Some new rules (including baiting) allow hunters to take more deer with fewer complications on the state's Special Regulations deer-hunting areas. Our reporter has the scoop! (July 2007)
Photo by Ralph Hensley.
Opening day of the 2006 firearms deer season was shaping up to be a winner. During archery season, I had seen several bucks and a good number of does in the western Chester County woodlot where my two buddies and I intended to set up for the day.
Legal hunting time was only a few minutes old when the first shot of the day rang out. My buddy, Ed, called on the radio and reported he'd just bagged a fine 6-pointer.
About two hours later, I spied a herd of two bucks and seven does sneaking through the woods behind me. I picked out the buck with the larger body, slowly squeezed the trigger on my 12-gauge slug gun, and dropped the deer in its tracks.
As it turned out, it had only one antler with 4 points on it.
Shortly before 10 a.m., a 6-point and a doe entered the woodlot from a large field in front of me and ran past my position, heading toward J.R., the third member of our group. Sure enough, I heard J.R.'s shotgun report. He quickly called on the radio and said the buck was down.
Three for three on opening day in the Southeast Region's Special Regulations Area: That's good hunting anywhere!
Opportunities for Special Regulations Area deer hunters are expected to abound this fall. Nowhere in the state will hunters have more days or take more deer than in the Special Regulations Areas. And nowhere in the state are there more deer roaming the suburban countryside.
The observations offered by John Papson, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's wildlife conservation officer (WCO) for part of Montgomery County, mirror those offered by WCOs in all the Special Regulations Areas.
"There are excellent deer populations in all areas," Papson said.
Before we examine the public hunting opportunities available in the Special Regulations Areas, it's important to understand what that designation means and where it's applied.
When it comes to wildlife management in Pennsylvania, the state is divided into 22 wildlife management units (WMUs). The designation of Special Regulations Area is currently given on a county-by-county basis. Those counties that fall under this classification are Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia.
In these counties, centerfire rifles and handguns may not be used to hunt deer. Firearms deer hunters here may only use shotguns and muzzleloading rifles. In Philadelphia, only archery equipment -- including crossbows -- may be used.
Also, while crossbows may only be used elsewhere in the state during the firearms deer seasons, they may be used during any deer season -- including archery season -- in all of Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware and Philadelphia counties, as well as in those parts of Chester County that fall in WMUs 5C and 5D, and in that part of Allegheny County that falls within WMU 2B. Chester County also has some holdings in WMU 5B, and part of Allegheny County is in WMU 2A.
Last year, the Pennsylvania Game Commission approved the use of bait to hunt deer in all Special Regulations Areas except in Allegheny County. Baiting is allowed only on private property in the five Southeast Region counties, and bait accumulation in any one location may not exceed five gallons. For the 2007-08 seasons, bait may be placed two weeks before the start of the archery deer season and may be left out until all deer seasons have closed.
While the firearms and baiting restrictions for the Special Regulations Areas follow county lines, the deer seasons are set according to the WMU lines. Be sure to check the digest of hunting regulations to know where you're hunting, when you're allowed to hunt and what weapons you're allowed to use.
At the writing of this article, the Pennsylvania Game Commission was still considering the slate of deer seasons for 2007-08. Here's what was proposed at the time for the Special Regulations Area WMUs, which are WMUs 5B, 5C, 5D, 2A and 2B:
The general antlered and antlerless archery deer seasons in the above units is expected to run from Sept. 29 through Nov. 10, and Dec. 26 through Jan. 12. The early muzzleloader season, when only antlerless deer may be taken, is expected to run from Oct. 13 through 20. The late flintlock season, when antlered and antlerless deer may be taken, is expected to run from Dec. 26 through Jan. 12. A youth-only firearms antlerless season is set to run from Oct. 18 through 20.
