From the Field

Connecting YOU with Wildlife – Pennsylvania Game Commission

7 Turkey Hunting Safety Tips

The junior spring gobbler hunt is Saturday April 25. The statewide spring gobbler season opens May 2. Here are a few safety tips:

1. Positively Identify Your Target

Be certain the bird is fully and plainly visible before pulling the trigger. Do not shoot at sounds or movement.

2. Never Stalk a Turkey

Movement or sounds you think are a turkey may be another hunter. Be patient and let the bird come to you.

3. Protect your back

Bobby - Box Call - Turkey Hunt

Select a large tree, rock or other natural barrier while calling. Hunt in open woods.

4. Shout “STOP” to alert approaching hunters

Never move, wave or make turkey sounds to alert others of your position.

5. Dress to be safe

Never wear red, white, blue or black clothing. These are the colors found on mature gobblers

6. Cover up

Don’t carry harvested birds in the open. Cover them with fluorescent orange or completely conceal from view in a game bag.

7. Be seen

Fluorescent orange is not required for spring gobbler hunting. However, wearing fluorescent orange ,especially while moving, is an added safety precaution


“Lots of folks think we should have an earlier spring gobbler season, because they hear turkeys gobbling in February and March,” said National Wild Turkey Federation Regional Biologist Bob Eriksen. They think that since the turkeys are gobbling, it must be time to hunt, Eriksen said. That’s not the case, he said. “From a biological perspective, you want to provide the hens with as much protection as you can.” In this video, Eriksen explains why he thinks the Pennsylvania turkey season is properly timed.

Wild Pheasants and New Farmland Habitat


Game Commission Biologist Aide Brandon Black with a Radio-Collared Pheasant

Wild Pheasants Making a Comeback in Pennsylvania

There are no wild pheasants in Pennsylvania! That’s what we have heard for many years. Fortunately this is no longer true. The Pennsylvania Game Commission and Pheasants Forever partnered to release wild birds from western states into Pennsylvania farmland beginning in 2005. Now there are wild pheasants established in four Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas (WPRAs).  Because the western birds survived and reproduced, we now have “Pennsylvania-born” wild pheasants in all WPRAs. Although we cannot realistically expect WPRA populations to reach the levels many pheasant hunters remember from the 1970s, the Game Commission is working toward once again providing the opportunity (at least on a limited basis) for a wild pheasant hunting experience — one of the main goals of the WPRA program. It is also important to note that WPRAs are about more than just pheasants. They provide a mix of habitats and wildlife species that are missing from most of the rest of Pennsylvania’s 21st century landscape. More information about the WPRAs, including maps, can be found on the Game Commission website.

Wild Pheasant Recovery Area Population

Understanding how the wild pheasants are doing requires us to look at more than just numbers of birds. The wild pheasants have survived and in some study areas have increased their numbers, but have not yet dispersed far from the farms where they were released. Thus, the populations are highly clustered in the areas with the best habitat. Pheasants, like most upland game birds, do not travel widely. They spend most of their time walking on the ground not flying. So, if they have everything they need in one place, they will stay there. Our goal is to provide more habitat nearby so that they can disperse further.

Areas do exist in the current WPRAs that can hold a significant amount of pheasants. The best areas are smaller and more spread out than those that existed in Pennsylvania’s pheasant hunting heyday, but wild populations have been established! There are also areas where there are no pheasants. This should come as no surprise as there will always be areas within a farmland landscape where there is no suitable habitat and wildlife will not be found there.

Habitat is the Key

Habitat is the key for wild pheasant survival, dispersal, and reproduction. Pheasants are farmland birds and need undisturbed grass fields mixed with cropland for nesting and winter habitat. They nest on the ground in grass fields such as mixed hay, alfalfa, switchgrass, and native grass mixes, which are planted by farmers enrolled in conservation programs. Pheasants also use switchgrass, shrubland and evergreens for winter cover.

