↓ Archives ↓

Posts Tagged → season

Our Wildlife Management Comments Submitted to the PA Game Commission

Dear PGC Commissioners,

In so many ways the Game Commission is on an exciting path, really moving forward on policy, staff culture, and scientific wildlife management. It is an exciting time to be a hunter and trapper in the great state of Pennsylvania, thanks to you. Hunting and trapping are supposed to be fun, and the PGC should be able to maximize opportunities without sacrificing the natural resource base. If anything, the agency has been perhaps too conservative, too cautious.  In that vein, here are some small suggestions for improving hunting and trapping in Pennsylvania:

a) Make all small game seasons concurrent, start them in late September or early October and run them unbroken until mid February. The current on-again-off-again schedule is silly, an artifact from many decades ago. Our current small game hunting schedule leaves kids and oldsters alike out in the cold with nothing to hunt if they can’t get to deer camp, or if they do kill a deer and want to keep on hunting. Hunters deserve maximum opportunities that do not degrade or put wildlife populations at risk, and adding a few extra days won’t hurt anything, but they will help hunters tremendously. Put another way, the risk of changing this is very low to non–existent, and the benefits are huge. Well, what is the risk, really?

b) Allow the use of snares in rural WMUs and/or on private lands. Cable restraints are an important trapping tool under any circumstances, and especially so as we experience ever-increasing freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw winters, with rain no less. These weird winter conditions render traditional footholds nearly useless both early and late in the season. Cable restraints can function better than footholds under those conditions, but they just are not sufficient for the big coyotes we are encountering. Getting coyotes into cable restraints is tough enough, and holding them there is even tougher. Chew-throughs of our cables are common, where a snare would positively catch the coyote and hold it, bringing it to hand and into the bag. In rural areas (or on private land) there is a far lower expectation or risk of a pet or feral dog or cat being caught. We are ceding too much to the anti-trappers by prohibiting snares where they can do the best good. A pet is an animal that lives in a home. Eliminating a very useful tool because of some vague or low-probability worry is not good policy. We can do better, and snares are much better than cable restraints in general, and particularly in the northern Big Woods areas. Also, CR certification can only be done right in person, through hands-on training. This online certification is going to lead to problems, especially where CRs are used like snares.

c) Allow the use of body-grip (Conibear) traps outside water courses, specifically on running-pole sets for fishers, bobcats, and raccoons. Like the snare situation above, our trapping regulations are unrealistic, they are too conservative, penalizing law-abiding trappers because of vague fears that under reasonable circumstances will not happen. Securing body-grip traps up off the ground is well out of the reach of dogs and domestic cats. Separately, if a pet owner lets their animal out the door to run free, where it can trespass, be hit by a car, be eaten by a coyote or fox or hawk, or get hurt in a fight with another animal, then they do not truly care about it and it is not a real “pet.” Pennsylvania trappers do not deserve to be hurt because of others’ irresponsible behavior. Elsewhere in America, the use of bodygrips on running pole sets is very effective and humane. We can stick with the #160 size as the maximum.

d) Extend the fisher trapping season and areas. Trappers in Berks and Lebanon Counties have told me of catching fishers in their sets, and we are seeing them in Dauphin County. There is no good reason why we cannot extend where and when we trap these abundant predators. Incidentally, they eat bobcats and turkeys, and it would be silly to expect fishers to simply harmoniously co-exist with other animals. They are a voracious predator and they will have a disproportionate impact on predator and prey populations alike if allowed to expand unchecked. Fishers are cool animals and I am all for having them in our ecosystems. What is lacking now are the mountain lions and wolves that in the distant past would have eaten them, and kept them in balance with other wildlife. We humans now fulfill the role of lions and wolves. Let us at ’em.

e) Make sure bobcat populations can sustain these long trapping and hunting seasons. We are seeing a lot less bobcat sign and fewer bobcats on our trail cameras. This was the first year we did not get a bobcat through either trapping or calling in 2G and 4C, and while this may be just our observation, we are concerned. If bobcat harvests must be reduced, then we prefer that it come out of their hunting season. There is a ton of hunting opportunities in Pennsylvania, and not a lot of great trapping opportunities. Heck, muskrats are practically extinct, coyotes have eaten most of the red fox in the southcentral, and possums are clogging nearly every trap. Let us keep our bobcat trapping intact.

