Saturday, Oct.27, marks the opening of fall turkey hunting season in most Pennsylvania Wildlife Management Units (WMU). But the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) reminds hunters that season lengths vary by WMUs. Added to that, fall turkey season is closed in local WMUs 5C and 5D.
Otherwise, the seasons are as follows: WMU 1B from Oct. 27-Nov. 3; WMU 2B, (shotgun and archery gear only) Oct. 27 – Nov. 22-24; WMUs 1A, 2A (shotgun and archery gear only in Allegheny County); 4A and 4B, Oct. 27-Nov.3 and Nov. 22-24; WMUs 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C, 4D and 4E, Oct. 27-Nov.10 and Nov. 22-24; WMU 2C, Oct. 27-Nov. 16 and Nov. 22-24; WMU 5A, Nov. 1-3; WMU 5B, Oct. 30-Nov. 1.
The fall turkey season differs from the spring season in that any turkey (hens and gobblers) may be harvested.
As for turkey hunting prospects, Mary Jo Casalena, PGC’s wild turkey biologist, reports that last years fall harvest of 9,266 was down from 10,884 in 2016 and was 37 percent below the previous three-year average of 14,718. Casalena believes that was caused by a decrease in fall hunting participation and that may be due to aging hunters; hunters focusing on archery deer and bear hunting; shorter fall season lengths in many WMUs; below average turkey reproduction; and an abundant acorn crop that tended to scatter flocks.
Since mast crops are important in finding birds, Casalena said acorn, beech and cherry production is varied across the state, with some areas having average to below-average hard mast. But this, she claims, often keeps flocks congregated where food exists making it easier for hunters to find birds.
Interestingly, Casalena says the Thanksgiving three-day season offers added turkey opportunities and is often a very successful season because about 20 percent of the harvest occurs then.
Insofar as the 2018 spring turkey hunting season went, it totaled 40,303 birds. Of this, 2,048 were taken during the youth season; 571 during regular season mentored hunters season; during the regular season; and 4,062 second bird harvests, which totally was six percent above the 2017 harvest of 38,101.
Additionally, the PGC says hunter success was 21 percent for the first bird, which was the second highest and tied that of the 2001 season. And historically, hunters have consistently maintained spring harvests above 30,000 bearded turkeys since 1955.
Lastly, turkey hunters are reminded to report their harvest and report any leg-banded turkeys they shoot. The leg bands are stamped with a toll-free phone number to call in their report.
FALL TROUT STOCKING
After reporting that the fall trout stocking for the Little Lehigh was postponed two weeks ago, we learned it was rescheduled and stocked this week for you die-hard trout anglers.
NJ winter trout fishing opportunities
According to New Jersey Fish & Wildlife, cooler temperatures and the approach of winter used to signal the end of trout fishing, but not in New Jersey. Trout fishing in Jersey is now a year-round reality.
The Winter Trout Stocked Lakes Program began in November, 2000. The program provides additional opportunities during the late fall and winter months by providing trout outside the regular spring and fall stocking seasons. The program is designed to ensure that at least one trout-stocked lake is within easy driving distance of anyone interested in trying their luck on a beautiful winter's day.
The Winter Trout Lakes Stocking Program extends trout fishing action through the winter months and early spring until spring stocking begins. In fact, spring anglers are in for a real battle when they hook into trout stocked in October and November, which are not caught in the fall and winter.
There’s plenty of time to chase fall and winter stocked trout before ponds and lakes freeze. Traditional baits like worms, fathead minnows, meal worms and powerbait fished on the bottom during open water work well for those fishing from shore.
Ice does not mean the end of trout fishing. A growing number of anglers look forward to the opportunity to catch large trout through the ice. Proven methods for catching trout through the ice are using tip-ups with powerbait or fathead minnows, and jigging with small jigs or ice jigging flies. Traditional baits like worms, fathead minnows, meal worms and powerbait fished on the bottom during open water work well for those fishing from shore. Anglers should check to make sure ice fishing is not prohibited at their intended ice fishing location(s).
Anglers should pick up a copy of the Freshwater Fishing Digest and familiarize themselves with the regulations pertaining to their chosen NJ fishing location. The Digest as well as other information about fishing in New Jersey is also available online at www.njfishandwildlife.com/fishing_fresh.htm. The 2019 Freshwater Digest should be available in late December.
Whatever winter (or fall) trout stocked water body you choose to fish, one thing is certain -- there will be trout waiting. Trout anglers no longer need to suffer withdrawal or the winter fishing blues thanks to New Jersey’s Trout Stocking Program developed by the DEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife with your input.
As for New Jersey streams, the closest to the Lehigh Valley is the Pequest River which, coincidentally, was stocked last week. A friend’s buddy fished there on the day after the stocking and because of wind and rain, didn’t do very well. But the Pequest usually yields hefty trout.