Many other farmland species are found in the same habitat wild pheasants use, including barn owls, meadowlarks, bobolinks, grasshopper sparrows, bluebirds, northern harriers, short eared owls, rough-legged hawks, cottontail rabbits, deer, fox, and coyotes. Many of the bird species that use pheasant habitat are declining, rare, threatened and even endangered. The more we can do to keep grassland habitat on the ground, the better it is for wildlife diversity.

Decline in Grassland Habitat

Unfortunately, this type of habitat is one of the quickest declining on Pennsylvania’s landscape. Even within WPRAs, grassland acreage has declined over the past several years, threatening the sustainability of the wild pheasant populations that currently exist there.

Farmer Support

Maintaining pheasant habitat on Pennsylvania’s farmland will always require a long-term commitment. We’re thankful for the farmers and farmland owners who help us to establish wild pheasants by providing habitat on their land. Their indispensable contribution is important for wild pheasants’ survival. Without them, this would not be possible. One of the reasons farmers can afford to provide wildlife habitat on their land is because of habitat programs that provide technical and financial assistance.

Help for Landowners to Create Habitat 

There are now additional personnel and funds available to help you create habitat on your farmland. The Game Commission and Pheasants Forever work with many other agencies and conservation groups to provide habitat assistance to farmland owners. There are people available to help with grass plantings and more. Funding for planting expenses, maintenance, personnel and equipment to do the work are also available. Habitat work is taking place now in the WPRAs and surrounding counties.

Farmland owners interested in helping provide habitat for wild pheasants and farmland wildlife can contact the Game Commission’s Pheasants Forever partner, Kurt Bond, at 570-490-0199 for more information.


Colleen DeLong, Wildlife Biologist, and Brandon Black, Biologist Aide

Pennsylvania Game Commission

Amazing Antlers

Antler growth is a complex process driven by hormones and photoperiod (day length).  Antler tissue is the fastest growing tissue known to man. It has the capacity to grow an inch or more per day.  Annually, antler growth begins when the days are noticeably lengthening. Antlers grow from the tip and contain thousands of blood vessels. 


PGC Photo: Jacob Dingel

As the summer progresses and day length begins to decrease, testosterone production increases.  This triggers mineralization or hardening of the antlers.  The soft tissue is transformed directly into bone by the depositing of minerals within the cartilage matrix through the extensive capillary network-hardening the antlers from the base to the tip.  Antler-hardening takes about a month starting in mid-July and ending in mid-August.  Then, the velvet dries up and gets rubbed off.

After the breeding season, testosterone levels drop off and antlers are shed in late winter/early spring.  Then, the process starts all over again.  Natural variation, general health (which relates to nutrition), and even the buck’s birth date contribute to the timing of antler drop which occurs any time from December through March.

By; Jeannine Tardiff Fleegle

Wildlife Biologist, Deer & Elk Management Section

PA Game Commission

#EggWatch turned into #HanoverEagletNews

It’s been an eventful couple of months for the eagle pair featured on the camera. After cozying up their nest, the eagle couple was captured beak-to-beak on video, in what resembled their sharing a kiss. Then on Valentine’s Day, the first egg was laid. A second egg followed on Feb. 17.

Over the next few weeks, the birds became a nationwide sensation – particularly during a snowstorm when one of adults allowed itself to be buried in falling snow so that the eggs could remain warm and dry. While such behavior is typical, it’s seldom something that can be viewed.


On the morning of March 24, live stream viewers caught the first glimpse of an eaglet. The following morning, viewers spotted a second eaglet.


Eagles feed eaglets.


Live stream viewers can follow the eaglet conversation on social media by searching #HanoverEagletNews. People can also post screen captures and read updates on the Game Commission’s Twitter and Facebook pages.

The eagle cam is a joint project of the Game Commission, HDOnTap and Comcast Business. Viewers from more than 140 countries have accessed the live stream so far. And the total duration of the video viewed so far equals nearly 380 years’ worth.

Dave Dombroski, vice president of Comcast Business for its Keystone Region, said the company is proud to partner in this endeavor, which not only captivated viewers around the world, but has helped educate them about our national bird and symbol of freedom, the bald eagle.

