Today (Oct. 28) kicked off the fall turkey hunting season in most parts of the state. The exclusion is in local WMU’s 5C and 5D which haven’t been opened for fall turkey in some time. And depending on where you hunt, the game commission recommends checking season dates as their lengths are different in some management units and a handful changed this year. This is due to declining population trends and the results of an agency study that showed the longer fall season, the higher the female turkey harvest, which affects spring populations.
The PGC says that during the fall turkey season, any turkey can be harvested because jakes, young males, are difficult to distinguish from females. According to Mary Jo Casalena, PGC turkey biologist, “Our research shows females (both juveniles and adult) comprise a larger portion of the fall harvest than males. Our research has shown that we shouldn’t overharvest females, and we shorten the fall season length when turkey populations decline to allow them to rebound.”
Last year the PGC reports the fall harvest of 10,844 birds was 35 percent below the previous 3-year average of 16,688, and likely due to a combination of a decrease in fall hunting participation, shorter fall season lengths in many WMUs, below average turkey reproduction (smaller sized turkey flocks) and abundant acorn crops in much of the state. “This tended to scatter the flocks making them more difficult to locate,” Casalena explained.
Casalena went on to say that turkey’s favorite foods such as acorn, beech and cherry production varied across the state, with beech nut, white oak acorn and soft mast production, such as apples and grapes, seeing average to above average production in many areas, but below average food production elsewhere. Said Casalena, “Areas with abundant food sources tend to make the flocks more nomadic and harder for hunters to find. Whereas lack of food tends to keep flocks congregated where the food exists and, therefore easier for hunters to find.”
Hunters may want to consider the new Thanksgiving three-day season that will provide added opportunities for hunting and it’s also a very successful period as about 18 percent of the harvest occurs during these three days, advises the PGC.
As for the 2017 spring gobbler season, the agency said the harvests (including youth, mentored youth and harvests from the special two-bird turkey license) totaled 38,101, which was six percent above the 2016 (35,966) spring harvest and similar to the previous long-term average. Interestingly, hunter success for the first bird, 19 percent, also increased from 2016 (15 percent) and was 18 percent above the long-term average of 16 percent.
Hunters are reminded to report any leg-banded turkeys they harvest or find. Presumably the latter means a deceased turkey that was killed by automobile or coyote. The latter a situation that happened some time ago to a Berks County hunter who said he shot a turkey and as it was flopping around from the shot, a coyote appeared, grabbed it and ran off with it. The hunter was too shocked to shoot it as well.
Turkeys with stamped leg bands include a toll-free number to report it. The information is beneficial to the PGC and hunters can learn the history of the bird when reporting it.
Turkey hunters should also keep in mind the blaze orange rule where you must wear blaze orange while moving through the woods and post a minimum of 100 square inches of it within 15 feet of your hunting location.
Around this time of year local anglers customarily migrate up to Pulaski, New York to fish for really big fish. The draw is New York state’s annual salmon/steelhead run that occurs in early fall when king and Coho salmon and steelhead trout upwards of 30 pounds and more migrate from Lake Ontario into the Salmon River at Pulaski, New York, and other offshoot tributaries, to spawn.
And some of the fish in the run are already spawning according to Mike from Mike’s Bait & Tackle in Nazareth. Said Mike, “Several of my customer’s report fishing is phenomenal and the best the run has been in a long time.”
The draw to catch big fish in a small river or stream is a treat unlike anything available here in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Some anglers, however, opt to fish the lake by boat where the fish begin their journey into the rivers and streams.
According to my friend Tom Marchetto of Easton, who makes the yearly trip to Pulaski and who has recently returned, had this to report.
“This year's recent Salmon River trip with my three buddies had a really decent week no matter what area of the River we covered. There were fish from top to bottom but we had the most luck fishing the Staircase (lower end). The water flow for the week was fairly steady at about 400cfs. That’s more than enough flow to keep fresh fish in the river.
The preferred bait was a mix of imitation eggs (plastic) and various flies made by one of our very own. We were in search of Coho salmon and had agreed to catch and release the King salmon although two large Kings did come home with us for friends who wanted some for smoking. When it comes to
eating what you catch, we all agree Coho is far better. Most of our Coho were caught at the Staircase (nine of them) and plenty of Kings to tire us out during the day which were released if landed. Overall we brought home 12 Coho and two Kings. Most all the fish seemed to be larger than usual with the Kings around 25lbs and the Coho around 20lbs. The weather during that week was unusually warm for October with daytime temperatures in the low 70's. We agreed we had another successful year and look forward to next year's trip.”
