• PA Game Commission’s Annual Christmas Bird Count

    HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Game Commission officials are urging wildlife enthusiasts to join the tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the United States in the Audubon Society’s 109th Annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC), which will take place Dec. 14 through Jan. 5.

    “Bird enthusiasts, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists, will head out on an annual mission – often before dawn – to make a difference and to experience the beauty of creation,” said Dan Brauning, Game Commission Wildlife Diversity Section supervisor. “Each year, volunteers brave snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count, and they have made an enormous contribution to conservation to help guide conservation actions.

    “The data collected through this effort – which is the longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations – allows researchers, conservation biologists, and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, it provides a picture of how the continent’s bird populations have changed in time and space over the past hundred years.”

    Local counts will occur on one day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. Volunteers can pick the most convenient circle, or participate in more than one count. There is a specific methodology to the CBC, but everyone can participate. The count takes place within “Count Circles,” which focus on specific geographical areas. Each circle is led by a “Count Compiler,” who is an experienced birdwatcher, enabling beginning birders to learn while they assist. Also, those who live within the boundaries of a Count Circle can even stay at home and report the birds that visit their backyard feeders, or join a group of birdwatchers in a local field.

    “In either case, if you have never been on a CBC before your first step is to locate and contact your local Count Compiler to find out how you can volunteer,” Brauning said.

    To view instructions on how to search for a circle and sign-up for an open count, visit the Game Commission’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) and click on “Wildlife” in the left-hand column, and then choose the “Christmas Bird Count” icon in the center of the page. Information also can be obtained from Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count website (http://www.audubon.org/Bird/cbc/), or on the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology’s December newsletter (http://www.pabirds.org/Newsletter/PSO_Newsletter_2008_04.pdf).

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  • PA Bear Season Nov. 22-24th

    HARRISBURG – Last year’s black bear harvest was light, but weather permitting, the Pennsylvania Game Commission expects hunters to have good opportunities afield in the upcoming bear seasons.

    “Pennsylvania’s black bear population has numbered 14,000 to 15,000 for at least eight years now,” said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. “Because our bear population now covers almost three-quarters of the state – and includes a number of world-class trophy bears – Pennsylvania has become one of the top states for bear hunters. Every bear hunter heads afield in Pennsylvania knowing he or she has a chance to see a bear and to possibly take a huge one that weighs 700 to 800 pounds.”

    Weather impacted the opening day of last year’s traditional three-day November bear season, but hunters still took 2,360 bears by the time the state’s slate of bear seasons closed. The opening day is almost always the best day of any season, because hunter participation is generally the highest.

    The 2007 bear harvest compares with 3,122 in 2006, and 4,164 in 2005, the state’s best bear kill. Already in this decade, which still is not completed, hunters have taken more black bears than in any other decade since the Game Commission began keeping bear harvest records in 1915.

    “Our black bear population is a remarkable resource,” said Mark Ternent, Game Commission black bear biologist. “Every year since 2000, more than 100,000 hunters have headed afield in pursuit of bears, with harvests exceeding 3,000 bears most years, yet many local bear populations across the state have remained stable or increased. It’s a good time to be a bear hunter.”

    Pennsylvania’s primary bear season is three days, statewide, just prior to Thanksgiving, Nov. 24-26. There also is a two-day archery bear season – Nov. 19 and 20 – in Wildlife Management Units 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3A, 4A, 4B and 4D. Additionally, concurrent with the first week of the firearms deer season, there is an extended season that is open Dec. 1-6, in WMU 3C and portions of 3B, 2G and 4E; and Dec. 3-6, in all of WMUs 4C, 4D and 4E.

    “We expect bear population levels to be comparable to last year or possibly higher in areas where the harvest was down last year,” Ternent said. “The exception may be in parts of the state’s northeast, where we have been trying to reduce local bear populations through the use of an extended season.

    “Hunters should take around 3,500 bears if good weather prevails, maybe more if there is snow-cover, in the upcoming bear seasons. If we follow the state average, about 30 hunters will take a bear that weighs 500 pounds or more.”

    Since 1992, six bears with an estimated live weight of 800 pounds or more have been taken in Pennsylvania. The possibility of another 800-pounder being taken by a hunter is always in play when Pennsylvania’s bear season opens.