f) Reinstate concurrent buck and doe deer hunting. We are seeing a high number of deer nearly every place we hunt (WMUs 2G, 4C, 3A, 5C, 5D). Deer populations are definitely lower than in 2001, and deer are harder to hunt now than then, but the quality is unbelievable, and the herd can sustain both doe and buck hunting. Pennsylvania is now a real trophy destination, so keep up the scientific management, which would include allowing hunting on Christmas Day.

g) Expand the bear season by one day in WMUs 2G and 4C, or rearrange the season entirely. There are an awful lot of bears everywhere, especially in 2G and 4C. On the Friday before bear season starts, we see loads of bears having tea and crumpets in the back yard. They are watching football and hanging out leisurely in reclining chairs. Come Opening Day through Wednesday, we might see the hind end of a bear or two, or we might occasionally harvest a bear, if we work hard enough. By deer season opening day the following week, the bears are back to having tea and crumpets in the back yard, hardly disturbed by all our hunting efforts. Another way to address this is to make bear and deer seasons concurrent, at least for one week, and perhaps start that concurrent season the week of Thanksgiving.

h) Do more to end wildlife feeding. We continue to see mangy bears, and deer baiting under the guise of “helping” wildlife through artificial feeding. It’s not good for the animals, and can actually be bad. People also feed wildlife to entice game animals away from (other) hunters. This is a cultural practice that PGC needs to do more to end, through education and enforcing the bear feeding regulation.

Thank you for considering our comments. We do love the PGC and admire your field staff, especially.

Josh and Isaac First (father and son)

Harrisburg, PA

Outdoor sports starting to ramp up now

Outdoor sports are well under way here in Pennsylvania. This is the “Christmas in October” season soo many of us dream about since the last hunting season ended months ago.

Archery season started a month ago, and the rut (primary breeding season) is now in full swing. That is evidenced by the “deer storms” that go crashing through the woods at any time of day or night now, as well as the increasing numbers of dead deer lying on the side of the roadways. Chasing is a main part of rut activity, and deer of both sexes will blindly run right out into the middle of a suburban lawn or a road as their hormones and instincts take over their better judgment.

Bowhunters take full advantage of that mindlessness, and they are now starting to really spend time on stand, trying to lure in the otherwise wary whopper trophy buck. Estrous doe pee is the number one deer lure, and it is what I use with very high success rates. One problem is that so many eager hunters jump the gun and start putting out doe pee, in huge quantities, too early in the season. A few drops on a tampon or cotton ball hung from a branch is all you need in early November.

Although furbearer trapping season started a week ago, the unseasonably warm weather has many people, myself included, holding off laying out steel until mid-November, when mink season starts. What is the point of catching a predator with patchy fur? The colder it gets, the more their fur fills in, the softer it becomes. The softer the fur, the more luxurious it feels. The better the fur, the happier I feel about spending late nights skinning, fleshing, and boarding pelts in the cold.

I will say this, however: Most of my predator trapping these days is aimed at reducing the over-abundant populations of skunks, opossums, and raccoons, all of which are voracious bird nest raiders. To my eye and ear, cute little birds are always entertaining and pretty to watch, and they deserve a chance to enjoy a comfy nest with a successful brood of hatchlings. Wild turkeys and grouse especially are vulnerable to these insatiable varmints that have few natural predators and a lot of suburban habitat in which to unnaturally propagate.

Having never sold a pelt, trapping is not a commercial or financial effort for me. Rather, it is the joy of being outside, being an integral part of the natural predator-prey chain, helping balance wildlife populations, and obtaining something useful, pretty, natural and biodegradable. The wild caught furs that adorn our home and cabin reflect the wild places we enjoy visiting, and the ancient skill set needed to catch these wary hunters.

Earlier this year a long time dear friend nastily chided me for hunting and trapping. Asking her how she could criticize me on the one hand, while on the other hand she regularly eats stone crabs (claws torn off of living crabs), other shellfish (taken from their cozy homes, jailed, then boiled alive), and all sorts of meats from suffering animals living on unsavory factory farms elicited no response at all.

This shallow, careless, hypocritical approach to life bothers me, but I doubt there is anything I can do about it, other than continue to live my own life well. Why or how people find pleasure from interfering in other people’s lives is a constant source of mystery. They get a sense of purpose, I suppose.