Chris from Chris’ Bait & Tackle in Mertztown echoes this report saying his reports indicate fishing is good most days but some days it’s off. Water flow last week, where his buddies fished, was 300 cfs and another buddy fished the mouth of the inlet from boat and had 86 hook-ups on eggs and sponges. He added that he understands fish are still staging in the lake so fishing may continue to be good for a period.
The Oswego County Fishing Hotline also reported salmon spawning in the shallow gravel areas but fishing remains fairly good at Pineville.
Willie from Willie’s Bait & Tackle in Cementon said some of his customers traveled to Pulaski and said it was the best fishing they had there in 25 years. But the run was tapering down where they fished. On the other hand, Willie said he had excellent catch reports from Oswego, Genesee and Niagara rivers in New York State.
For those who don’t want to make the lengthy trip to Pulaski, Willie reminds anglers that parts of the Little Lehigh were stocked with trout as was the Bushkill and Brodhead creeks. So trout anglers get a last shot at some local fishing action under somewhat low water conditions.
Grouse season opened Saturday to little fanfare. Unlike pheasant season, with stocked birds that are essentially a put and take situation, our state bird remains a truly wild game bird and are the toughest to hunt.
Of late, their numbers are diminishing primarily because of a loss of habitat and disease promoted by West Nile Virus. They’re not over-hunted because these beautiful birds inhabit rugged terrain that some hunters don’t relish trekking through. And those who do, a good hunting dog can do much of the brush kicking work for these fast flyers.
According to Chuck Fergas of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, grouse have keen eyesight and hearing. At one time, they were not nearly as wary as they are today; reputedly, early settlers killed them with sticks and stones. Today, you may surprise a grouse bathing in the dust on a back road, in a sandy bare spot on the forest floor, or in the debris around a rotting stump.
Grouse seek shelter beneath conifers during stormy weather, and they roost in conifers and hardwoods. They may spend winter nights beneath the snow, sometimes flying directly into a soft snowbank at dusk.
Some years back my son and I along with a buddy and his son visited State Game Lands #217 off Mountain Road outside Slatedale for a winter hike. There was about a foot of snow on the ground and after parking the car, we began walking the trail up the side of the Blue Mountain. About 10 yards from the parking lot a grouse burst out of a snowbank startling us as we didn’t expect this to happen so close to the parking lot.
Grouse are not especially gregarious, although groups of birds are sometimes found together in the fall. These are usually a hen and her offspring of that year. During winter, a grouse’s feet develop snowshoe-like properties through the growth of a horny fringe around the toes.
Although its take-off is thunderous and powerful, a grouse cannot fly long distances. Its top flight speed is about 20 m.p.h. After take-off, it flies rapidly and then locks its wings and glides to safer territory, usually traveling less than 100 yards.
Hunter who pursue grouse should look for areas of mountain laurel and greenbrier thickets, especially those including some hemlocks or white pines; prolific sprout growth in areas that have been burned or logged within the last 10 years and are growing up again; dense pine clusters in immature hardwood forests; stands of wild crab and hawthorn trees; edges provided by logging roads and trails through wooded areas; and abandoned apple orchards near thick cover. Also look for grapevines, greenbriers, small conifers, thornapple trees and the like for grouse.
Grouse numbers are often cyclical and their local population has not been the best. Your may want to hunt the Blue Mountain all along Lehigh and Berks counties. Either that or the mountainous areas and game lands in the Pocono’s.
Some years ago while skiing at Blue Mountain Ski area and on a chairlift for a ride to the summit, I spotted a grouse sitting on a branch of a conifer. It’s evident from this these pretty game birds prefer this type of terrain and woodlands.
The initial season for grouse runs until Nov. 25 and starts up again Dec. 11 to Dec. 23. If you manage to down a grouse, be honored you were able to flush one, and be satisfied with a single as their numbers need to rebound.
If you’d like to learn how to do your own deer processing and possibly win some terrific gifts and receive a few free ones at the same time, stop at Cabela’s Hamburg for their Big Buck Days Oct. 26 through Nov. 8. Customers will be offered great deals on the latest and greatest deer hunting equipment, as well as free educational seminars.
“Big Buck Days days offer a wide range of deer scouting, hunting and processing equipment through the period in store and online at www.cabelas.com. In-store activities and giveaways will be offered Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 28-29,” said Ron Leh, Cabela’s retail manager.
