From the Field

Connecting YOU with Wildlife – Pennsylvania Game Commission


Plan Your Fall Trip to View Pennsylvania’s Elk Herd

media13192Photo credit: Jacob Dingel

Saturday marks the official start of fall and the elk rutting season is underway in Pennsylvania. Many people from across the state and beyond will be making their way to Benezette, Elk County, to witness the elk during their most active time of year.

This is an exciting, not to mention beautiful time of year to visit the northcentral region of our state. It’s a great opportunity to get yourself or your family and group of friends outdoors to enjoy the fresh autumn air!

Before you head out to the elk range, consider a few of our tips below. You can maximize your chances of seeing elk and having a safe and enjoyable visit by knowing where to go, when to go, what to do and what not to do.

Safety First – For You AND Wildlife

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First and foremost, it is absolutely critical that those visiting the elk ranges understand that these are wild animals. Rutting season runs from mid-September through October and during this time bull elk are very protective of their harems and can be extremely aggressive. Please be safe, considerate and respectful of the elk. Give them space. Wildlife watchers often congregate in areas with the best viewing opportunities. Problems can arise when folks gather on the shoulders of rural roads and are focused on watching elk rather than oncoming traffic. Your actions help all elk-watchers, landowners, law enforcement and conservation officials have a good experience.

  • Keep a Safe Distance – Elk are wild animals. Always observe from a safe distance, and at the minimum of 100 yards (the length of a football field). Risk of serious injury or death can occur if a safe distance is not observed. If you cause the animal to move, you are too close.
  • Do Not Block Traffic – When viewing elk from your vehicle, park completely off the roadway or view elk from designated Wildlife Viewing Areas.
  • Respect Private Property – Elk know no boundaries, but humans do. Please respect private property when viewing elk.
  • Do Not Feed Elk – Feeding elk in Pennsylvania is illegal.

Best Elk Viewing Destinations

media10811Photo credit: Jacob Dingel
  1. Winslow Hill is one of the best places to see elk, hands down. You may need binoculars, or they may be close to the viewing station and/or the road. That’s part of the fun. You won’t know where they’ll be until you get there! Take Winslow Hill Road, three miles from its intersection with State Route 555 in Benezette to get to this spot.
  2. Elk Country Visitors Center is a state-of-the art facility that opened in 2010 and features great interpretive and interactive exhibits about the elk herd. There are also two large viewing stations by the center. The address is 950 Winslow Hill Road, Benezette.
  3. Hicks Run Viewing Area overlooks high-quality elk forage area, and elk are commonly present there early and late in the day year-round. This is a great place to photograph fall foliage. The viewing area is along State Route 555, about 12 miles east of Benezette, near Hicks Run Road.
  4. Woodring Farm is a nice place to park if you would like to take a short hike. This is a ¾ mile easy trail, which circles 81 acres of the elk’s habitat with a lookout. From State Route 555 in Benezette, turn onto Front Street, then turn onto Winslow Hill Road and follow it for about 2.6 miles.
  5. Thunder Mountain Equestrian Trail is a good option for those wanting to ride through elk country on horseback. It’s a 26-mile loop, with shorter route options, through the Elk State Forest. The trailhead and day-use parking for equestrians are along East Hicks Run Road about 3.75 miles from its intersection with State Route 555, and 12 miles east of Benezette.
  6. The Hoover Farm Viewing Area of Moshannon State Forest has a handicapped-accessible viewing blind overlooking food plots and wildlife openings maintained by the Game Commission. Located at the intersection of Wykoff Run Road and Quehanna Highway, the viewing area is owned by the DCNR and annually draws elk from the nearby big woods.
  7. State Route 555 runs through the heart of elk country, so whenever you’re on the road between Weedville and Driftwood, traveling through the scenic Bennett Branch of Sinnemahoning Creek corridor, keep an eye out for elk, especially around Caledonia, the lower end of the Quehanna Highway around Medix Run, Benezette and Dents Run.

FREE Edutainment on the Elk Range

The below events are scheduled to run through Columbus Day, unless otherwise noted.

Hands-on Guided Trail Hike at the Woodring Farm — Every Friday and Saturday night at 5 p.m. and Sunday morning at 10 a.m. Meet at the trailhead. No hike scheduled for Sept. 22 and 23.

