Great deer hunting is still a possibility into next month in some parts of Pennsylvania. Here's where to go for some last-minute venison on public lands near you. (Dec 2006)
It's December, and you still hold an unfilled deer tag -- or two. Don't fret. There are still plenty of opportunities to hunt in Pennsylvania this month.
The general statewide firearms deer season opened Nov. 27 and runs through Dec. 9. Both antlered and antlerless deer are fair game during that period.
In wildlife management units (WMUs) 5C and 5D, the firearms doe season continues to Dec. 23 and then resumes from Dec. 26 through Jan. 27. During this period, hunters may take as many antlerless deer as they have permits for in these two WMUs.
There's also a firearms season for antlerless deer from Dec. 26 through Jan. 13 in WMU 2B, and the statewide late archery and flintlock season runs from Dec. 26 through Jan. 13. Both antlered and antlerless deer are legal game during this season.
Hunting deer in December is exciting. For my money, this is the best time of the year to practice one of the most successful deer-hunting tactics -- the drive. Farm crops are all harvested. Hardwood foliage is mostly gone. There's a good chance for snow to be on the ground. All of these factors make visibility in the woods as good as it's ever going to be, which is important when hunting deer on a drive. If you can't see a deer, you have no chance of shooting it.
Also, though deer herds have been thinned by hunters over the previous two months, they tend to travel in herds at this time of year in and stick close to the few patches of good security cover and available food sources.
It shouldn't be difficult to find deer in December. Here's a look at some of the best places to go for a productive deer hunt on public land in the Keystone State this month:
MARSH CREEK STATE PARK
Any discussion about great opportunities for deer hunting in December has to mention WMU 5C, one of the few units in Pennsylvania where deer hunting is permitted throughout the month, except for a few days around Christmas. Marsh Creek State Park is in the north-central part of Chester County north of Downingtown, in WMU 5C. It's easily accessed by taking Route 100 north from the Downingtown interchange of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. In the village of Eagle, take Conestoga Road to the left off Route 100, then turn left on Park Road to reach the park office.
Of Marsh Creek's total 1,705 acres, about 900 are open to hunting. These huntable areas are scattered around the park's 535-acre lake. One of the best areas to try is on the south side of the lake off Chalfant Road. Park in the lot at the end of the road, then hunt south where there are a few large fields bordered by thick brush. Deer love to hole up in that brush.
Beyond the brush is deep forest that runs downhill to East Branch Brandywine Creek. You'd do well to hike into the woods in the dark and set up along the creek before daylight to ambush deer being pushed downhill from Chalfont Road as hunters arrive and move through at daybreak.
At Marsh Creek, there's a great hunting opportunity for hunters with access to a canoe who aren't afraid to paddle across a lake in the dark. Launch a canoe or small boat at the 24-hour boat ramp on the south side of the lake off Lyndell Road, which intersects with Route 282.
Take a climbing tree stand. Be sure to wear a PFD and use appropriate caution at all times in your boat.
Paddle north across the lake to the opposite shoreline and then paddle east. Cross a channel that stretches north off the main body of the lake to a peninsula sticking into the lake. Beach your canoe at the tip of the peninsula and head the woods to find a good stand tree.
Hunters looking for deer in this section of the park are going to walk toward this position from the road all day. Because you'll be set up at the end of a peninsula, deer that those hunters kick up are likely to circle past you as they try to escape. The lakeshore will funnel them right into your lap.
For a map of Marsh Creek State Park, call the park office at (610) 458-5119.
For lodging information, call the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau at (610) 344-6365.
SGL NO. 49
State Game Lands No. 49 covers 6,310 acres in Bedford and Fulton counties. It is south of Altoona and about halfway between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Both Bedford and Fulton counties are among the most productive in the state and are good places to go for successful deer hunting this month.
SGL 49 is split into four disconnected tracts in Bedford County's Monroe and Mann townships and Fulton County's Union Township. The largest of the four tracts straddles the top of Town Hill and Rays Hill north and south of McKees Gap on McKees Gap Road. The other three tracts are to the north.
