From the Field

Connecting YOU with Wildlife – Pennsylvania Game Commission

Factors in Determining State Game Land Food Plots


When deciding what to plant for wildlife on state game lands, our primary motivation is getting the best bang for our (your) dollar. Budgets for lime, seed and fertilizer never seem to be enough, so, in some cases what we plant is governed by what we’ve received as donations. These donations can range from corn, wheat or oats to turnips, rape or sunflowers.

Wildlife Benefit


Along with cost we also consider a crop’s usability by multiple species.  A typical mixture might include legumes such as birdsfoot trefoil, alfalfa and two or three types of clover to ensure viability. Some types of clover are more drought-resistant than others

Choice Legumes


Legumes are often selected because they grow well and quickly in Pennsylvania’s climate and soils and because virtually all species of wildlife utilize them.  These plants are eaten by most birds and mammals. Also, legumes promote large populations of insects. Young game birds require large amounts of protein, which can be obtained through a diet high in insects. Legumes provide a year-round food source and, if properly cared for, a field can last four to five years.

Winter Availability


Brassicas (species such as turnips, kale and rape) are planted later in the year and make a great winter food source for larger animals such as deer and bear. The leaves of these plants are large and thick and require a hard frost before they become palatable. The tubers are also eaten throughout winter.

Typical agricultural crops such as corn, soybeans and buckwheat are rarely planted for a number of reasons. While such plantings are heavily utilized by deer, they tend to be used during a time of year when natural foods are most abundant and are completely consumed by the time wildlife needs them most, mid to late winter. Also, these plants are annuals and require replanting each spring.

Cover Crops

In almost all cases, a cover crop of either wheat (late summer, early fall) or oats (spring) is sewn with the chosen food plot mix to serve as a buffer between the time when soil is bare and the emergence/establishment of the chosen crop. These plants are also eaten by wildlife and help to prevent soil erosion. The seeds from the cover crops will eventually provide seed heads for various bird species to utilize.


As you can see, there are many variables to consider when deciding what the Game Commission food and cover crews plant in the state game land food plots. Costs to plant and maintain, crop viability, availability to wildlife during high need seasons, and usefulness to multiple species all factor in agency decisions.

By Art Hamley, Pennsylvania Game Commission Land Management Group Supervisor

Photos By Hal Korber

Gypsy Moths

In a recent blog post, I discussed the benefits of a warm and dry period in the spring that was beneficial for the development of acorns. We received numerous comments since that posting about a different benefactor of that warm, dry spell this spring. It is causing a bit of concern.

gypsy moth caterpillar

Gypsy Moth Introduction

The gypsy moth was accidentally introduced into Massachusetts in 1869 by a French scientist trying to find a disease-resistant caterpillar to increase the output of silk. Since first being detected in Pennsylvania in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties in 1932, the gypsy moth has wreaked havoc on Pennsylvania’s forests, killing millions of oak trees along the way. The gypsy moth is now one of the most destructive insects in the eastern United States. It is one of many foliage-eating pests that cause an estimated $868 million in annual damages in the United States.

Effect on State Game Lands

State game lands suffered tremendous impacts from gypsy moths in the 1980s and 1990s. Tens of thousands of acres of oak forest experienced significant defoliation. Many of these areas had salvage harvests done to make use of the dead timber, which combined with other factors, helped to regenerate forests that were no longer dominated by our important oak species. The management of these declining oak forests is still one of the most pressing challenges facing foresters today.


Defoliation that occurs in multiple years can often stress trees to the point where mortality can be noticed on a large scale. Therefore, pest suppression efforts for gypsy moth are an important part of active habitat management on our state game lands. In a recent outbreak in 2008-2009, state game lands suffered more than 100,000 acres of severe defoliation. Funding constraints only permitted us to spray the most important areas. In 2008, pest-suppression treatments occurred on more than 43,000 acres of state game land forests at a cost of more than $1.3 million. In 2009, the Game Commission spent another $554,000 to spray more than 22,000 acres of state game land forests. Even though we have not seen a widespread outbreak since that time, our habitat managers have been vigilant in conducting yearly suppression efforts ranging from 5,000 to 13,000 acres of state game land forests across the entire state.

gypsy moth egg masses.Bugwoodorg

Gypsy Moth Egg Masses Photo:


Gypsy moth outbreaks seem to run on a 10 to 12 year cycle. We cannot afford to spray every affected acre, so we must try to anticipate where the gypsy moths will show up (based on what we have seen in the past). We then try to direct active forest management so that healthy regeneration of desired species can be established before widespread mortality makes it much harder to do so. The Game Commission also collaborates with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the United States Forest Service on research projects to try to identify other ways to combat this ever present and destructive pest of Pennsylvania’s forests.