Guest Speaker Presentations at Dents Run View Area, on Winslow Hill — Every Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

  • Sept. 22, PA Elk Management, Jeremy Banfield, PGC Biologist
  • Sept. 29, Chronic Wasting Disease, Tony Ross, PGC Biologist
  • Oct. 6, PA Bats, Michael Scafini, PGC Endangered Mammal Specialist

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Great Elk Tour; Winslow Hill Viewing Area — Sept. 22-30, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Children’s Wildlife Crafts; Winslow Hill Viewing Area — Every Sunday, from 1-3 p.m. No crafts scheduled for Sept. 23.

Where to Eat or Stay?

Find hotels, restaurants and activities near the Pennsylvania elk range on the PA Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau website.

View the Live Elk Cam

We realize not everyone will be able to visit Benezette this fall, but we still want you to have the elk-viewing opportunity. The live elk cam streaming on our website lets you be able to watch for elk from the comfort of your own home! WATCH IT LIVE HERE. We’ve had a very active elk cam season so far this season, so be sure to check it out. The best times to view are at dawn and dusk. You may also see white-tailed deer, turkeys and groundhogs. This stream is the product of the coordinated efforts of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, HDonTap and the North Central Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission.

CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ELK IN PENNSYLVANIA.

 

 

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Pennsylvania’s Piping Plover Chick Spotted in Florida

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As today is the last day of summer, we wanted to share an exciting conservation story from this season featuring one of the four piping plover chicks that successfully fledged from Presque Isle State Park’s Gull Point in July.

The chick, “L215,” pictured above, was spotted on the beaches of northern Florida on Sept. 8! Identified by his or her colored leg bands, the chick was observed, photographed and reported to the Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery Team at the University of Minnesota by long-time, dedicated shorebird volunteers Pat and Doris Leary.

2018 marked the second consecutive year that a pair of federally endangered piping plovers raised their chicks on Gull’s Point. This year, all four chicks fledged the nest in July.

The success and persistence of the piping plover is a testament to the power of partnerships, specifically the federal, state and non-governmental organizations that have worked together for the return of these birds, both within the state and beyond.

Great Lakes piping plovers are federally endangered species and are safeguarded under the Endangered Species Act. Since most of Pennsylvania’s breeding birds only spend a fraction of their lifetime in the state, migrating to warmer climates in later summer to fall, full-cycle conservation is essential for their survival and population growth.

Piping plovers will spend approximately eight months of the year along the southeast Atlantic, Gulf Coasts and surrounding islands. In fact, L215’s mother was seen wintering in the Bahamas in 2016. These birds often winter in the same areas from year-to-year, so it is likely she travels from Pennsylvania to the Bahamas every year! That’s quite a journey for a bird about the size of a sparrow.

Conserving wintering areas is as important as protecting breeding sites during the summer. Click here to read more about the importance of full life-cycle bird conservation for Pennsylvania’s birds.

Click here to watch a short video on the piping plover.


Celebrate National Hunting and Fishing Day on Sunday, Sept. 23 at Middle Creek

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Recent economic reports show that sportsmen and women spent more than $93.5 billion on gear, licenses, travel, clothing, gas and more for the purposes of hunting, target shooting and sportfishing activities in 2016, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.  Through license and excise taxes, hunters and anglers help to generate more than $100,000 every 30 minutes for fish, wildlife and habitat programs, according to National Hunting and Fishing Day coordinators.

Hunters are leaders in conserving America’s wildlife and wild places. Numbers like the ones above prove that fact and make it appropriate to set a day aside just to celebrate our hunters and anglers, while encouraging more men and women to adopt the hunting lifestyle and join us in the woods and fields.

National Hunting and Fishing Day has been recognized on the fourth Saturday of September since 1972. The day continues to serve as a national grassroots effort to promote the outdoor lifestyles of hunting and fishing so those who are unfamiliar can experience, understand and appreciate traditional outdoor sports.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is hosting its National Hunting and Fishing Day Celebration on Sunday, Sept. 23, at the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area Visitors Center, located at 100 Museum Road in Stevens, PA. This free public event is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will be held rain or shine.

Interactive stations will include live and simulated fire and archery shooting, muzzleloader building, fly tying, kids fishing, decoy carving, and falconry. Many wildlife organizations and sportsmen’s groups will be on site. Sporting dog and live wildlife demonstrations will run all day.

Our agency will feature trapping, turkey rocket netting, elk darting and tracking demonstrations. A live prescribed fire exhibition will be featured, dependent on the weather. Additionally, there will be a live cooking demonstration featuring venison and goose stir-fry.