The firearms antlered and antlerless deer season in all units is expected to run from Nov. 26 through Dec. 8. And here's where extra hunting is allowed in some Special Regulations Area WMUs. In WMUs 5C and 5D, firearms hunters may hunt antlerless deer from Dec. 10 through 22 and Dec. 26 through Jan. 26. In WMU 2B, firearms hunters may hunt antlerless deer from Dec. 26 through Jan. 26.
Proposed for this year are special, antlerless-only archery deer seasons. Extra days are proposed for bowhunters in WMUs 5C and 5D from Sept. 15 through 28 and Nov. 12 through 24. Extra days for bowhunters in WMU 2B are proposed for Dec. 10 through 22.
It's important to note that in the portion of Chester County in WMU 5B and the portion of Allegheny County in WMU 2A, hunters must follow the Special Regulations Area firearms restrictions. But they are not afforded any of the additional hunting days allowed in WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D.
WCO Glen Campbell, who covers part of Bucks County, said that hunters willing to put in some time scouting should have no problem finding the buck of their dreams.
"Large, antlered deer may be found throughout the district," he said.
The 1,711-acre Tyler State Park off Route 332 near Newtown in southern Bucks County traditionally holds a controlled hunt for both antlered and antlerless deer during the firearms season. Participants are selected by lottery drawing. Sportsmen interested in hunting at Tyler State Park should call the park office at (215) 968-2021 after Labor Day, but before the end of September, to find out if the park will be holding a hunt this season. Call the same number to obtain an application to participate and to learn the rules of the special hunt.
Nearly 3,000 acres of the 5,283-acre Nockamixon State Park in north-central Bucks Count
y are open to hunting. The park sits largely on the south side of Route 563, five miles east of Quakertown. Check out the woods at the east end of the park south of Route 563. Park near the Haycock boat launch and follow the lake shoreline south. The woods to the west offer great deer hunting.
For a map of Nockamixon, call the park office at (215) 529-7300.
State Game Lands (SGL) 56 is a complicated property of six unconnected tracts in Bridgeton, Nockamixon and Tinicum townships near the Delaware River. Altogether, SGL 56 offers 1,737 acres of public hunting.
Access to the two largest sections of SGL 56 is off Kintner Hill Road, east of Route 611, and off Auger Road west of Route 32.
SGL 157 encompasses 2,011 acres on Haycock Mountain north of Nockamixon State Park off Route 563. There are no roads leading to SGL 157's interior, so hunters looking for deer and solitude would do well to park in the lot adjacent to the PGC's rifle range off Sawmill Road in the southwest end of the tract and hike east. Another good bet is to park in the lot on Stony Garden Road in the northern end of SGL 157 and hike south to the top of Haycock Mountain.
SGLs 139 and 196 are two of the smallest tracts of game lands in the state. They're only a few miles apart from each other, south of Quakertown, on either side of Route 309. SGL 196 encompasses 308 acres of old farmland on the west side of Route 309.
SGL 139 is divided into three tracts totaling 261 acres east of Route 309 consisting of hardwood stands, creek bottoms and swamplands, all of which are prime deer habitats.
Evansburg State Park is the largest tract of public land open to hunting in Montgomery County. The 3,349-acre park surrounds Skippack Creek from east of Route 73 near Kulpsville to west of Ridge Pike south of Collegeville. Of the park's total area, 1,000 acres are open to hunting.
Look for deer in the thickets immediately adjacent to the creek or in and around the farmed areas scattered throughout the park.
For a map of Evansburg, call the park office at (610) 409-1150. SGL 234 is a tiny tract of game lands encompassing 158 acres along the Schuylkill River near Linfield. The property may be accessed from Linfield Road, east of Route 724.
WCO Scott Frederick, who covers the northern end of Chester County, sees no end in sight to the possibilities for deer hunters in his district.
"There are plenty of deer throughout the county," Frederick said. "Hunters can expect to harvest deer anywhere from behind industrial parks and developments in the east to farms in the west."