So, if you’re an avid trout angler, you may want to pick up a Jersey fishing license and see what that neighboring state has to offer.
Since pheasant hunting season is underway statewide, the Pennsylvania Game Commission said they stocked 220,000 pheasants this year compared to 170,000 last year. They added that of that number, about 75 percent of the birds were roosters while last year only 52 percent were roosters.
If you’d like to know where pheasants are stocked and the amount, the PGC publishes an online allocation table and interactive stocking locations map at www.pgc.pa.gov. Once there, click on “Hunt & Trap” on the upper banner then “Hunting,” then “Ring-necked Pheasant,” then Pheasant Allocation.” To find out where they’re stocked, first click on the “Region” to find the number to be stocked in each county as well as the range of dates for each release and a listing of each property to be stocked. Then click on the interactive map to see more than 200 properties to be or already stocked. Click on the dot to see the property name and number of releases. Sportsmen can zoom in to see the pink highlighted areas showing the best pheasant hunting habitat where birds are likely to be found.
Hunters should remember that all adult and senior license holders are required to also have the $26.90 pheasant hunting permit. However, hunters who held their senior lifetime licenses prior to May 13, 2017 when this requirement for a pheasant permit became regulation, have been exempted from needing this permit and can hunt pheasants without them.
FALL TROUT STOCKING
While on the topic of fishing, local trout anglers who were looking forward to fishing the Little Lehigh this week since it was on the fall trout stocking list, were disappointed to learn that it was postponed. Reason being, the trout stocking truck was scheduled to also stock a lake, but its water level was extremely low so the PF&BC didn’t want to run the truck to the Little Lehigh with only 900 fish aboard.
For Lehigh Valley anglers looking to catch some large, tough fighting fish, now’s the time to make the trip up to the Salmon River in the Pulaski, New York area.
My friend, Tom Marchetto, from Easton, recently returned from there with some of his buddies and here is what he has to report:
“Our annual trip to Pulaski NY and the Salmon River was exciting but with very few fish landed. Although there were fish throughout the river, the hot spots seemed to be at both the lower end and upper end of the river with very little action in the middle.
King salmon were the dominant species with no Coho seen during the week. There were Steelheads mixed with the Kings at the lower end (the Staircase Hole), and we did manage to land a nice 12-pound Steelhead.
We had lots of hook ups at the Staircase as well as the Ellis Cove area (upper river). I managed to latch onto two Kings which were released upon landing. Several types of bait were used ie.. egg sacks, plastic eggs and flies. There seemed to be no difference in what type of bait was used, so I favored the plastic eggs.
Air temperatures were a bit on the warm side and the water stayed around 50-55 degrees. Reports indicated a large amount of salmon loaded in the estuary waiting for Mother Nature to pull the trigger and make their run, but it did not occur during our time there. Compared to previous years, I would say fishing was fair at best - but always a thrill when one hooks onto your line. As always, we look forward to our next fishing trip in 2019."
Since my friend fished there during a warm weather week, the cold front that just blew in and should continue, could be the incentive needed for more fish to start moving into the river.
Tomorrow, Oct. 13, marks the opening of both small and selected large game seasons. There’s the Oct. 13-20 antlerless deer muzzleloader opener, and the muzzleloader bear season in WMUs 2B. 5B. 5C and 5D that also runs Oct. 13-20.
The small game list includes rabbit, grouse and squirrels with split seasons that run Oct. 13-Nov. 24; Dec. 10-24; and Dec. 26-Feb. 28. The exception is grouse that whose seasons are Oct. 13-Nov. 24 and Dec. 10-24.
Next Saturday, Oct. 20, pheasant season opens and has split seasons running Oct. 20-Nov. 24; Dec. 10-24; and Dec. 26-Feb. 28. This cherished gamebird is similar to trout in that they’re essentially a put-and-take situation. The Pennsylvania Game Commission stocks birds and ones that aren’t eaten by foxes, coyotes and hawks, remain for upland hunters.
Local farmers are just beginning to take down their corn and soybean crops so depending on where the PGC stocks pheasants, it may result in a prosperous day afield, or a nice walk taken. Rest assured, state game lands are guaranteed to hold birds because that’s where the majority of them will be stocked. And rightly so, as huntable farm land is dwindling thanks to development and warehouses.
That leaves one small game species that is the most plentiful of all species. Plentiful in that female squirrels often bear yearly litters of 4-5.
Squirrels make great table fare when properly made. Their diets comprise a variety of woodland fare of acorns, hickory nuts, walnuts, beechnuts, corn (only the germ at the base of the kernel is eaten), dogwood, wild cherry and black gum fruits. That’s why they probably taste so good as their meat is sweet.