As a hunter and trapper, I am fulfilling a purpose that is as old as our species. The hunter-gatherer purpose is as old as humans, heck it is human, and is as old as the last ice sheets that covered the northern hemisphere. This lifestyle is eminently more natural than the artificial life of food from tin cans, huge monoculture “farms,” and sad feed lots that blot out habitat and wildlife, not to mention crushing the spirit of the animal.

Good luck this season. Enjoy living like a real human being, fellow hunters and trappers.

Good luck spring gobbler hunting tomorrow

Tomorrow is the spring gobbler hunting season opener here in PA.
People from all around PA and beyond are drawn to our forests and farm fields to try their hand at enticing a strutting long beard into shotgun range. It is probably the hardest form of hunting, because little is left to chance; nearly the entire process depends upon the lone hunter’s skills.

Those skills involve calling, sure, but they also involve understanding a turkey’s habits, its habitat, the local and larger terrain and topography, weather, and the impact of other predators, both human and four-legged on how a gobbler might respond to the seductive crooning of a the faux hen.

Turkey hunting is one of the least productive, most frustrating pastimes possible. And yet it is so popular.

Good luck out there tomorrow, ladies and gentlemen. Be safe (do not stalk turkey sounds), carefully shoot for the gobbler’s neck area between the head and the body, and enjoy the unfolding of springtime all around you as the dawn magically lights up the woods.

Seasonal weather changes are natural, welcome

Seasonal changes are natural tick-tocks on the world’s clock.

Following a natural cycle keeps us in tune with nature, even if the conditions aren’t always to our liking.

Cold arrived today.

Driving north on Friday, I photographed the “polar vortex” front as it closed in on central Pennsylvania. It was a dramatic sight, indeed, and heralded the coming of winter.

Right away, I spoke out loud to myself about the need to buy new knobby tires for the truck.  A long, cold, snowy winter is ahead, and I need to be as prepared as possible. Winter isn’t too challenging, if I’ve prepared for it.

Tonight we got our first wood fire going, after cleaning out the wood stove and adding new fire bricks. About a cord of last year’s split oak remains before we begin burning the oak that Viv, Isaac and I split this past spring. By the time we burn through the left over wood, the new wood should be completely dry. We will burn between three and four-and-a-half cords this winter at home.

Wood is a natural, sustainable, renewable heat source whose carbon is part of the planet’s natural cycle. We plant a lot of trees, and they absorb carbon to grow big. It’s a closed loop, which is appealing.

Living life according to the planet’s rhythms is natural and healthy. Will you get cold? Sure. That’s part of living. And if you think it’s cold here, check out Minnesota or Wisconsin or Idaho. Not to mention Alaska.

Just put on long undies and get some Filson wool jackets and vests. You might end up enjoying the cold weather. I certainly do.

It’s duck season! No it’s turkey season! No it’s rabbit season!

In addition to picking apples with the family, one of Fall’s greatest attributes is the abundance of hunting opportunities.

A friend sent me a photo of a huge buck he arrowed last week.  I am jealous of him because I have not yet had an opportunity to go bow hunt for deer.

Instead, I have been small game hunting, wild turkey hunting, duck hunting, and trapping.

So, it is not as if I have been missing out on the outdoor experience by failing to bow hunt.  The problem is that I’m in a frenetic whirlwind of other, related recreational pursuits, because Pennsylvania is blessed with an abundance of wildlife and healthy natural habitat.

Spending time with my kids and friends outside in this environment is one of the healthiest, safest, most wholesome activities anyone can do.  Hunting is safer than cheerleading, high school football, soccer, and baseball.  It gets my son’s face out of whatever handheld device is sucking out his brain at any given moment.

Successful or not, time afield is the best family time possible.

Here are some old favorite cartoons about hunting, and most important is the Duck Season, Rabbit Season, Duck Season! episode.

Bugs Bunny vs. Daffy Duck

Rabbit Season! Duck Season!

Hunting season preparations – Xmas in July

Though hunting seasons may be many months away, the truth is that hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania hunters are quietly sorting out their plans far ahead of time.  Doe tags, DMAP tags, licenses and berths in a Quebec hunting camp for black bear and caribou, a camping permit for an ADK wilderness…it is all lining up now across the state.

