Bowhunters are beginning to see the start of the deer rut when bucks begin chasing does for their mating season. When that occurs, wary bucks throw caution to the wind and run across roadways and highways in pursuit of a doe in-heat.
It’s at this time when deer-vehicle accidents are common in the fall, so drivers need to be alert to the danger, suggests Whitetails Unlimited Director Russ Austad. “According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are approximately 1 million car accidents with deer each year. These accidents kill 200 Americans, cause more than 10,000 personal injuries, and result in $1 billion in vehicle damage.”
Deer are primarily active at night and particularly during the hours between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Dawn and dusk are main travel times as they move from bedding areas to feed in the evening, and back in the morning. Even during the day when they’re on the chase.
State Farm Insurance Company estimates there were over 2 million animal collision insurance industry claims for the past year. This marks a 7.2 percent increase over the previous 12 months, according to State Farm.
Animal strike claims typically rise dramatically in the fall, and peak in October-November. Insurance claims from 2006 through 2020 show claim frequency in November was more than twice the monthly average, when such claims are least likely to be filed.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that about 20 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths result from the vehicle leaving the road and striking a solid object, like a tree or utility pole. Due to the risk of leaving your lane, losing control and leaving the road, braking in a straight line is better than a sudden swerve in many cases when encountering a potential animal strike.
There are a number of things a driver can do to be safer during this time of year:
* If you see one deer, assume there are others around. Deer often travel in groups.
* Deer crossing signs along the highway are there for a reason – deer are known to cross the road in that area so be extra cautious.
* Reduce your speed and watch the edges of the road, as well as ditches and tree lines along the highway. At night, drive within the limits of your headlights and use your high beams when you are able to. Headlights will pick up reflections from the deer’s eyes long before you will be able to see the entire deer. If you see these reflections, start to slow down.
* If a collision with a deer is inevitable, avoid swerving to miss the deer and do not go into the ditch or cross the centerline into oncoming traffic. Most experts advise hitting the deer instead of swerving sharply into the side of the road and possibly losing control of the vehicle, hitting a roadside object, or rolling the vehicle.
* If you do hit a deer call police as insurance companies normally require a police report if there is damage that needs to be repaired. Do not approach a deer that is injured but still alive. It will be scared and want to flee, and you can be injured by hooves or antlers. Police officers and game wardens are permitted to destroy injured animals, but it’s usually not legal for individuals to kill a deer out of season or without a license, regardless of circumstance.
Seeing a deer in the woods is a unique experience, but it’s scary when you see one in front of you when you’re driving.
As a “heads up” for you waterfowl hunters, local farmers have started taking down their corn and soybean crops so this should be inviting for ducks and geese to begin feeding in these harvested fields. In Lehigh County, I’ve seen early morning flights of small flocks of geese taking off from the Lehigh River around 7:30 a.m. and they all seem to be flying West.
With the pheasant hunting season set to open Oct. 23, allow me to reminisce a bit.
In years past, the opening of pheasant hunting season in Pennsylvania was almost as popular as the deer opener. It was a time when upland hunters would walk the fields and woodland edges in hopes of flushing a long-tail as they’re often called. The cackle when one would flush was startling and awakened the senses.
When I was 12, my grandfather, who lived in Ironton, and my one uncle took me and my single shot, 16-gauge shotgun on my first pheasant hunt on farmland that is now the Whitehall Mall. We also hunted around my grandfather’s house and the fields around Egypt and Ormrod. That’s when there were wild pheasants to hunt. There were also wild pheasants in the fields around the West Catasauqua woods (by Walmart, Dicks, oil tank fields) near my parents’ home. In fact, one morning there was one walking around our backyard that evidently came from those same fields and woodlot.
Going back even farther, the late former outdoor writer Charlie Nehf used to write about taking a trolley from Allentown to Fogelsville with his shotgun to hunt pheasants and rabbits in the large fields there at the time. Can you imagine that happening today. SWAT would be called out to arrest him.
