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Many Keystone State hunters and fishermen think that Pennsylvania’s fall sporting opportunities come to an end when the firearms deer season closes. Fortunately, there have been many changes in the state’s hunting and fishing regulations, giving sportsmen additional opportunities to pursue small game and waterfowl well into January. Newly extended hunting and fishing seasons allow sportsmen to pursue their favorite fish and game long after the traditional deer-hunting seasons end. Fishing is allowed on most commonwealth waters throughout the winter on open water or through the ice, but anglers are encouraged to check the most current regulations for the most recent updates and changes.
Here’s a look at what’s available for hunting and fishing options on public land near you this winter:
Don’t put your hunting gear away just yet. Pennsylvania offers plenty of great small game hunting that lasts, in most cases, until Feb. 5.
Hunters seeking rabbits, grouse, pheasants and squirrels can take advantage of three split seasons. The first split ends Nov. 27. The season opens again Dec. 13-23 for all four species, and then opens again on Dec. 27 through Jan. 22 (for grouse), Feb. 5 (for squirrels and pheasants) and Feb. 26 for rabbits. There is a special snowshoe hare season that runs from Dec. 27 through Jan. 1. Coyotes may be hunted year-round with no restrictions.
There is no shortage of squirrels in Pennsylvania. Not only are these popular small game targets abundant statewide, hunters are allowed to include red, black, gray and fox squirrels in the daily bag limit of 6.Keystone State hunters are fortunate that the common Eastern gray squirrel exists here in several color phases, taking squirrel hunting to a new level as sportsmen try to complete a Pennsylvania “grand slam” of color phase squirrels in the state.
In western Pennsylvania, great squirrel hunting may be enjoyed on the huge Allegheny National Forest near Warren, about 120 miles north of Pittsburgh. This huge holding of public land covers 512,998 acres — more than 800 square miles — and nearly all of it is prime squirrel country with plenty of easy access.
In addition, there are some early-successional growth areas in the western and eastern areas of the forest that should provide good grouse and rabbit hunting.
For maps and more information about Allegheny National Forest and its hunting opportunities, log onto the ANF Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/allegheny.
Additional hunting opportunities may be found on state forest lands, but these are managed primarily for timber production and do not contain a great deal of small game habitat. The Pennsylvania Game Commission, however, manages 1.4 million acres of state game lands. In most cases, these game lands are situated on the highest ridges and mountains, but plenty of acreage spills over the side hills and into the agricultural valleys below, where some great hunting may be found.
Access to some parts of these game lands can be a challenge, with some driving and a good deal of walking involved, but once you get there the hunting can be phenomenal, especially if you target areas that few other hunters will enter.
In central Pennsylvania, small game hunters can enjoy excellent squirrel, grouse and rabbit hunting on state game lands, many of which are actively managed for wildlife habitat that benefits all species, including our most popular small game birds and animals.
One great option is the 29,000-acre Raystown Lake complex in Huntingdon County. This long, winding lake is surrounded by state forestlands, game lands and U.S. Corps of Engineers property where hunting is allowed under the general rule.
This is steep, hilly country but access is easy via well-maintained state and county roads.
There is plenty of good hunting around the lake for squirrels, rabbits and grouse. The habitat is mostly forested, but there are some openings and clear-cuts that provide some species diversity.
For maps and more detailed information, log onto www.raystownlake.com.
In eastern Pennsylvania, hunters need look no farther than Delaware State Forest, which is 15 miles north of Stroudsburg in Pike County.
Offering a good mix of forestland, regenerating clear-cuts and swampy cover, this 80,000-acre public hunting area has enough land, cover and game to keep any hunter busy all season. On a recent late-season hunt, for example, I saw bears, deer, grouse, rabbits, squirrels and ducks every day, and geese were constantly calling in the distance.
Good hunting may be found just minutes from most maintained parking areas, and even better opportunities exist in the interior of the forest, where logging roads and hiking trails provide easy access. Hunters are limited only by how far they are willing to walk.
For maps and more information about Delaware State Forest, contact the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, Forest District #19, HC 1, Box 95A, Swiftwater, PA 18370-9723, (570) 895-4000; www.dcnr.state.pa.us.
Pennsylvania’s late-season waterfowl hunting is generally focused on the Susquehanna River corridor near Harrisburg.
Wintering Canada geese (and some snow geese) roost on the big river at night and disperse inland during the day to feed. The game is to determine where the birds are feeding (usually pastures, crop fields or other agricultural areas), seek permission to hunt there and be set up with blinds and decoys before dawn the next day.
Hunters may use state game lands throughout the region but will have the best luck on areas with active agricultural fields on them. Farm-game cooperative farmers in the region will allow goose hunting during the late season. The Pennsylvania Game Commission maintains a list of cooperative farmers in the river region, a good place to start your late-season goose hunt.
There are many places along the river where hunting is allowed. When the river is open, hunters motor or paddle out from PGC-maintained launch sites to set up near islands, points and shoals where wintering geese may be caught loafing during the day. In addition, some great pass shooting may be had at sunrise and near sunset as the birds fly just off the water en route to or returning from their feeding areas.
For more information on Pennsylvania’s great late-season hunting opportunities, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission at 2001 Elmerton Ave, Harrisburg, PA 17110; (717) 787-4250; www.portal.state.pa.us.
Game & Fish Magazine features detailed, local coverage about the best hunting and fishing opportunities broken down by state or region to give you the best local coverage available. www.gameandfishmag.com
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