Whether you are a hunter, trapper, someone who would like to learn more about becoming a hunter or just enjoy the outdoors, the whole family can experience something fun at National Hunting and Fishing Day.

We hope to see you there!

 

NHFD 2018 Poster


Wild Goose BBQ Sandwich

It’s Wild Game Wednesday!

Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt a special sense of pride when preparing a meal that included fresh, wild game. There is just something satisfying about knowing exactly where your meat came from that makes wild game meals even more appealing – and – appetizing! Oftentimes, there is an exciting story to accompany the game that’s been prepared. Delicious food paired with great conversation, what more could you ask for?

On Wild Game Wednesday, we take a moment to recognize one of the most important reasons people take to the woods and fields to hunt: to fill their freezers with types of fresh, organic meat. These weekly posts include delicious, easy and in-season wild game recipes from the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Game Cookbook that you and your family can prepare.

For all our goose hunters out there, this one is for you! Let us know if you try this recipe.

BBQ Goose

If you are interested in more wild game recipes submitted by people from around Pennsylvania, visit www.theoutdoorshop.state.pa.us/FBG/ to purchase the second edition of the cookbook for less than $10!


Wild Game Wednesday: Dove and Bacon Bites

It’s Wild Game Wednesday!

Now that it’s September, and hunting season is officially upon us, we are kicking off our Wild Game Wednesday recipe series.

These posts will include delicious, easy and in-season wild game recipes from the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Game Cookbook that you and your family can prepare.

With the recent dove opener, we thought it would be appropriate to share a timely recipe that combines two of our favorite things: wild game and bacon. Let us know if you try this recipe. Enjoy!

 

 

Dove and Bacon Bites.jpg - FINAL 3If you are interested in more wild game recipes submitted by people from around PA, visit www.theoutdoorshop.state.pa.us/FBG/ to purchase the second edition of the cookbook for less than $10!


Reminding Archers to Hunt Safely and to Wear a Harness

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Archery season in Pennsylvania opens statewide on Saturday, Sept. 29. In an effort to reduce the number of tree stand injuries this hunting season, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is reminding hunters to hunt safely and to wear a harness.

Unfortunately, hundreds of hunters in Pennsylvania have been seriously injured in tree stand-related accidents. Fall-arrest systems and full-body harnesses have the ability to save lives and are the best methods for keeping hunters from being hurt in a fall.

Here are some important safety tips to remember:

  • Make sure the harness is on before climbing the ladder.
  • Read the manufacturers’ warnings and instructions before using the stand. Call the manufacturer with any questions or concerns.
  • Practice climbing before the season begins and use all provided safety devices. The transitions in and out of the stand are the most dangerous times.
  • Plan to use a haul rope to pull gear, including unloaded firearms and bows, to the tree stand from the ground once safely and properly positioned.
  • Be prepared to self-rescue, should a fall occur. We recommend carrying a screw-in step or a relief strap so that you can hang comfortably until you are rescued, or so you can rescue yourself.
  • Hunters should let someone know where they’ll be hunting and when they plan to return home.

You may pass one of our billboards, like the one in the image above, promoting this safety initiative. These grant-funded signs were created to promote awareness and encourage safe hunting across the Commonwealth.

We want every Pennsylvania hunter’s experience in the woods to be a positive and safe one. Wearing a harness and taking these safety precautions seriously can ensure that archers come home safely. Click here for more tree stand safety tips.

Remember: Hunt safely. Wear a harness.


Dove Banding: A Benefit for Science and Hunters

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By Lisa Williams, PGC Wildlife Biologist and Derek Stoner, Hunter Outreach Coordinator

Across the state of Pennsylvania each summer between the beginning of July and the middle of August, a dedicated team of biologists help capture and band hundreds of Mourning Doves.   You might be surprised at the important information gleaned since 2003 from those shiny little rings on the leg of a dove. For instance, we know that most of the doves banded in Pennsylvania are recovered in the state. That tells managers that the majority of the annual Pennsylvania dove harvest is derived from Pennsylvania-breeding birds. In fact, the majority of Pennsylvania Mourning Doves are homebodies, traveling on average 54 miles from their banding location to the point of recovery.

Although the vast majority of doves that breed in Pennsylvania stay in the Commonwealth year-round, 11 percent of Pennsylvania-banded doves were recovered outside our borders. This indicates that the regulations we set for Pennsylvania impact our dove populations more so than dove regulations set by states to our north. Both short-distance and long-distance migration occurs, with an evident migratory pathway occurring between Pennsylvania and the Carolinas. Not content with wintering in the Southeast, one bird traveled 1,024 miles to Kansas and two Pennsylvania doves traveled 1,324 and 1,337 miles to reach Texas.