But those good old days are gone and never to return as development both housing and commercial ate up an appreciable amount of pheasant habitat.
Today, hunters have to rely on the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s pheasant stocking program. Unfortunately, it’s like the trout stocking program, that is essentially put and take.
And what hunters don’t take, great-horned owls, fox’s and coyotes take.
Some years ago, the PGC sponsored the Farm-Game Co-op program wherein farmers would allow hunting on their property that would be stocked with pheasants and they would be given posters to post to show their relationship with the PGC and hunters. Today, that former program is now called the “Hunter Access Program.” Unfortunately, those lands have pretty much dried up as well for hunting.
As such, the PGC now stocks primarily state game lands and state parks. In Lehigh County it’s SGL #205 in Lowhill Township. In Berks, SGL #106, 280, Blue Marsh State Park, French Creek State Park – Big Woods Tract. Unfortunately, Northampton County has no listed stocking areas.
For Lehigh, the PGC lists the pre and in-season stocking time frames with the number of pheasants in parenthesis. Pre-season stocking will be Oct. 20-22 (370); 1st in-season, 26-29 (440); 2nd in-season, Nov. 2-5 (440); 3rd in-season, Nov. 8-12 (430); 4th in-season, Nov. 17-19 (400); Xmas season, Dec. 22-23 (400); 1st late season, Dec. 28-29 (220); 2nd late season, Jan. 5-6 (180).
All totaled, the PGC will have stocked a total of 3,360 pheasants that includes an added 480 for the youth pheasant hunt held Oct. 7-8.
Back in 2017, the PGC conducted a daily survival rate between male and female pheasants and between public and private properties, and among pheasants released during different stockings during the season. Overall, 53.8 percent of males and 41.1 percent of females were harvested. Harvest rates were similar between other public properties (50.7 percent) and SGLs (48.7 percent), but were significantly higher than harvest rates on Hunter Access properties (37.3 percent).
The pheasant season is split in three parts beginning Oct. 23-Nov. 26; Dec. 13-24; and Dec. 27-Feb. 28. The daily limit is two birds with six in possession.
The second part of the statewide bear hunting season for archery and muzzleloader hunters gets underway Sat. Oct. 16, but has been open in WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D since Sept. 18.
Bear season in Pennsylvania has gained in popularity the last few years. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC), a record 220,471 people (211,627 Pennsylvania residents) purchased bear license in 2020. That was up from 292,043 in 2019, 174,869 in 2018 and 147,728 in 2009.
Perhaps the main reason for the increase is that it has become known throughout the country that Pennsylvania has some very large bears, many weighing more than 600 pounds. On Nov. 7, 2020, Abby Strayer of McConnelsburg took a 719-pound male bruin with a crossbow in Ayr Township, Fulton County.
As for bowhunters, who had two weeks last year to hunt rather than one as in the past, they took a record 955 bears. The harvest was 1,041 in the 2-year-old muzzleloader/special firearms seasons, and 1,177 during the general firearms season.
Hunters took bears in 59 of 67 counties and in 22 of Pennsylvania’s 23 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs).
Potter County led the state in the bear harvest with 188; Lycoming was next best at 186; Tioga had 185; Clearfield, with 158; Monroe, with 152; Clinton, with 150; Elk, with 140; Luzerne, with 125; Centre, with 117; Bradford, 108; Pike, 105; Wayne, 100; and Carbon, 97.
There is something new for the 2021 season. In the past, many WMUs will allow bear hunting during the first – and in some units even the second – week of the statewide firearms deer season. Unlike last year, though, when bears didn’t become legal game until the first Monday, hunters in 2021 will be able to harvest them on the opening weekend of deer season, both Saturday and Sunday says the PGC.
Another regulatory change is that properly licensed bowhunters may carry muzzleloaders when any deer or bear archery or muzzleloader seasons overlap again this year.