HDOnTap provided the camera that relays high definition video from the nest, as well as the live streaming services so many have used.

The Game Commission also would like to thank the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Codorus State Park and the Friends of Codorus State Park, Swam Electric and Sunbelt Rentals for their roles in making the eagle cam a reality.

Click to view the eagle cam on the Game Commission’s website. The live stream can be played by clicking on the window near the top of the page, and all sorts of other useful information about eagles also is available at the site.

Age-Old Question about White-tailed Deer

Have you ever wondered about the age of wild white-tailed deer? One of our biologists recounts some surprising recent discoveries in this blog post.

A few months ago I told you the story of Doe #151 that was spotted in a trail camera picture. After a little investigating, it was confirmed that this doe was 13.5 years old – tagged as a fawn in 2001 in the Quehanna Wild Area. Amazing and rare, right? Well, maybe not. 

I received a call a couple of weeks ago regarding another tagged doe that was harvested during the muzzleloader season. Data records showed that we first met this lovely lady in March 2003 not far from Echo, Pa. in Armstrong County. If she was tagged as a fawn, she would have been 12.5 years old when she was harvested. However, she was tagged as an adult. With no way to confirm her birth year, her minimum age would have been 13.5 years old.

But wait, there is more! A colleague received a report of an ear-tagged deer regularly visiting someone’s backyard near Kittanning. Are you ready? This doe was tagged just a few hundred yards away from there in February 2003 as an adult, which means she is closing in on her 14th birthday this spring. That is a minimum age for this girl. That means that we received two phone calls in less than a week of two does that were tagged a month apart in Armstrong County over a decade ago.

Our lovely lady from Echo won’t be getting any older but her “sister” is still keeping it real in Armstrong County. Ms. 151 may still be out there, too. That makes three confirmed reports of does in the last four months that are 13.5 years old from two different areas. Maybe I should start playing the lottery.

-J.T. Fleegle

Wildlife Biologist, Deer & Elk Section

Pennsylvania Game Commission

Graduation of the 30th Class of Wildlife Conservation Officers



Pennsylvania gained 25 new wildlife conservation officers on February 28.

The 30th Class of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Ross Leffler School of Conservation graduated during a ceremony at Susquehanna Township Middle School. The graduates were commissioned as officers, and have been assigned to their new districts. For the first time in over a decade, every one of the agency’s 136 WCO districts will be filled.

Members of the 30th class, their hometowns and their new assignments can be found here.

Cadet Journey

Thirty-one cadets from all across the state arrived at the training school on March 9, 2014.  After 51 weeks of intensive training, 25 cadets successfully completed the program. These individuals have emerged ready to meet the challenges of a district wildlife conservation officer.

Wildlife Conservation Officer Duties

Game Commission WCOs are responsible for administering a wide variety of agency programs within an assigned district of about 350 square miles. Primary duties include law enforcement, responding to wildlife conflicts, conservation education and administration of the Hunter-Trapper Education program. Officers also are responsible for supervising and training part-time deputy wildlife conservation officers.

Ross Leffler School of Conservation History

In 1930, Ross Leffler, then president of the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners, proposed the establishment of a training school for game protectors. When the training school opened its doors in 1932, in Brockway Jefferson County, it was the first such conservation officer training school in the world and served as a model for other states.

From 1932 until 1935, the Ross Leffler School or Conservation offered in-service training for game protectors. The Commission voted to make the school a permanent facility and enrolled its first class of trainees in 1936, and continued training new classes at this facility until 1986. In 1987, the training school was moved to the Harrisburg headquarters.

Past, Present and Future

Six-hundred-seventy-three individuals have graduated from the Ross Leffler School of Conservation since the first class enrolled in 1936.

“These men and women are the face of the Pennsylvania Game Commission for the next 25 years and we are confident that they will serve the agency and the public well,” said Pennsylvania Game Commission Director of Training Timothy Grenoble.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 200 other followers