Now's the time to go for some great late-season deer hunting using truly "primitive" arms. These proven hotspots top the list of "best bets" for Pennsylvania's flintlock hunters this season.
When the first muzzleloader season opened about 30 years ago, the Pennsylvania Game Commission limited it to 37 game lands and sold about 2,000 permits.
By 1979, flintlocks could be used statewide, and four years later sales topped 113,000. With the current junior and senior combination licenses, including a muzzleloader stamp, flintlock license sales are at the highest level ever: 147,413 licenses in 2001-02.
Last season was another good one for muzzleloaders. Smokepole hunters harvested 25,817 whitetails, including 2,127 bucks and 23,690 antlerless deer.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has approved the use of in-line muzzleloaders for its October season, however, in-lines are not legal for use during the late-December/early-January flintlock season.
The late muzzleloading flintlock hunt is set for Dec. 26 through Jan. 11. Just as last year, it's an antlered or antlerless season for the hunters who possess the appropriate licenses. The flintlock hunt also runs concurrently with the late archery season.
In a 10-county area of western Pennsylvania, a buck must now have 4 points on one side. Those counties are Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Crawford, Erie, Indiana, Lawrence, Mercer, Washington and Westmoreland.
In the six special regulation counties, hunters can follow the previous antler restriction of one antler of 3 or more inches in length, or one antler with at least 2 points. In all other counties across the state, flintlock hunters must follow the new 3-point on one side antler restriction.
Photo by Larry Holjencin
HARRISBURG HUNTS Harrisburg-area hunters looking for a good mountain experience should consider State Game Lands 80 in Lebanon, Schuylkill and Berks counties.
The 10,600 acres contained in SGL 80 are broken into a number of parcels along the north slope of Blue Mountain. For easy reference, the grounds are south of Route 895 and Swatara Creek.
To reach an extensive tract of SGL 80, take Interstate 81 to the Pine Grove exit. From the exit go west on Route 443 to Suedberg. Turn left on Swopes Valley Road and proceed about 1.25 miles, crossing over I-81 to the Commission road and parking area.
Another section of SGL 80 can be reached via Route 443 to Marstown. Take Route 895 to Route 501 and continue over Blue Mountain. Also, hunters can continue on Route 895 to the Moyers area and take township Road 815 across Swatara Creek into the eastern edge of SGL 80.
For more hunting information on this region, call the PGC's Southeast Region office at (877) 877-9470.
CHESTNUT RIDGE Southwestern region flintlock hunters should consider Chestnut Ridge, which cuts through Fayette, Westmoreland and Indiana counties.
State game lands on the ridge are considerably smaller and farther apart, but there are no less than six state game lands, one state park and one state forest open to hunting.
Starting just above routes 422 and 553 southeast of Indiana, the first game lands on Chestnut Ridge is SGL 248, with 829 acres. Traveling southwest, SGL 273 has 963 acres. Both contain a mix of light woodlands and food plots. SGL 273 is east of Route 954 along Yellow Creek.
Yellow Creek State Park is open to hunting. For more information, call (724) 357-7913.
Also in Indiana County, try SGL 276 with nearly 4,000 acres in divided parcels north of Route 22. SGL 276 is between routes 119 and 259 east of Palmerton.
The Chestnut Ridge game lands become more rugged and steep near the Conemaugh River at the Indiana and Westmoreland county border. SGL 153 offers nearly 3,000 acres of thick woodland ridges with cut areas south of Route 22 east of Strangford.
The largest game lands on the ridge, SGL 51, contains 16,139 acres. Slopes and dense woodlands are the common terrain just above the community of Deer Lake. SGL 51 is spread out above Route 40 north of Wiggins.
The last game lands on Chestnut Ridge offers mountain hunting with steep slopes and flat ridgetops. SGL 138 near Laurel Caverns offers 2,919 acres of huntable land. The game lands is broken into two main tracts with the caverns in between. State Route 2001 runs along the eastern boundary of both tracts.
Forbes State Park also lies along Chestnut Ridge. State Route 2001 cuts through the 52,000-acre state forest. Call (724) 238-1200 for more information.
For accommodations in this region, call the Indiana County Tourist Bureau at (877) 746-3426. For more hunting information, call the PGC's Southwest Region office at (877) 877-7137.
BERKS COUNTY Berks County remains the most productive place to harvest a whitetail during any season. A total of 10,925 deer were taken in Berks County last year, and flintlock hunters tagged 700.
Below Route 22 are five state game lands and two major parks.
Surrounding by fertile Amish farms, SGL 182 near Kutztown offers hunters some 273 acres. Access is east of Virginville off Route 143.
SGL 315 outside Bally in the far eastern corner of the county contains 305 acres. It is thickly wooded, rocky and steep. The main access is off Route 100 to Forgedale Road.
Southwest of Reading, SGL 274 in Vinemont contains 435 acres of mainly flat farm fields.
French Creek State Park is a major haunt of late-season flintlockers. The park's steep hillsides, dense ravines and overall thick woodlands grants muzzleloaders over 6,000 acres of huntable ground. The park is one of the most heavily hunted areas in the county, but it continues to produce even at the tail end of the season. Paved roads offer plenty of pull-offs, for hunters without 4-WD vehicles.
To reach the park, take Route 100 to Route 23 west and turn right onto Route 345 into park. For more information, contact the French Creek State Park office at (610) 582-9680.
Close to the state park, a portion of 1,800-acre SGL 43 extends into
Berks County from Chester County. Access is along Harmonyville Road east of Elverson.
Blue Marsh Lake, an Army Corps of Engineers impoundment outside Reading, also offers hunting opportunities this month. Most of this ground is scrub brush with sharecropped fields. The lake is along Route 183. For more information, call (610) 376-6337 or visit, www.nap-wc.usace. army.mil/bluem.html.
Call the PGC's Southeast Region office at (877) 877-9470 for more information.
DELAWARE STATE FOREST For Philadelphia-area hunters, Delaware State Forest is only a 90-minute drive. With over 80,000 acres in Pike and Monroe counties, it offers plenty of elbowroom for late-season flintlockers.
The state forest has light and dense woodlands, some steep climbs and plenty of flattop mountain terrain. The state forest is widely fragmented, but access is good along rural roads and from designated trailheads.
One portion worth a look is the Snow Hill Trail in Monroe County. Take Route 447 north from East Stroudsburg to Laurel Run Road. Another section runs east of state Route 1005 (School House Road). Maps for the state forest are available from the district office in Swiftwater at (570) 895-4000.
Call the PGC's Northeast Region office at (877) 877-9357 for more information.
BRADFORD COUNTY Bradford County flintlockers tagged 806 whitetails last season, the highest count of the Northcentral Region's "Big Three" counties, which include Potter and Tioga counties.
Southwest of Towanda, SGLs 12 and 36 offer nearly 44,000 acres of heavily wooded, often rugged terrain in Bradford and Sullivan counties.
From Route 220, take Route 414 west toward Woodruff Corners. SGL 36 lies several miles west of South Branch Towanda Creek. State Route 3010 to Carbon Run leads toward both game lands south of Towanda Creek.
To reach the eastern section of SGL 36, take Route 414 to Millstone Road at Powell. For the southern end of SGL 36, take state Route 3004 from New Albany. Follow state Route 3004 to the Hatch Hill Road intersection and turn right.
For more information on hunting in Bradford County, call the PGC's Northeast Region office at (877) 877-9357.
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