Also, and aside from the exemption that applies during overlaps in the muzzleloader deer and bear seasons, holders of License to Carry Firearms may possess their permitted firearms while bowhunting.
Successful bear hunters must not forget to have their bears checked at a bear check station that are listed in the 2021-22 Hunting & Trapping Digest.
DEER RUT REPORT
According to Bob Danenhower, of Bob’s Taxidermy in Orefield, this season could prove to be an early rut. He’s seeing deer hammering soybeans the past few weeks and they love the leaves as they turn yellow, although many bean fields are already brown. Plus, corn crops are about two weeks ahead of normal. He says oak trees are showing above average yield and early dropping white oaks are always a sure bet. Chestnuts too, look big and plump.
His customers have been seeing large bucks on their trail cams, many of which are not yet on the move during the day, but staying close to or in the tall standing corn.
Danenhower believes now is an ideal time to use cover scents with buck urine preferred because many bucks are still in bachelor groups and they’ll seek out other bucks. As such, Danenhower handles fresh weekly Yurin-Luck buck scent that he and many of his customers use on the bottoms of their shoes as they walk to and from their stands. Later on, when the rut heats up, he’ll have fresh doe-in-heat scent available.
The Little Lehigh Creek in Lehigh County will be stocked Oct. 18 and Lake Minsi in Northampton County on Oct. 14.
As we’re now in October with dipping temperatures, the recreational boating season is about over for the year. Only avid boating anglers can be seen on local lakes and the Delaware and Lehigh rivers.
If you’re not among the latter, this may be a good time to winterize your boats’ outboard motor. According to BoatUS, when freezing temperatures prevail, and if there is water inside your engine or gear case, the result can be a cracked block or housing. This could cost you a repair bill that could run into four figures.
BoatUS recommends following the owner’s manual for winterizing, but in the absence of one, the organization recommends the following.
*Freshwater flush: Using a flushing attachment run your outboard in a tank filled with clean water.
*Empty fuel lines and carburetors: While the engine is still running, disconnect the fuel line from the engine and when it dies, the fuel delivery components will be empty which prevents gums from forming in the stagnant gas and clogging lines, jets or injectors.
*Fog the carburetor intake(s): Before the engine runs out of fuel, spray fogging oil into the carburetor(s). It acts as an anticorrosive to protect the carb and cylinders.
*Drain cooling passages: Disconnect the flush attachment or remove the motor from the flush tank. With the motor upright, let all water drain out of the pick-up. Open the drain plugs. Crank the motor a couple times by hand or “bump” it with the starter to empty the water pump. Remove the spark plugs and spray fogging oil into the holes to coat the interior of the cylinders. While the plugs are out, check and regap or replace them.
*Drain and refill gearcase: This will prevent condensation from forming inside the tank.
*Drain fuel tank and supply lines: Drain the fuel that remains and use it in your car or snow blower, but leave the tanks empty. If emptying tanks is not practical, top it off to 95 percent full. Gasoline with ethanol is subject to phase separation if water gets into the fuel which will happen with a half-empty tank over the winter. Filling the tank limits the air space inside the tank and reduces the potential for internal condensation.
*Stabilize the fuel: If leaving the tank full, dose it with an appropriate amount of gasoline stabilizer to combat the formation of passage-clogging gums.
*Clean and lubricate propeller shaft: The off-season is perfect to have the prop(s) serviced. If storing your craft at home, leave it off to discourage theft.
*Store upright: Laying the engine down risks water draining where it shouldn’t. An engine stand is easy enough to cobble together.
These suggested BoatUS maintenance items will go a long way for trouble-free spring-time boating.
The Lehigh County Fish & Game Protective Association stocked a portion of the Little Lehigh yesterday (Oct. 1) with trout from the Lil Le Hi Trout Nursery. Stream reporters say the fish, however, were far and few between, But the PF&BC will stock the Little Lehigh on Oct. 18. Over in Northampton County, Lake Minsi gets stocked Oct. 14.
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.