Banded doves also give us clues about dove hunters. For instance, we can tell from banded dove returns that dove hunting pressure is greatest in Pennsylvania during the September season segment, because that’s when 67 percent of all band recoveries occur. Conversely only 7 percent of band returns occur in the October/November dove season and just 5½ percent are encountered in December and January.

Record-setting dove life spans also can be documented through banding: Mourning Doves can live to be more than 30 years old! The national longevity record for a Mourning dove comes from a male dove banded in Georgia in 1968 and shot in Florida in 1998. Longevity records for doves in other regions of the U.S. range from 9 to 19 years. For doves banded in Pennsylvania, the record life span was held by a bird of at least 8½ years of age. This bird was banded as an adult near Reading in 2005, and was harvested by a hunter less than 2 miles away in December 2012.  Our oldest dove recovered alive was first banded at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area as an adult in 2007, then re-trapped and released by Game Commission biologist Jack Gilbert in the same location in 2012, making it at least 6½ years old.

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How does this information about banding apply to hunting?   Well, the techniques utilized by dove banders to select trapping areas relates directly to how hunters can select the best locations and times to hunt these speedy gamebirds.

All About the Seeds

In the world of doves, seeds are the number one food source year-round.  Dove banders utilize piles of sunflower, millet, and safflower to attract hungry doves to their traps.  Hunters cannot directly distribute seed (considered baiting, which is illegal) but they can select areas to hunt that have a density of seed sources.  Classic locations like harvested cornfields, mowed right-of-ways, and the edges of weedy fields all provide the type of seed-eating opportunies that doves desire.   Fields of Foxtail, Goldenrod, Smartweed and other native plants are often top attractions as well.  The new Managed Dove Field program allows for the manipulation of crops and plants, so ambitious hunters are allowed to mow, disc, plow or otherwise knock down vegetation to make the seeds more accessible to doves.

Open Areas of Dirt and Gravel

Doves and all seed-eating gamebirds need to consume “grit” (hard substrates like sand, gravel, and small rocks) in order to help grind up the hard seeds they swallow whole.  The grit goes to the bird’s crop, where it mashes up the seeds like a blender.  If hunters set up near gravel lanes, large patches of bare dirt, and other open places with plenty of grit, they boost the odds in their favor of seeing doves stop by regularly.

Powerlines, Wires, and Perching Posts

Doves are hard-wired to fear predators at all times and are renowned for being ultra-wary and easily spooked.   As such, they typically prefer to land on a high lookout to check out an area before deciding the location is safe enough to warrant a landing on the ground.  There is no secret that doves love to perch on telephone wires along roads, as well as any horizontal line that stretches across open ground.  Hunters can do well by scanning their hunting area with binoculars to see where doves are setting up and landing on wires, and then set up appropriately to shoot safely near these preferred perch locations.  Many hunters are wisening up to the dove act and now construct their own “dove lines” made of posts and wire (like an old-fashioned laundry line) that encourage doves to land on and allow for close shots at slow-moving doves as they commit to the landing.

Roosting Trees

Doves prefer to roost and hang out during the middle of the day in dense-leaved trees where they can hide from the eyes of predators like hawks.  Cedar, pine, spruce, and other evergreens are often preferred, and dove hunters are wise to set up near this locations if they want to intercept these doves headed to roost.  If hunting during mid-day hours, it may be wiser to set up near roost trees rather than stake out a feeding area that will not see many doves in the warmer part of the day.

Water Sources: Ponds and Puddles

In order to process all those dry seeds and grains in their crops, doves need to drink plenty of water each day.  Therefore, small bodies of shallow water like ponds, livestock watering holes, and puddles are a necessity for everyday dove life.  The main feature of these water sources that doves require is an edge that is free of vegetation that could hide predators.  That’s why often temporary waters like puddles seem to attract doves most consistently.  Hunt over a water source during the warmer parts of the day and you just might find yourself in the middle of a dove bonanza.

Best of luck to all the folks heading afield to hunt doves this Fall.  These sporty gamebirds are the most widely-hunted and frequently-harvested of all birds in North America, and with a continental population of 500 million-plus, there are plenty to go around.  If you happen to get lucky and harvest a banded dove, please let us know!