Natural Control

Spraying insecticides is not the only help we have in controlling gypsy moth populations; natural factors are also very important. Since the 1980s, the fungus Entomophaga maimaiga has had a large impact on gypsy moth populations. This fungus needs cool and wet weather to negatively impact gypsy moth populations. The caterpillar larvae can feed and may cause some defoliation, but they usually die before completing the life cycle resulting in much fewer adult insects and egg masses. However in years with warm and dry periods that coincide with leaf-out in the spring, the caterpillars can do massive and widespread damage because the fungus is not as prevalent in the forest. NPV, or nucleopolyhedrosis virus, can also help to collapse expanding gypsy moth populations.

Oak Regeneration

We lost thousands of acres of oak saw timber from numerous state game lands in the 2008-2009 outbreak, most notably in Centre County. It’s not all bad news however. Salvage operations once again allowed many of the dead trees to be used by industry to produce important forest products, especially firewood. Since the deer population was in balance in many of these areas, we have also observed very good oak regeneration (in contrast to the results of the 1980s and 1990s) and some of these young forests are now supporting booming populations of grouse, snowshoe hares, and white-tailed deer. As with most things in nature, there are always winners and losers; a warm, dry spring spell can remind us of that.

More information:

Pennsylvania DCNR – Gypsy moth 

Gypsy Moth in North America

By Dave Gustafson and Paul Lupo, Pennsylvania Game Commission Forestry Division

Who’s Their Daddy?


Game Commission Photo: Jacob Dingel

Do only top-ranking bucks breed does?

For decades, people believed the white-tailed deer mating system was a dominance-based breeding hierarchy. In other words, most offspring were sired by a few dominant males. For white-tailed deer, this meant – or at least we presumed – the top-ranking buck (based on physical traits like age, body mass, and antler size) had breeding rights to any and all females he encountered. No questions asked.

Behavioral observations set the stage for this theory of the whitetail mating system. But what happens when we aren’t watching? Thanks to genetic technology, we now realize that we only read the first chapter on white-tailed deer breeding ecology.

Multiple Paternity in White-tailed Deer

In 2002, the next chapter was revealed. That’s when an article in the Journal of Mammalogy was published titled “Multiple Paternity in White-tailed Deer Revealed by DNA Microsatellites.” This paper documented multiple paternity in captive white-tailed deer. In litters of two or more fawns, 26 percent of them had different fathers.

This discovery raised the bigger question: does multiple paternity – and female promiscuity – occur in wild, free-ranging deer populations? The answer came two years later. In 2004, the first case of multiple paternity in free-ranging white-tailed deer was documented in Michigan (Journal of Mammalogy, “Paternity Assignment for White-tailed Deer: Mating Across Age Classes and Multiple Paternity”). Here, 22 percent of litters with two or more fawns had different fathers.

This research also showed the oldest males did not monopolize breeding; thus, shattering the belief that a few dominant males do all breeding. Since this initial finding, multiple paternity has been documented in every free-ranging white-tailed deer population that has been tested.

Twenty to twenty-five percent of all those twins out there are only that in the most basic sense of the word- two offspring produced from a single pregnancy.


Game Commission Photo: Jacob Dingel

Interesting Fawn Data

Most does birth two fawns in the spring. Triplets have been documented but are far less common.

From past embryo counts in Pennsylvania:

Two-year-old does: 34% carried a single embryo, 64% carried twins, and 3% carried triplets

Adult does (> 3 years old): 22% carried a single embryo, 73% carried twins, and 5% carried triplets.

By: J.T. Fleegle

Wildlife Biologist, Deer & Elk Management Section

Pennsylvania Game Commission



Pennsylvania Bats


Game Commission photo/Greg Turner

Have You Seen Any Bats Lately?

