. Both sections are equally good for archery hunting.
In Linfield, SGL 234 is bordered by the Schuylkill River and east of an old industrial site. This section sits on an oxbow of the river, the only complete oxbow on the Schuylkill. This area is all flat land with not a steep hill in sight, and the zone has been widely developed with food plots.
Consequently, this section of SGL 234 pulls in a large number of deer from suburban Limerick Township. The point is that these deer are accustomed to seeing and smelling people, as well as regularly running from them. Suburban deer are tricky, cautious animals that rarely leave cover until the last minute of daylight and they usually return to their hiding areas long before daybreak.
This section of SGL 234 is off the Linfield exit of Route 422. Take Linfield Road east to Pennhurst Road and then turn right into the game lands.
The second section of SGL 234 is at the old PGC game farm east of Schwenksville. The area land managers have done a tremendous job with this 142-acre piece. Contained in the mix of crop and woodlands are at least seven manmade ponds.
The eastern section of SGL 234 offers an incredible variety of rolling terrain, with so many ambush points it actually can entertain a sizeable number of hunters at one time. In addition, there are numerous pull-off spots along the main access road. These pull-offs reveal how many hunters are occupying an area and you can either stay or move on to the next spot depending on its popularity.
Again, the deer in this section of SGL 234 are accustomed to occupying areas of suburban Limerick Township.
The southeast corner of the state is known to have an unchecked population of whitetails, and the Schwenksville section of SGL 234 is one public place where archery hunters can get in on the action.
To reach this section, take Route 29 north from Collegeville to Schwenksville and then turn left at the traffic light onto Game Farm Road. You’re within the game lands’ boundaries when the old rural road begins to make tight bends.
Light, sparse woods are not the norm in the hemlock-laden regions of central Pennsylvania. Neither are there many state game lands adjacent to agricultural fields or open plains. Where there is public land in the center of the Keystone State, it is often characterized by steep mountains, dense woods and thick vegetation. Good archery hunting can be found at the base of many of these public mountains, and in the stream and river bottoms near the public land.
SGL 298 near Loyalsock Creek and Rose Valley Lake in Lycoming County is north of Williamsport. SGL 298 contains 1,140 acres featuring moderately high peaks that act as funnels for whitetails. The main access path, Sugar Camp Road, runs between two of these 500-foot peaks, and a number of feeder streams filter through. Bowhunters will find some good places to set up and plenty of game trails on either side of the road at the bottom of Sugar Camp Creek and an unnamed tributary to Mill Creek.
SGL 298 is not far from a double section of Tiadaghton State Forest east of Route 87. A narrow throat of land east of Wallace Run Road joins these two parcels. A steep ridge facing Jacoby Mountain characterizes the northeastern part of this double section, but over the ridge there is a surprising amount of even-height land and there is plenty of ground suitable for archery hunting on top of the mountain.
This region includes S
GL 298 and a portion of Tiadaghton State Forest east of Loyalsock Creek and contains a good population of whitetails. Even after the season, forays in this area reveal a considerable number of fresh tracks.
To reach these two public lands, take Route 87 north from Interstate Route 180/220. For SGL 298, proceed north to Route 973 at the Loyalsock Game Farm, where pheasants are raised for stocking. Turn left on Route 973 and continue through Warrensville to the “T” in the village. Turn right on state Route 2022 to Sugar Camp Road.
To reach the state forest, continue north on Route 973 past Route 973 and turn left on Wallis Run Road (state Route 1033), or turn left on Route 973 to state Route 2002 and then right on Caleb Road.
For more information on Tiadaghton State Forest, the third-largest state forest in Pennsylvania, contact the forest headquarters in South Williamsport at (570) 327-3450.
If there is a plainer, and stranger, state game lands in central Pennsylvania, or one more suited to archery hunting than SGL 252, I just don’t know of it.
SGL 252 contains a little over 3,000 acres next to the Allenwood penitentiary. What makes this area so good for archery hunting is its combination of farmland, thin woods and sizable deer population. However, don’t expect to find solitude on SGL 252 because it’s fairly popular among local hunters.
There aren’t many areas east of the West Branch Susquehanna River that contain flatter ground and sparse woods as the junction of Lycoming and Union counties near Allenwood. It’s one of the few areas in this region of the state where you can actually stand on a knee-high hill and see for several miles. That is certainly the case around SGL 252.
There are portions of the highly fragmented Tiadaghton State Forest near SGL 252, but the state forestlands have an entirely different character than SGL 252. The state forest is south of SGL 252 on South White Deer Ridge and northeast of the game lands on White Deer Ridge. The C-shaped valley between the two ridges contains the penitentiary and SGL 252.