Marsh Creek State Park encompasses 1,705 acres, including a 535-acre lake, two miles west of the village of Eagle on Route 100. About 900 acres of the park's forests and fields are open to hunting. To escape the deer-hunting crowds and find some prime deer habitat, park in the lot adjacent to the all-night boat launch on the lake's west shore, hike south around the lake and head into the woods on the east side of the dam.
For a map of Marsh Creek, call the park office at (610) 458-5119.
French Creek State Park's 7,475 acres spill over from the northern edge of Chester County into Berks County on both sides of Route 345. Over 6,000 acres are open to hunting, including all of the parkland in Chester County. Hunt the woods between Hopewell Road and St. Peters Road adjacent to Hopewell Furnace National Historical Site.
Closed to all hunting, Hopewell Furnace is a sizable tract that's surrounded on three sides by French Creek State Park. Once hunting season begins, French Creek's resident deer flock to Hopewell to escape pressure, and hunters would do well to station themselves near the boundary lines to catch deer moving in and out of the state park.
For a map of French Creek, call the park office at (610) 582-9680.
White Clay Creek Preserve encompasses 1,255 acres along Sharpless Road east of Route 896, 11 miles south of the Forrestville exit off Route 1 in southern Chester County near the Delaware state line. About 1,220 acres are open to deer hunting with archery tackle and muzzleloading firearms only.
For a map, call the preserve office at (610) 274-2900.
Straddling the line separating northern Chester County from southern Berks County is 2,306-acre SGL 43. Most of the acreage is in Chester County west of St. Peters Village and north of Route 23.
Part of SGL 43 abuts French Creek State Park and Hopewell Furnace. The tract is divided into three unconnected parcels. The largest may be accessed by taking Laurel Road west from Route 345 north of Route 23.
The second-largest section can be reached by taking either Northside Drive or Harmonyville Road east off Route 345. The smallest section may be reached from St. Peters Road north of Route 23.
Ridley Creek State Park is the only public land open to hunting in Delaware County. The park's 2,606 acres are on the south side of Route 3, about two miles west of Newtown Square. Bowhunting is permitted in the park during the archery deer season, and a controlled, one-day shotgun hunt is held during the firearms season. Hunters for the controlled hunt are selected by lottery. Call the park office at (610) 892-3900 for maps of the park and for details on the lottery hunt.
Ridley Creek State Park is a mix of hardwood forest and open fields. In areas where fields meet the woods, look for the thick tangles of multiflora rose and greenbriers that are common throughout this part of the Southeast Region. Deer love these jungles of "picker-bushes'' because they make great hideouts that allow them to get away from humans. Look for deer trails leading in and out of these thickets and plan on hunting the woods adjacent to them.
The western edge of Ridley Creek off Gradyville Road, where the park abuts Edgmont Golf Course, is a popular section of the park for deer hunters.
Serious Pennsylvania deer hunters already know the quality of the hunting in Allegheny County. After all, Allegheny County bucks dominate Pennsylvania's trophy record books.
Gary Fujak, the county's WCO, summed it up best when he said, "Allegheny County is still, in my opinion, the best county to hunt for deer in the Commonwealth."
That's the good news about Allegheny County. The bad news is the only public hunting offered in Allegheny County is SGL 203, which lies in the WMU 2A portion of the county.
This 1,250-acre tract is in Marshall Township northwest of Pittsburgh. Take Rochester Road east from Red Belt Road and turn north on Game Lands Road. T
here are food plots scattered throughout this rectangular property.
For maps of all the state game lands mentioned, visit the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Web site at www.pgc.state.pa.us.
For lodging information in the Southeast Region's Special Regulations Area, contact the Brandywine Conference and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-343-3983, the Bucks County Conference and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-836-BUCKS or the Valley Forge/Montgomery County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-VISIT-VF.
In the Pittsburgh area, contact the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-877-LOVE-PGH.
There's no question that Pennsylvania's special regulations areas are the most densely populated areas in the state. But that includes people and deer.
Give these areas a try this season and see for yourself what all the excitement is about!