Summertime preparations for Fall and wintertime hunting activities are a sign that yet another round of sustainable, renewable economic development is upon us here.  After all, hunting is a $2.8 billion industry (or business sector, or economic sector) in Pennsylvania.  Hunters are a renewable, and sustainable source of income and economic activity, so long as they have places to hunt.

Longingly fondling old, trusted firearms and bows, sighting them in on the sitting room wall or at the range, hunters can already smell that clean air, feel that cool breeze upon the cheek, and hear dead leaves rustle under foot, if they but close their eyes and imagine it.

It is Christmas in July now, as hunters across the Commonwealth gear up, trim up, and make sure everything is in order for that best time of the year: Hunting season.

Good luck today, deer hunters

Like many Pennsylvania families today, ours went afield for the morning. My son, having watched an enormous buck run past us in the early morning dark, minutes before shooting light, decided his feet were cold enough and it was time for him to head in.
None in our hunting party got a shot off, yet, but we are gearing up for an afternoon drive, usually productive.
Good luck today, deer hunters! Hunt safely!

Challenging modern sensibilities

Yesterday, the distant father of one of our bear hunters texted his cell phone, urging him to retreat from the cold descending upon central Pennsylvania.

“Too cold! Go home!” read the text, which included several other adjectives supposedly describing hunting conditions.

The dad is not a hunter. He’s a very nice man, a hard worker, a veteran of Vietnam War infantry battles that earned him two Purple Heart medals. He’s no wimp. He is, however, a member of a materially comfortable society that increasingly believes food comes from the market, heat from the switch, and clothes from China.

Luxury is the standard for most Americans. By international standards, our ubiquitous cell phones, big screen televisions, cars, and expensive clothes are unimaginable expenses in days filled with constant quests for food and shelter around the planet.

Hunting for us makes us human, and quintessentially American. Hunting connects us to a human tradition predating anything surrounding Americans today. Cold weather is part and parcel of hunting. It challenges our artificially padded modern sensibilities for a few days, something that everyone needs. Couch potato nation, arise!

Monday: Joe Sixpack Hunts the King’s Deer

Feudal Europe provided the backdrop to American Constitutional government, a stark contrast between arbitrary laws and the rule of law.

No greater symbol represents this contrast than the King’s Deer, a wild animal whose sole existence was dedicated to royalty’s pursuit of hunting pleasure. Surrounding the forests in which the deer lived, lived poor peasants and serfs. Often starving and rarely enjoying fresh meat, any English peasant who hunted a deer to feed his family also put his life in jeopardy. Cruel punishments were handed out to those caught ‘poaching the King’s deer’, despite their wide availability.

Fast forward to Pennsylvania, the Keystone State, the cornerstone of American independence and liberty, and the first experiment in democratic colonial rule. Here, wild game was and remains the property of the citizenry. No longer the King’s deer, our ubiquitous whitetails are available to anyone who wishes to take a basic course in hunting ethics, safety, and wildlife conservation. Our game laws are the opposite of Europe’s, even today. Our wild game are available to all free, law-abiding citizens.

Long a symbol of wild places and clean habitat, the graceful whitetail deer is also a symbol of freedom, of the individual opportunity that defines so much of American life.

Tomorrow, Monday, the rifle season for whitetail deer begins around 6:45 AM, and about one million free citizens will be afield with high powered rifles and shotguns in their hands. Each of us all-American Joe Sixpacks will be pursuing not only deer, but ideas. Ideas of freedom of movement, freedom to own firearms without government approval, freedom from want. Hunting isn’t just about shooting or recreation, but about fulfilling our roles as predators in a complex ecosystem, and our duties in a politically complex Republic. Different religions have different expressions of human freedom: the Passover Seder and the Eucharist are two that jump to mind. But here in Pennsylvania, we also have deer season, a secular but nonetheless deeply meaningful observance.

Good luck, shoot straight, be safe, enjoy your family and friends, and remember that a bad day hunting is better than a good day at the job.

Northcentral PA: More Bears than Deer

Although our gang got no bears today, many camps around us did. Just one camp, Camp Orlando got five …five! That’s like deer season, except it’s actually bears. I think bear season is the new deer season in Northcentral Pennsylvania.