In our travels throughout the state, many people have told us they have noticed fewer bats are flying at night during the summer. It is no coincidence that Game Commission surveys report significant declines for many of our state’s hibernating species of bats. These declines result specifically from white-nose syndrome, a disease that infects bats as they hibernate.

One new site we surveyed recently had an extensive network of interconnecting passages, with a multitude of locations where bats could spend the winter. However, from the thousands of bats that existed prior to this disease, we only saw a few survivors. So few, in fact, you could count them on one or both hands at most sites. Those left seem to prefer only the coldest areas nearest to the entrance. We saw this repeating itself as we surveyed more and more sites. We are starting to think that this is an adaptation by bats to deal with and improve their survival from the annual infections imparted by this new disease.

Bat Hibernacula

With so few bats remaining, we are always on the lookout for leads to where bats are spending the winter. If you have a bat hibernaculum in your neighborhood, we’d love to hear about it. Drop us an email at Title it “Bat Hibernaculum” and ask that it be directed to me.

– Mike Scafini, Endangered and Threatened Mammals Biologist, Pennsylvania Game Commission

Appalachian Bat Count

Please join us in monitoring the health of Pennsylvania’s summer bat colonies through the Appalachian Bat Count. Colonies can be monitored by conducting a “bat count” at a summer colony in your area.We ask that you count bats as they exit their summer roost at dusk in June, then again later in the summer to see how the colony has grown as pups begin flying.

Springtime Alert-Do Not Disturb Young Wildlife

The leaves are green, the flowers are in bloom and, once again, a new generation of wildlife is making its arrival.

Young Wildlife

This time of year, it’s almost a certainty that Pennsylvanians will encounter young wildlife, whether in their backyards or high on a mountain. And some of those animals – whether they be young deer, birds, raccoons or other wildlife – might appear to be abandoned.


PGC Photo/ Jacob Dingel

Not Abandoned

Usually, they are not abandoned. In fact, their mothers might be watching over them from somewhere nearby. And the best thing people can do is to leave those animals alone.

Adult animals often leave their young while they forage for food, but they don’t go far and they do return.

Hider Strategy

Wildlife also often relies on a natural defensive tactic called the “hider strategy,” where young animals will remain motionless and “hide” in surrounding cover while adults draw the attention of potential predators or other intruders away from their young.

Deer employ this strategy, and deer fawns sometimes are assumed to be abandoned when, in fact, their mothers are nearby.


PGC Photo/Jacob Dingel

Leave Young Wildlife Alone

The Game Commission urges Pennsylvanians to resist the urge to interfere with young wildlife or remove any wild animal from its natural setting.

Such contact can be harmful to both people and wildlife. Wild animals can lose their natural fear of humans, making it difficult, even impossible, for them to ever again live normally in the wild. And anytime wildlife is handled, there’s always a risk people could contract diseases or parasites such as fleas, ticks and lice.

Wildlife that becomes habituated to humans also can pose a public-safety risk. A few years ago, a yearling, six-point buck attacked and severely injured two people. The investigation into the incident revealed that a neighboring family had illegally taken the deer into their home and fed it as a fawn, and they continued to feed the deer right up until the time of the attack.

Keep the Wild in Wildlife 

It is illegal to take or possess wildlife from the wild.  Under state law, the penalty for such a violation is a fine of up to $1,500 per animal.

Under no circumstances will anyone who illegally takes wildlife into captivity be allowed to keep that animal, and under a working agreement with state health officials, any “high risk” rabies vector species confiscated after human contact must be euthanized and tested; it cannot be returned to the wild because the risk of spreading disease is too high.

Safety Concerns

Animals infected with rabies might not show obvious symptoms, but still might be able to transmit the disease. Though any mammal might carry rabies, the rabies vector species identified in the agreement are: skunks, raccoons, foxes, bats, coyotes and groundhogs.

People can get rabies from the saliva of a rabid animal if they are bitten or scratched, or if the saliva gets into the person’s eyes, mouth or a fresh wound. The last human rabies fatality in Pennsylvania was a 12‑year‑old Lycoming County boy who died in 1984.