Pennsylvania Game Commission employees in the South-Central Region recommend that December deer hunters explore the southernmost tip of SGL 49. Take Route 484 west from Buck Valley to Hammon Road, which cuts through the game lands.
There's a parking lot on Hammon Road. Park there and hike east up the ridge to a series of food plots. The resident deer herd should be hunkered nearby.
For a map of SGL 49 and all other state game lands mentioned, go to the Game Commission's Web site at www.pgc.state.PA.us. Click on "State Game Lands."
For lodging information, call the Bedford County Visitors Bureau at 1-800-765-3331.
FORBES STATE FOREST
Pennsylvania's Southwest Region is fast becoming the state's hot corner for deer hunting. It has plenty of deer and some big bucks, too.
Forbes State Forest consists of 20 separate tracts of land in Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties. Together, these tracts cover more than 50,000 acres.
One area that December deer hunters must check out is Forbes State Forest's Roaring Run Natural area in southeastern Westmoreland County. All 3,070 acres of Roaring Run are closed to vehicles. "No vehicles" means foot traffic only. And when an area can be accessed only by foot, that automatically cuts down the numbers of hunters willing to put forth the effort to explore it. Low hunting pressure means more deer.
Roaring Run Natural Area was heavily timbered and lined with logging roads before the state bought it in 1975, but since then it has been untouched by man. W
e're talking about big-timber hunting in this area. That means tall trees with sparse understory -- prime conditions for a spot-and-stalk hunt. Move slowly through the forest, watching far ahead for a glimpse of a deer.
To get to Roaring Run Natural Area, take Route 31 east from Mount Pleasant in Westmoreland County to the state forest parking areas past Jones Mills.
Another good area is around Wharton Furnace in Fayette County. Take Route 40 north and east of Farmington to Chalk Hill, and then turn left on Route 26201 toward Wharton Furnace. Hunt to the west along Chaney Run, or hunt the ridges to the east toward Big Sandy Creek.
For a map of Forbes State Forest, contact the state department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) at (717) 787-2869 and transfer to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry. For lodging information, contact the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau at (724) 238-5661.
SGL NO. 217
Some hunters might not think there's much in the way of "rugged" country within a short drive of Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Allentown. But SGL 217 on the Blue Mountain is as rough and tough as any of Pennsylvania's wildest places.
SGL 217's 6,648 acres generally follow the top of Blue Mountain in Carbon, Lehigh and Schuylkill counties. It's part of a huge block of public land owned by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the National Park Service and the DCNR that stretches from the Susquehanna River eastward almost to the New Jersey state line.
One good option for hunting SGL 217 is to take Route 309 to the game lands parking lot near the tract's western end. Hike the Appalachian Trail to the west and look for deer on the steep ridge to the south.
Be sure to pay attention to the game lands boundary markers in this area because you will leave SGL 217 for a brief stretch on the trail before you re-enter the property.
A lot of hunters like to hunt off the Appalachian Trail, which runs on top of Blue Mountain the length of SGL 217. To get away from those crowds, take Route 309 north from New Tripoli and turn east on Mountain Road. Turn left on Reservoir Road to the SGL 217 boundary at the base of the Blue Mountain.
Hunt west toward the mountain. Hunters may work the bottom, waiting for deer to get pushed down the mountain from hunters on top, or they can hike up the side, find a good-looking bench and set up to ambush deer feeding on acorns or seeking cover from other hunters.
Energetic hunters can continue east on Mountain Road from Route 309 to the far eastern end of SGL 217, east of the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The tract ends at the Lehigh River.
Park in the game lands lot on the north side of Mountain Road and hike up the mountain to the steep ridge overlooking the river. The terrain here is very steep. Most hunters avoid it, which means deer are bound to gravitate there.
For lodging information, contact the Lehigh Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-747-0561.
TUSCARORA STATE FOREST
Another area that's close to a lot of people but still offers great December deer hunting is Tuscarora State Forest. Situated 45 minutes west of Harrisburg is a 45,000-acre section of the Tuscarora in Perry, Franklin and Cumberland counties.