    The heaviest bears taken in Pennsylvania typically come from the state’s Northeast. However, the Southwest Region also is producing record-book black bears based on skull dimensions, which is the method used for official big game scoring and record keeping. In 2005, Andrew Seaman Jr. of Dunbar took a 733-pound black bear that had a skull measurement of 23and 3/16th inches that the Boone and Crockett Club now recognizes as tied for the world-record black bear killed legally by a hunter. The Fayette County bear is tied with a bear taken in California.

    During the first week of October, a large Cambria County black bear was killed by a vehicle while crossing the road. It had an unofficial skull measurement of 23 and 8/16th inches. Skulls officially cannot be measured for the record book until after a 60-day drying period.

    “License sales indicate that the number of bear hunters may be up this year,” Ternent said. “Couple that with what appears to be at least a stable, and possibly larger, bear population and it could translate into good bear hunting.”

    Hunters this fall also have expanded opportunities with new or enlarged extended season areas in WMUs 4C, 4D, 4E, and the around Lock Haven in WMU 2G.

    These changes will open extended bear hunting in about 9,300 square-miles, compared to 5,100 square-miles in 2007 (even with the removal of WMU 3D for extended bear hunting in 2008).

    So, there are plenty of bears, plenty of hunters, tremendous opportunities. It sounds like everything is about right. But there are other variables to consider in all types of hunting. Two of the most important for big game are the availability of fall foods and, of course, the weather.

    “Our fall food survey suggests that almost all soft mast species produced well,” Ternent said. “Hard mast is a different story. Some areas reported average acorn crops. But there also were large areas that are reporting acorn crop failure where there was significant gypsy moth defoliation this past spring. The northcentral, northwest and southcentral counties appear to have been impacted the most. There are few areas anywhere with above-average acorn crops.

    “Scouting, as it is in most seasons, will be important for bear hunters,” Ternent said. “Bears are capable of locating small patches where food is available. In years when acorns are sparse, scouting for those areas is necessary if you want to hunt where there are bears. Talk to farmers and foresters, check out the field officer game forecasts on the Game Commission’s website, and try to spend some time in the woods before bear season arrives.”

    Last year, bears were taken in 49 of the state’s 67counties. The state’s top three counties were: Clinton, 171; Lycoming, 139; and Tioga, 121. A majority of the bears – 2,026 – were taken in the three-day firearms season before Thanksgiving. In addition, 41 bears were taken in the archery season, and 293 were taken in the extended seasons.

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  • Pa Game Commssion Releases Bald Eagle In Warren County

    GARLAND, Warren County – Pennsylvania Game Commission officials proudly released a rehabilitated bald eagle back into the wilds of State Game Land 143 in Warren County, under the watchful eye of many individuals responsible for the majestic bird’s recovery from injuries sustained in January.

  • Pennsylvania Fall Turkey Seasons

    HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Game Commission is expecting hunters to encounter a sizeable wild turkey population when they head afield for the opening day of wild turkey season Saturday. And finding birds this fall may be easier than it was last year.

    “Wild turkey hunting is one of Pennsylvania’s premiere outdoor experiences,” said PGC Executive Director Carl G. Roe. “The satisfaction derived from calling in and taking a game bird that can see you twitch at 50 yards is a fulfillment that veteran hunters never tire of and new turkey hunters can’t wait to experience.

    “The good news for this fall is that we believe there are great opportunities for wild turkey hunters throughout the state. But, as always, pre-season scouting and planning will be important to your hunting success.”

    Season lengths vary in the state’s Wildlife Management Units for fall turkey hunting: WMUs 1A, 1B and 2A (Shotgun and bow and arrow only) – Nov. 1-15; WMU 2B (Shotgun and bow and arrow only) – Nov. 1-22; WMUs 2C, 2E, 2F, 4A and 4B – Nov 1-15; WMUs 2D, 2G, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C, 4D and 4E – Nov. 1-22; WMUs 5A and 5B – closed to fall hunting; and WMUs 5C and 5D (Shotgun and bow and arrow only) – Nov. 1-7.

    Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission wild turkey biologist, said Pennsylvania’s wild turkey population is above the 10-year-average thanks to good reproduction the past two springs and generally conservative fall season lengths, which prevents overharvest of hens.

