Our Finest Early-Season Bowhunts
October 05, 2010
Start scouting now to find the best place to set up your stand on these proven Keystone State whitetail hotspots. (August 2007)
Photo by Curt Helmick.
The long wait is over. Bowhunting season finally is here again. How glorious it will be to nock an arrow again! This season, head to the highlands to enjoy some cooler weather in the opening days of archery season.
Sure, deer numbers are down across virtually all of Pennsylvania. But bowhunters are all about the challenge and the hunting experience. There are still plenty of deer available for good bowhunting. And there's one big factor that should excite serious bowhunters: Trophy-class bucks are becoming more common.
KINZUA QUALITY DEER COOPERATIVE
The most heavily monitored section in the north-central highlands is a collection of public and private lands in western McKean County known as the Kinzua Quality Deer Cooperative. For the past several years, biologists have used deer check stations and various field research methods to monitor the health and quality of deer and their habitat.
When this study began, area densities averaged 20 deer per square mile. That has since reduced to fewer than 12 deer per square mile.
Bad news for bowhunters? Maybe so, if your only interest is seeing a lot of deer. But now, the average weight of fawns is nearly what it was for yearling does back when the study began. Buck-to-doe ratios have improved. And average weights, ages, antler spreads and beam diameters for bucks have improved considerably.
Perhaps nowhere in Pennsylvania is there a better opportunity to collect a mature northwoods buck that field-dressed, might still weigh more than 200 pounds.
Hunters should understand that this is not an easy hunt. This is big-woods habitat, rugged hills covered by dense hardwood forest in various stages of growth. Some sections are remote.
The key to early-season bowhunting is mast. Find acorns, beechnuts and apples and you'll find deer.
The KQDC covers 74,000 acres including and extending beyond the northeast edge of Allegheny National Forest. Part of it is public land, and most is private. However, it's all open to public hunting.
Private land partners include the Bradford Watershed and private timber companies such as Forest Investment Associates, RAM Forest Products and Collins Pine Company.
Approaching the KQDC from west or east, take U.S. Route 6. From the east, turn onto state Route 59 at Smethport. From the west, turn onto state Route 59 east of Warren.
Approaching from the south, get off Interstate Route 80 onto U.S. Route 219 and follow it north to Route 59. Then turn west. The intersection of Route 59 and state Route 321 is in the KQDC. Route 321 intersects Route 59 in two places.
At the western intersection are the Bradford Ranger District offices of Allegheny National Forest. They can offer an excellent map of the national forest, which includes the KQDC; and can also provide other KQDC information.
Benefits derived through cooperating hunters have included the opening of numerous forest roads during hunting seasons and in some places, the elimination of deer-proof fencing.
If you harvest a deer on the KQDC while check stations are in operation, be sure to take the animal to a check station. Successful hunters are given tickets for prize drawings held at an annual banquet -- one ticket for a buck or two tickets for each doe.
For more on the KQDC project, maps of the area and other information, visit the KQDC's Web site at www.kqdc.com.
Information about local services is available through the Allegheny National Forest Vacation Bureau, Bradford Visitor Center, 80 East Corydon Street, Suite 114, P.O. Box 371, Bradford, PA 16701. You can visit www.allegheny-vacation.com, or call 1-800-473-9370.
FRENCH CREEK STATE PARK
At the opposite end of the climatic spectrum, early-season bowhunting in the southeastern corner of the Commonwealth is apt to be a sweaty experience.
The first days of bowhunting season, before hunting pressure makes deer too wary, are perhaps the best times to hunt some of the smaller tracts of public land, including our state parks. One of the great benefits of hunting some state parks in fall is that camping facilities should be available.
There's no better way to get into the mood of hunting season than by rough camping. Leave the radio, CD players and portable television at home. If you've never hunted hard from a tent camp, you'll be amazed at how the peace and quiet will make you a better bowhunter.
French Creek State Park is one of Pennsylvania's most popular state parks -- a forest oasis in an urban region. More than 6,000 acres of the park is open to hunting.
Be sure to stop at the park office for details on what areas are open or closed to hunting.
The park has 201 campsites that are open year 'round, including at least 50 sites with electrical hookups. In addition, 10 rental cabins are available year 'round. Each cabin sleeps six and features electric heat, a kitchen, private bath with shower, and wall-to-wall carpeting.
Bring your own dishes, cookware and bedding.
Although archery season is past the busiest tourist season, you should reserve campsites or cabins well in advance by calling 1-888-PA-PARKS from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Or reserve online at www.pa.reserveworld.com.