Wildlife Rehabilitators

Only wildlife rehabilitators, who are licensed by the Game Commission, are permitted to care for injured or orphaned wildlife for the purposes of eventual release back into the wild.  For those who find wildlife that truly is in need of assistance, a listing of licensed wildlife rehabilitators can be found on the Pennsylvania Association of Wildlife Rehabilitators website (

If you are unable to identify a wildlife rehabilitator in your area, contact the Game Commission region office that serves the county in which the animal is found so that you can be referred to the appropriate licensed wildlife rehabilitator.  Region office contact information can be found on the agency’s website ( by putting your cursor over “ABOUT US” in the menu bar in the banner at the top of the homepage, and then clicking on “Region Information” in the drop-down menu listing.


PGC Photo/Jacob Dingel

By: Travis Lau, Pennsylvania Game Commission Press Secretary

Acorn Production

As long as there are no more frosts, the 2015 Pennsylvania spring weather should result in a great acorn crop for both 2015 and 2016 said Pennsylvania Game Commission Forestry Division Chief Dave Gustafson.

How can he predict the 2016 crop? There are two oak groups with differing acorn production schedules. Oak trees are classified into one of the two oak groups based upon physiological differences.

The white oak group includes white oak and chestnut oak.

The acorns from the trees in this group mature in one year. The flowers produced in the spring result in acorns the same fall.

The red oak group consists of red oak, black oak, scarlet oak and pin oak.

Oaks in this group require two years to produce an acorn. Spring oak blossoms will not mature to an acorn for 16-17 months.


If you look closely in this photo of a black oak, you can see two generations of acorns at the same time. The young acorns are growing on the autumn oak limb, and the mature acorns have already dropped onto the driveway. Photo: Dave Gustafson

Prime Acorn Weather

The best acorn crops seem to follow warm spring weather. Acorns require dry weather for about a week in mid-May when the tree produces pollen. The weather during that week is critical to acorn production. If it is cool and wet during the time of pollen production or if a frost hits the tree after it has produced pollen, it will result in a poor acorn crop that fall. The same weather conditions that influence the white oak group also affect the red oak group. However, the results of the weather are not manifested until about a year and a half later.

Acorn Availability

Acorns from the red oak group do not send down roots until the following spring. This is because these acorns require a cold period to germinate. White oak group acorns on the other hand send out a radical (root shoot) almost immediately to establish a root before the winter. For this reason, red oak group acorns are a more available food source through the winter than white oak group acorns.

Acorn Production Variability

Overall, acorn production is highly variable among trees even in good seed years. Some trees are always poor producers while others are always good producers. Crown size seems to be the most important tree characteristic affecting acorn production. Dominant or codominant trees with large, uncrowded crowns produce more acorns than trees with small, restricted crowns.


Another factor in acorn production is stress on the trees. Insect defoliation, drought, fungus, and other stresses can limit acorn production. In some years of extreme stress, oak trees will even abort the developing acorn crop in order to redirect nutrients to keeping the tree healthy.  In years following a stress event, most of the energy is used to rebuild and heal instead of going toward acorn production.  This could cause smaller acorn crops for a few years, even when all other conditions seem perfect.

Acorn Crop

Both oaks begin to produce acorns around age 30 or so, but usually do not produce big crops until about age 50. Bumper crops for reds are usually about five years apart, whites can be farther apart.

Factors Affecting Acorn Production

In summary, the two main factors that affect acorn production are spring weather and tree stress.


How long does it take an acorn to mature?

White oak acorns mature in about four months, red oaks in 16. Therefore, if pollination is mid-May, then the acorns will drop in mid-September.

How long do oak trees drop acorns?

It takes about a month for a tree to drop all its acorns.

Which type of oak produces the smallest acorn?

White oaks produce the smallest acorn. Red oak and black oak acorns are medium-sized.  Chestnut oaks produce the largest acorns.


PGC Photo: Tony Ross Red oak acorns

Which acorns do wildlife prefer?

White oak and chestnut oak acorns are low in tannins, which make them more palatable than red and black acorns.  Chestnut oaks have a high carbohydrate level and thus are the favorite for bears.

Learn about the Game Commission’s role in habitat management here:



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