The first 50 customers to visit the store on Saturday, Oct. 28, will receive free Cabela’s Open Season Spice Blends, and all customers, ages 18 and older, can enter for a chance to win a prize package consisting of more than $3,000 in meat-processing equipment, including a Masterbuilt smoker and a Cabela’s commercial grade meat grinder, vacuum sealer, food dehydrator, meat slicer and more.
In-store seminars hosted at Cabela’s on Saturday will include:
* Wild game processing, 1 p.m.
o Learn the basics of processing wild game from the field to the freezer
* Pick the right knife, 2 p.m.
o Receive tips and insight about choosing the best knife for each hunting and meat-processing situation
* Selecting the Right Footwear, 11 a.m. Saturday & Sunday
* Jerky Making, 1 p.m. Saturday & Sunday
* Pick the Right Knife, 2 p.m. Saturday & Sunday
Customers also can receive $20 in Cabela’s Bucks when they spend $100, or $50 in Cabela’s Bucks, when they spend $200 in store Oct. 26-29. Cabela’s Bucks earned from this offer must be redeemed by Nov. 22.
Additionally, in partnership with the nonprofit organization One Warm Coat, Cabela’s will offer customers a coupon for 10-percent off any new coat in stock when they bring in a gently worn coat as a charitable donation Oct. 26 through Nov. 8.
The coupons, which are valid only during the dates of the event in all United States stores, may be used to purchase any brand of new coat, and the 10-percent discount will be taken off the lowest marked price.
Volunteers from One Warm Coat will distribute the donated coats to deserving charitable organizations in the (Insert City) community for free distribution to men, women and children who need them. Last year the organization collected nearly 600,000 coats for distribution across the U.S. and around the world.
Upland hunters will experience some changes when the statewide season for pheasants opens Oct. 21.
This past Saturday (Oct. 7) the season opened for junior hunters, giving them first shot at a pheasant before the regular season opens.
One change sportsmen may see are fewer birds since the Pennsylvania Game Commission stocked or will stock a total of 170,000 birds. This is down from 200,000 in recent years. The reason for this reduction, says the PGC, is funding. Because of this deficit, the agency had to close two of its four pheasant farms, but says it has increased production at the remaining farms.
In an attempt to maintain the pheasant stocking program, the PGC initiated a $26.90 pheasant hunting permit that is now required to hunt pheasants in the state.
Sportsmen will also not like to hear that the PGC had to eliminate stocking birds on most private farms in the Hunter Access Program, formerly called the Farm/Game Co-op program. In Lehigh and Berks counties only state game lands and the Blue Marsh Lake area will receive stockings. Northampton County, unfortunately, will get none according to the PGC’s interactive map that shows where birds have been and will be released. To see the stocking map sportsmen need to go online to the PGC’s website (www.pgc.pa.gov) and click on the Pheasant Allocation page where each county is shown along with green and blue dots representing lands stocked in each. Green dots represent game lands, while blue dots are non-PGC owned properties that are stocked. Click on the dots and their location pops up as will the number of pheasants stocked.
Here is the Southeast Region, there were 2,530 male pheasants stocked and 1,040 females for the junior hunt. For pre and in-season stockings, 19,820 males and 5,080 females will be released. For the late season, 770 females will be released.
According to Dustin Stoner, PGC Southeast Region public relations manager, the termination of stocking private lands is primarily because of a loss of pheasant habitat. That’s understandable seeing the expanding amount of housing and warehouses that cropped-up.
While growing up in Whitehall I remember that my uncle and grandfather both hunted pheasant in the cornfields that is now the Whitehall Mall and was across from Braden Field, the baseball stadium where Lehigh Valley Mall is situated. When old enough, I joined them hunting the Egypt-Ironton-Ormrod areas for wild pheasants. These areas have since been populated with housing and development.
The PGC says that revenue generated from the pheasant permits could help support future fall releases with numbers going back to the 200,000 count. That, and a hunting license increase would also help the cause.
According to the agency, it would cost them $4.7 million annually to maintain the 100-year old pheasant program. This was reduced to $3.7 million because of the closures and the shift to purchasing day-old chicks from a private vendor. The change eliminated the need to carry over a breeding flock and maintain hatchery operations.
Until pheasant season opens, hunters can still pursue squirrels, rabbits and grouse, their season opens Oct. 14. The latter, however, is experiencing lesser numbers that biologists say are often cyclical and dependent on food, cover and reproduction.
Nick Hromiak has been an outdoors and automotive writer for over 30 years. He's been published in numerous national and state-wide outdoor magazines and newspapers.