STATE GAME LANDS NO. 43
SGL No. 43 lies about three miles south from the park, offering another 2,316 acres of public hunting lands. This game lands is made up of three separate tracts. All are accessible off Harmonyville Road east of state Route 82 about seven miles east of Birdsboro.
From the park, simply follow Route 345 south to Harmonyville Road and turn either left or right. Look for food plots for potential locations for your early-season bowhunting stand.
Hopewell Village National Historic Site, which lies adjacent to the park and north of SGL No. 43, is not open to hunting.
French Creek State Park straddles the border between Berks County and Chester County. It lies off state Rout
e 345 south of Birdsboro and north of state Route 23.
For more information on the park, contact French Creek State Park, 843 Park Road, Elverson, PA 19520-9523. Or call (610) 582-9680, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information about any Pennsylvania state park is available on the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' Web site at www.dcnr.state.pa.us.
Pennsylvania's Southwestern Region counties could be rated as a top bowhunting destination on a national scale -- they're that good!
Most of the newer entries in the Pennsylvania big-game record books have come out of this region. But it still doesn't get its due.
Of the top 100 typical bucks taken by bow and arrow, 43 came from the Southwest Region. This includes half of the top 50, 14 of the top 25 and half of the top 10. Among the 33 non-typical bucks taken by bow and arrow, 15 were killed in the Southwest Region. Making all this even more remarkable is that most of these bucks were relatively recent kills.
Allegheny County is clearly the leading Pennsylvania county for bowhunting whitetail records. Among the entries from Allegheny County are the top and No. 6 typical whitetails and the No. 4 and No. 5 non-typicals. Five of the top 25 typical whitetails taken by bowhunters came from Allegheny County.
Of the 44 typical whitetails taken by bowhunters that score at least 150 Pope and Young points, 10 were killed in Allegheny County. Think about that: Of the Pennsylvania bucks scoring over 150 points, 23 percent were taken from one county!
Unfortunately, there is only one state game lands in Allegheny County: SGL No. 203, a 1,246-acre tract west of the Wexford exit off I-79.
Other public lands are open to bowhunting, primarily community or township lands.
In Greene County, hunters will find more public land and some of the best deer hunting in the commonwealth. Antler sizes have been improving in an area that was already better than most parts of Pennsylvania.
Fawn recruitment is also good, and deer density has consistently been among the highest.
Wildlife Management Unit 2A, which includes Greene County, is one of only five units that still have an estimated deer density of 21 to 30 animals per square mile.
SGL No. 223 has a total area of 7,223 acres in several irregularly shaped tracts. The terrain is mostly rolling hills. Habitat consists of reverting farmland with several woodlots including some mature timber.
As with many SGLs, the habitat here is well managed with food plots and a variety of vegetation that's ideal for deer and other wildlife.
These tracts are surrounded by farmland including Farm Game Projects where early-fall bowhunters are likely to get permission to hunt.
If you are looking for an ultimate sportsman's vacation, head to Erie County to start the bowhunting season. This is one of the top trophy buck areas in the Commonwealth, and bowhunting season coincides with the annual fall steelhead run.
With a vacation of this sort, your greatest difficulty would be deciding how to allocate your time!
Most of the public lands in Erie County are quite small, but there are several of them. SGL No. 314 is along Lake Erie and the Ohio border. Turn north toward Lake Erie off state Route 5 onto Rudd Road into the game lands. From I-90, exit at West Springfield at follow U.S. Route 20 to Route 5. Rudd Road is very close to the intersection of routes 5 and 20.
This is a spectacular area with breathtaking views overlooking Lake Erie. The heaviest buck ever recorded in Pennsylvania was a road kill that occurred nearby.
SGL No. 314 is one of the larger public tracts in the county, covering 3,178 acres. This is flat land with some mature timber, dense brush and wetlands. Here, you can get very close to deer without seeing them.
Be sure to wear waterproof boots while scouting this area!
For information, contact the Erie Tourist and Convention Bureau, 109 Boston Store Place, Erie, PA 16501. Or call 1-800-524-3749, or log on to www.eriepa.com.
To learn more about bowhunting in Pennsylvania, including 2007 hunting regulations, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission at 2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797.
Check the agency's Web site at www.pgc.state.pa.us, or call (717) 787-4250.
For travel information, contact the Pennsylvania Office of Tourism, Room 404, Forum Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120. You can also call 1-800-VISIT-PA (1-800-847-4872). l
Find more about Pennsylvania fishing and hunting at: PAgameandfish.com