From the Field

Connecting YOU with Wildlife – Pennsylvania Game Commission

The very lively “dead of winter”

Deer rifles have been oiled and put away, the Game Land parking lots are empty and formerly orange-clad hunters are reminiscing about the past season’s successes and woes (with the exception of a few die-hard small game and canine hunters still out there). Does this mean the Game Lands are completely deserted until the spring thaw? Far from it! The dead of winter is a busy time for Game Commission habitat managers. Our foresters are busy marking habitat projects for the future and loggers are busy implementing past plans. “Hold on a minute, did he say foresters and loggers on the state game lands?”

Forest management is habitat management The Game Lands are over 90% forested, so these habitats represent a huge opportunity. In fact, we have 36 staff foresters using creative habitat management on over a million acres. Their main challenge is finding ways to mix forest ages (or successional stages) across the landscape. When you create a good mix of some young forest, some middle-aged forest, and some old forest you can support tremendous wildlife diversity; more so than if a single age class dominates a large area. Timber harvests are the main tool in this endeavor. Each year Game Commission foresters oversee more than 7,000 acres of forest habitat improvements accomplished through timber sales.


This winter aspen cut will be full of young trees and beneficial wildlife plants by this summer. (Photo: Frank Chubon)

‘Tis the season Winter is often the most active season for timber harvesting. I say “often” because we don’t always get cold weather that causes the ground to freeze. Frozen ground means tree harvesting and hauling equipment have little impact on soil and below ground roots. Other benefits of winter harvesting are favorable habitat response (like increased aspen sprouting from winter cuts) and browse availability for deer. Regarding the latter, loggers often observe deer waiting for trees to fall so they can devour previously out of reach buds. So as you’re snug at home watching the playoffs and longing for spring turkey season, think for just a minute about the foresters and loggers who are out there in the cold creating hot spots for next fall’s hunting.


Deer take advantage of tree tops on a game lands forestry project. (Photo: Frank Chubon)

Benjamin C. Jones

Chief, Habitat Planning and Development Division

Pennsylvania Game Commission


Broadband, with a Bird’s Eye View

This post has been shared with permission from the Comcast Voices blog. We appreciate Comcast Business’s support of the 2015 bald eagle nest live stream project.

By Dave Dombroski, VP of Comcast Business, Keystone

“Can you wire a tree with broadband?” That was the question posed to the Comcast Business team a few months ago by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.  Specifically, they wanted Internet service to reach a bird’s nest at the top of an 85-foot tall oak tree in rural York County, Pennsylvania. The Commission wanted to set up a live stream of an active bald eagle nest in Hanover, PA and give the public a rare glimpse into the habits of one America’s most symbolic and beloved creatures.  And there was a deadline to get the tree wired: the pair of eagles that has been nesting there was expected to lay eggs in a few weeks.
Eagles Nest Stream
Watch: Live Stream from Game Commission Our team got right to work.  We extended service underground from an existing Comcast box to the base of the tree which was about 400 feet away.  From there, the line went into an enclosure provided by Swam Electric. We worked with HDOnTap for camera suggestions and the Game Commission on installation.  Using a lift, the Game Commission mounted the camera to a branch using straps and plywood, avoiding screws that would damage the tree. And after a few weeks of work, the live feed is now accessible for everyone to enjoy. So what can we expect over the next few months?  According to Patti Barber, endangered bird biologist for the Game Commission, the eagles will lay their eggs sometime in the next few weeks.  One to three eggs are typical. We’re told that with young birds it’s most likely one, but with older pairs it’s more likely to be two or three.
 A lift is used to equip an eagle nest at Codorus State Park in York County, Pa., with power, a camera and broadband Internet, powered by Comcast Business.
According to Barber, the eggs are laid every other day and hatch that way, too. Typically, eggs hatch about 35 days after they are laid. While the nestlings are small, one adult will hunt while the other broods the young. As the nestlings grow they will need more food.  By the time they are about 20 days old they will be able to maintain their body temperature and both adults will be hunting a lot. As the nestlings get older and stronger, they’ll be more and more active in the nest, sometimes stretching out to relax and sometimes hopping from branch to branch and then flapping and holding their weight up in the air. When they leave the nest, they’ll be as big as their parents. We expect lots of activity over the next few weeks.  Be sure to check back on the feed often and we’ll work with the Game Commission to post and share highlights in case you miss something cool.