Access to this game lands is easy, with numerous rural roads skirting and entering the public ground. Driving north from Milton, take Route 15 to Route 44 west; or continue north on Route 15 to Route 54 west and Maple Hill Ridge Road. Important access roads include Ridge Road and state Route 2004.
When a state game lands in central Pennsylvania contains a major stream, one without a particularly high gradient, it’s often a magnet for deer and a good place to bowhunt. Such is the case with SGL 188 in Snyder County.
SGL 188 sits in a broken valley between the impressive Shade Mountain and Jacks Mountain. Both are steep ridges that are part of Bald Eagle State Forest. The valley that lies between these two crests, on an axis from the northeast to the southwest, contains rolling hills, deep ravines, some farms and a combination of dense and light woods. The area that encompasses Middle Creek, which runs through SGL 188, is a bit tamer.
SGL 188 consists of 1,636 acres and is part of a stream bottomland, where archery hunters will find plenty of places to set up shop without getting in each other’s way. The strange thing about SGL 188 is that it seems to attract bowhunters who prefer to hunt on the ground. Archers here are able to shoot from one side of this fairly flat creek to the other. The large sycamore trees surrounding this bottomland provide plenty of cover. Hunters like to use the game trails that come off Middle Creek as a starting point for tracking deer.
SLG 188 is accessible via a rural roadway running along its length. The game lands is north of Beavertown and Route 522. From the village of Beaver Spring on Route 522, take Route 235 toward Benfer. Or from Beavertown on the same highway, take T-588. Both towns are west of Middlesburg at the intersection of Route 522 and Route 104.
One caution while hunting this game lands: A portion of Middle Creek is a Special Regulations trout stream, so it is possible that hunters may run into fishermen who won’t be wearing fluorescent orange.
The southwest corner of the state has a number of state game lands that seem to be perfectly made for bowhunters. These lands, such as SGL 303 in Washington County, don’t have the high, steep mountains that are so common in the central part of the state, but they have good rolling hills, a mix of wood and open land, plus good access and availability for hunters from the Pittsburgh area.
SGL 303 lies near the West Virginia border north of Jefferson and is rich with stream bottomland. Cross Creek flows along its southern border and a tributary of the stream bisects a major portion of this public ground. SGL 303 isn’t large, containing only a little more than 200 acres, but it features the wooded nooks and crannies, as well as the open lands that many bowhunters favor.
It’s a beautiful ride from Pittsburgh to SGL 303. Simply take I-79 to Bridgeville and then Route 50 east to Avella. In Avella, turn northwest on state Route 4018 to Jefferson. Just past Jefferson, take T-334 and then T-338 directly into the game lands.
In Washington County, Brian Witherite, a wildlife conservation officer, sings the praises of SGL 82 in Northampton and Larimer townships. At over 6,700 acres, there is a lot to sing about for this diverse public land. Situated around Wills Creek, SGL 82 contains both rolling land and steep elevations. Wills Creek is bordered by impressive hills, but there is also a long stretch of creek bottom that makes this a good bet for archery hunters.
Access from the town of Berlin is relatively easy. Simply follow Route 160 south toward Wittenberg. Before Wittenberg, take a left onto Witt Road and then turn right on Game Lands Road. Another way in is to take Route 160 south to Milwaukee Road and turn left. Both Game Lands and Milwaukee roads enter the flatter grounds of SGL 82.
If you continue on Milwaukee Road, you’ll ride up the hill that leads to Wills Creek. Game Lands Road skirts along the bottom of the high ground.
Because you sometimes need some meat with your potatoes, I’ll include SGL 296 in Fayette and Westmoreland counties. With a little over 2,000 acres, SGL 296 is the most rugged of the public lands noted here. But it still offers some great archery hunting.
North and west of the Youghiogheny River, the southern side of SGL 296 along Jacobs Creek is the most rugged. Close to the north side of the creek, the land has its obstacles as well, but spreading away from this side of the creek is better hunting cover.
The north shore is good for archery hunters who enjoy an easier approach. East of the river town of Jacobs Creek, head toward Macbeth and Reagantown. From there, a number
of rural roads, particularly T-317 and T-313, lead into the game lands. Also, take T-386 from east of Smithton and Jacobs Creek.
To learn more about SGLs 205 and 234, contact the PGC’s Southeast Region office at (877) 877-9470.
For information on SGLs 298 and 252, contact the Northcentral Region office at (877) 877-7674. For SGL 188, contact the Southcentral region office at (877) 877-9107. For information on Southwest Region game lands 303, 82 and 96, contact the PGC’s regional office at (877) 877-7137.
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