Tuscarora State Forest is in the middle of some of Pennsylvania's finest deer habitat. It's a mix of forest and farmland, which means deer have plenty of food and cover -- two of their primary needs for winter survival.
The DCNR credits regular timber cutting conducted throughout Tuscarora for the excellent deer habitat in the forest. Naturally, the cutting allows new browse to grow. Also, once the cutting is done, the logging roads and loading areas used by the timber companies are transformed into food plots. The last job the companies complete before leaving an area is to grade the roads and worksites they used to stage and load saw logs. The DCNR then sows a variety of clovers and grasses.
For a map of Tuscarora State Forest -- and to find out which areas have been timbered most recently -- call the district forester's office in Blain at (717) 536-3191.
One area of the forest worth checking out is the lush area surrounding Fowler Hollow Run between Couch Road and Hemlock Road south of Fowlers Hollow State Park. Also check out the benches and steep slopes of Bowers Mountain off Bower Mountain Road and Dead End Road west of Colonel Denning State Park.
To get away from the crowds, explore the remote country east of Route 233 and west of Kennedy Valley Road southwest of Landisburg. The limited public-access roads and trails in this part of the forest tend to keep away all but the most adventurous of hunters.
For lodging information, contact the Hershey-Harrisburg Region Visitors Bureau at 1-877-727-8573.
STATE GAME LANDS 13
After the first few days of the firearms deer season, many hunters lose the urge to venture deep into the more rugged areas of Pennsylvania. Well, if there are no hunters heading into those areas, guess where you're likely to find some deer?
SGL 13 in Sullivan and Columbia counties is the largest tract of game lands in Pennsylvania. And its 49,528 acres encompass some of the state's roughest country in the Endless Mountains. Get back into the deepest, darkest nooks and crannies of SGL 13 in December and you're bound to find some deer.
"The terrain in the Endless Mountains is ideal for deer," said Tim Conway, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Information and Education Department supervisor for the Northeast Region. "There are rugged mountains covered with a lot of timber, but it's interspersed with farmland."
Be forewarned: The tallest peaks on both sides of the road top out at more than 2,200 feet! Adventurous, physically fit hunters looking for some solitude would do well to head for Emmons in Davidson Township north of Route 118, and then take Shingle Mill Road into the heart of SGL 13's southern quadrant.
There are several parking areas along the road as it follows West Branch Fishing Creek. Park and head north or south to the top of the steep ridges on either side of the road.
For hunters more inclined to stick to flatter country, the portion of SGL 13 north of Lopez Pond in Laporte Township, which is wedged between Route 220 to the west and Route 487 to the east, is a good bet. This area is riddled with mountaintop swamps and gently rolling hills.
Take Main Street from Lopez west from Route 487 until it turns into the unimproved game lands road called Seman Road. Hottenstein Road, which branches off Seman Road, provides access to the northernmost section of this part of SGL 13. The area between Hottenstein Road and Loyalsock Creek is remote and sure to hold plenty of deer.
Masonite Road, which also branches off Seman Road, leads south to the center of this quadrant of SGL 13 near Lopez Pond. Hunt for deer west of Masonite Road toward Old Berwick Turnpike.
The SGL 13 area in Davidson Township north of Grassy Hollow, north and west of Jamison City, is typical of the mountain deer habitat found through the Endless Mountains.
The easternmost end of Grassy Hollow Road is guarded on both sides by steep mountain ridges. Hike up the ridge on the north side of Grassy Hollow Road to hunt the oak benches there. Or, for a less strenuous hunt, follow Grassy Hollow Road to Fritz Camp Road. Park and head east into the flat mountaintop forest.
For information on lodging, contact the Endless Mountains Visitors Bureau at 1-800-769-8999.
Just because you haven't yet filled all your deer tags doesn't mean it's time to give up. Some great deer hunting can still be found in Pennsylvania. And the time to go is now!
Find more about Pennsylvania fishing and hunting at: PAgameandfish.com