Safety Zones

Safety zones:

It is unlawful to hunt for, shoot at, trap, take, chase or disturb wildlife within 150 yards of any occupied residence, camp, industrial or commercial building, farm house or farm building, or school or playground without the permission of the occupants.

It is unlawful to shoot into a safety zone, even if you are outside of the zone. Driving game, even without a firearm or bow, within a safety zone without permission is unlawful. For comparison, think of a safety zone as about one and a half football fields.

Hunting on hospital and institutional grounds, and in cemeteries, is also prohibited.

It is unlawful to discharge a firearm within 150 yards of a Game Commission vehicle if its occupants are releasing pheasants.

The safety zone for archery hunters statewide, including those using crossbows, is 50 yards. Archery hunters carrying muzzleloaders during any muzzleloader season must abide by the 150-yard safety zone regulation.

Around playgrounds, schools, nursery schools or day-care centers, the safety zone remains 150 yards.

Sheds, well pads and other unoccupied structures

Safety zones only apply to regularly occupied buildings.

Hunting from a house

As long as a hunter is not within a safety zone, and has the permission of the occupants within the house, the individual may hunt from their house/porch as long as they are still lawfully wearing the required amount of fluorescent orange and following the other hunting regulations.

Safety zone signs

Safety zone signs are only given to public access cooperators and in some limited circumstances to people whose property line borders a state game land. Landowners are welcome to make their own safety zone signs without the Game Commission logo. The signs may also be able to be purchased online. Some manufacturers make generic yellow safety zone signs.

Safety zone violation

If hunters are in violation of the safety zone, contact the region office. Contact information can be found here:

A safety zone violation is a summary offense punishable by a fine of not less than $200 nor more than $500. A second subsequent offense within two calendar years is a summary offense punishable by a fine of not less than $500 nor more than $1,000.

How Deer Survive Cold Winters

Deer Group in Winter

Deer have several adaptations that allow them to survive in winter.  Remember, Pennsylvania is not the northern most range of the whitetail.  Deer can be found as far north as southern Canada where temperatures are lower and snow is deeper for longer periods of time.

Biological Adaptations:

Fat Storage

Deer start to prepare for winter months before the temperatures begin to drop.  They do this by storing fat around internal organs and under their skin which insulates and provides energy reserves for the lean months ahead.

A Dense Coat

Their coat plays a major role in keeping them warm.  Coarse, hollow, dark guard hairs cover soft, woolly underfur.  Guard hairs can absorb solar energy but it’s the underfur that provides the most insulative value.  Half the length of guard hairs, underfur is 5 times as dense.  For comparison, sheep underfur is only 4 times as dense.  The underfur traps layers of air, with warmer layers closer to the skin.  The insulative value of underfur is increased when the hair stands on end (goose bumps for people) trapping more air.


Sebaceous glands in the skin produce a water-repellent oil that coats hair filaments as well.

Behavioral Changes

Decreased Activity

Deer decrease movement activity thereby lowering their metabolic rate and voluntarily reduce food intake.

Selective Shelter Choices

Deer also seek shelter in conifer stands.  These areas have reduced wind speeds and snow pack and provide overhead thermal cover which means higher night time temperatures.

Winter Survival Rate

Survival during winter

From the studies that have been conducted in PA over the last dozen years, we know that winter survival is very high. In the grand scheme of things, deer should weather Pennsylvania’s snows and cold snaps just fine.

You might like to read Living on the Edge: How deer survive winter from Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife as well as White-tailed Deer in Winter from Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

-Jeannine Tardiff Fleegle

Wildlife Biologist, Deer & Elk Management Section

PA Game Commission