Most small game hunters typically use shotguns in hunting squirrels as they’re already in the woods for grouse or rabbit. But to make the pursuit more challenging, you may want to take a scoped .22 rifle instead. This way you can aim for a head shot so as to not spoil the meat. If using a shotgun, picking out shot when field dressing squirrels is time consuming and if missing one, may require a visit to the dentist to fix a broken filling or tooth when biting down on a piece of #6 shot.
If going the .22 route, and if I may, check out Ruger’s dandy new Ruger American Rimfire Target .22LR rifle. If you already have a .22, this one will entice you to trade yours for this most accurate tack driver.
While any .22LR will do, Ruger’s new American Target .22LR rifle with bull barrel is exceptional. If you know anything about bull barrels, they’re thicker in width to provide the ultimate in accuracy. According to Paul Pluff, Ruger Media Relations Manager, a heavier barrel does not heat up as quickly as a thinner conventional width barrel, hence it maintains accuracy better then a smaller profile one.
The American Rimfire Target (No. 8348) is a bolt action weighing a mere 6.7 pounds with a short 18-inch barrel that has a factory-installed knurled thread protector to protect the crown.
Standard is a 10 capacity rotary magazine and adjustable trigger with 3-5 pound pull. It comes with an attractive laminate stock, front/rear sling swivels and one-piece Picatinny aluminum scope rail ready for mounting a scope of your choice. The American has patent-pending Power Bedding integral block system to free-float the barrel for exceptional accuracy. This type bedding is typically only found on quality, high-end rifles.
So once you have a few squirrels for table fare, here’s a delightful recipe that should please the pallet.
With four dressed and cleaned squirrels, cut them up and place in two quarts of water. Add a tablespoon of salt, two teaspoons vinegar; half-cup all purpose flour; teaspoon of salt; eighth teaspoon of pepper; two tablespoons of butter; two tablespoons of vegetable oil. For the Sherry sauce, a cut chicken broth; quarter cup of sherry (or wine), tablespoon Worcestershire sauce; quarter teaspoon seasoned salt; two-three drops hot red pepper sauce.
In a large glass bowl, combine squirrel pieces, water, tablespoon of salt/vinegar then cover bowl and let stand at room temperature for an hour. Drain, discard liquid then pat squirrels dry. Next, heat oven to 350 and and in large plastic zip-lock bag combine flour, teaspoon of salt/pepper and shake to mix. Add squirrel pieces and do the same to coat them. In a large skillet, melt butter or oil over medium-low heat. Add squirrel pieces then brown on all sides over medium heat. Transfer squirrel pieces and drippings to 3-quart casserole, add mushrooms and two cups of sherry sauce. Pour over squirrel and mushrooms, cover it and bake until tender for about 1.5 hours.
This recipe can serve 4-6 people. Enjoy!
In a turnaround from past attempts at legalizing tracking dogs in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) has approved the use of them after getting legislative approval.
The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Mario M. Scavello, provides another choice for hunters who have shot and inflicted injury on a white-tailed deer, black bear or elk, but lose the trail.
“This law will provide greater recovery of big game shot by hunters,” noted PGC Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “Trailing big game can require specialized tracking skills, especially after nightfall. And if it’s a warmer night, or rain is approaching, every minute matters. Within a few hours, downed big game might spoil,” he added.
Earlier this year, Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law a bill that allows for the use of leashed tracking dogs to recover big game that cannot be recovered by hunters. It furthered the need for properly trained and controlled tracking dogs.
“This simple and humane change in law is of great benefit to both our hunting community and some of Pennsylvania’s most-valued natural resources, white-tailed deer, black bears and elk,” Scavello said in a press release.
According to the PGC, big-game hunters may use tracking dogs to recover big game in the 2018-19 seasons. Dogs, however, cannot be used to locate big game unless an animal has been shot.
“It’s important to remember that the new leashed tracking dog language to the Game and Wildlife Code really doesn’t change how hunters can track wounded big game,” said Randy Shoup, Bureau of Wildlife Protection director. The only difference is the tracking dog.
The new law says that during hunting hours, big game can be tracked with a sporting arm, which can be possessed only by the hunter. After hunting hours close, a sporting arm cannot be used to dispatch downed big game. This includes Sundays and the day after season closes.
In addition, hunters tracking big game after hours, or on Sundays are asked to contact the Game Commission region office serving the county where the animal will be tracked, to alert the local state game warden of the recovery effort. It’s possible the game warden might accompany the tracker.
During tracking, the hunter and the tracker (dog owner) must be licensed for the big game being tracked and meet the season’s florescent orange requirements. In addition, the longstanding expectation for hunters, and now trackers, to respect private property boundaries remains in place.
Trackers do not register with and are not certified or licensed by the PGC. Trackers might charge for their services, but the PGC will not resolve differences between trackers and hunters. Commercial activity on state game lands is prohibited so tracking dog owners cannot charge for their services there.
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.