    “At its best, back in 2001, Pennsylvania’s turkey population peaked at about 410,000 birds,” Casalena explained. This spring, we believe the population numbered about 335,000 turkeys, prior to reproduction, and turkey reproduction appears to have been average or better in most areas. That should translate into great hunting in Pennsylvania.

    “Of course, weather and the availability of fall foods also influence hunter success, and this fall will be no different. Gypsy moth defoliation has had a tremendous impact on mast production in many areas of the state. This will make finding turkeys difficult in areas without a sufficient mast crop and should force birds to congregate where mast – particularly acorns and beechnuts – are available.

    “Hunters who find pockets of beech or oak trees with good nut production, or soft mast such as grapes, apples or cherries, or agricultural fields with standing crops or waste grain, should find turkeys,” Casalena explained. “But remember, locating the flock is only part of the hunt. Setting up properly and bringing a turkey within range are other challenges hunters must master. It’s what makes success so tricky and enjoyable.”

    The preliminary spring 2008 harvest was 40,500, including about 1,955 turkeys taken with “special turkey licenses.” In 2007, hunters took an estimated 41,000, including about 1,500 second license turkeys. The spring harvest record was set in 2001 when hunters took 49,200 turkeys.

    “Pennsylvania hunters have consistently taken 30,000 or more turkeys in the spring season since 1995,” Casalena pointed out. “That exceeds most other states in the nation.”

    Casalena said she expects hunter success this fall to mirror last year’s rate of about 16 percent. In the three years prior to 2007, hunter success was about 12 percent annually. The best hunter success rate was set in 2001 when 21 percent of hunters were successful. The worst was 1979, only four percent of hunters were successful.

    “There is no substitute for scouting when it comes to finding wild turkeys, unless, of course, someone else scouts for you,” Casalena said.  “And there’s nothing wrong with being enterprising and thorough. Talk to farmers, hikers and other hunters if you don’t have leads for areas to scout.  Look for scratchings in the leaves, and know that it’s pretty hard to miss the signs turkeys make looking for food. Leaves are falling or have fallen in many areas, so scratching for food will become more pronounced on the forest floor.

    “Once you find the general area turkeys are working, try to pattern their daily movements. Look for fresh scratchings, tracks, turkey droppings and feathers. Sort out what the birds are eating. It takes about a week to pattern a flock. Once you have, capitalize on your preseason fieldwork.”

    In both spring and fall turkey seasons, it is unlawful to use drives to hunt turkeys. Hunters may take only one turkey in the fall season.

    Shot size is limited to No. 4 lead, bismuth-tin, tungsten-iron or No. 2 steel. Turkey hunters also are required to tag their bird before moving it and to mail the postage-paid harvest report card – provided with all hunting licenses – within 10 days of taking a turkey. A replacement harvest report card is on page 33 of the 2008-09 Hunting and Trapping Digest.

    Also, two other reminders to turkey hunters: legal hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.  For more information, please see page 14 of the 2008-09 Digest for the legal hunting hours table. In addition, it is now lawful to use a dog to pursue, chase, scatter and track wild turkeys during the fall wild turkey season. Prior to 2007, hunters were prohibited from using dogs to hunt any big game animal, which includes wild turkeys.

    On a final note, turkey hunters are asked to please remember to report any leg-banded turkeys they harvest. This information hunters provide from the recovery of a banded wild turkey has great value to the agency’s research efforts.

  • Pennsylvania Fur and Feather Forecast Online

    Each year, Pennsylvania Game Commission field officers and foresters develop game forecasts for the areas they work to share with interested hunters and trappers. Observations on local wild turkey populations are always a part of this annual offering.

    The Game Commission’s “Field Officer Game and Furbearer Forecasts” can be found in the center of the agency’s homepage (www.pgc.state.pa.us). Developed to share field officer perspectives and observations on game and furbearer trends in their respective districts and to help hunters and trappers get closer to the action afield, this information helped many sportsmen and sportswomen have more enjoyable days afield last year.

    “Our field officers spend a tremendous amount of time afield, often in the areas hunters and trappers are most interested in learning more about,” said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. “Their observations have value to hunters and trappers, so in 2006 we set up a cyber-clearinghouse where anyone who enjoys hunting and trapping in Pennsylvania – resident or nonresident – can access game and furbearer forecasts from every county of the state. It’s the detailed field reporting hunters and trappers seek out, and part of our longstanding commitment to be the first and best source of hunting and trapping information in the Commonwealth.”

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