From the Field

Connecting YOU with Wildlife – Pennsylvania Game Commission

North Country Rabbit Stew with Dumplings


It’s Wild Game Wednesday!

With the holiday season upon us and colder temperatures becoming a regular occurrence here in Pennsylvania, it’s the perfect time to get afield for some small game hunting. Species like rabbits, pheasants, squirrels and quail are all in season now through Dec. 24, then reopen Dec. 26-Feb. 28. This is a great time of year to reconnect with family and friends, and hopefully you’ll have a chance to go hunting with someone special this holiday season.

If you happen to be planning a group rabbit hunt, and are looking for a great, wintry recipe to share with family and friends, consider this one: North Country Rabbit Stew with Dumplings. “This recipe is based upon classical preparation methods for rabbits and hares in northern England,” said Ethan Barton of Barbours, PA, who submitted this recipe to the Second Edition of the Pennsylvania Game Commission Cookbook.

North Country Rabbit Stew with DumplingsNorth Country Rabbit Stew with Dumplings - Part 2

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 regular posts include delicious, easy and seasonal wild game recipes from the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Game Cookbook that you and your family can prepare. Enjoy!

CLICK HERE if you are interested in more wild game recipes submitted by people from around Pennsylvania. You can purchase the second edition of the cookbook for less than $10!


Hummingbird Visitors this Winter?

Rufous Hummingbird by Sandy Lockerman

Rufous Hummingbird.

As colder weather arrives in Pennsylvania, energetic little visitors from the west may be arriving in our state. Several species of hummingbirds that normally spend the winter in the southern United States and Central America are now being recorded in the eastern United States, as stray individuals are migrating in a different direction than expected. Scientists are studying these birds by capturing and banding them when possible, in order to better understand what may be driving this notable behavior pattern. 

Colorful hummingbirds, such as Rufous Hummingbird, Allen’s Hummingbird, Black-Chinned Hummingbird and Calliope Hummingbird are showing up in people’s backyards and taking advantage of sugar water feeders left hanging, long after our native-nesting Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have departed. These diminutive birds are adapted to handle cold weather, and supplement their diet with small insects and spiders that they find on plants. 

An excellent summary of the “Wintering Western Hummingbird” phenomenon in Pennsylvania may be found on the eBird citizen science page for our state.

If you or someone you know has a hummingbird show up in their yard this fall or winter, you are encouraged to contact one of the five certified hummingbird researchers who are based in Pennsylvania:

 Scott Weidensaul,

Sandy Lockerman,

Bob Mulvihill,

Wayne Laubscher,

David Hauber,

Male Rufous1

Male Rufous

No. 5 – Are There Regulations Within DMAs?

Through the end of deer season, we will be posting a frequently asked question (FAQ) and answer related to chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Pennsylvania in an album on our Facebook page.

We know many of you – hunters, non-hunters, processors, taxidermists and more – have questions about CWD and the effects this disease can cause. We are here as a resource and want to help everyone understand the complexities and details related to CWD in our state.

If you have a specific question related to CWD, email

Here’s the question for week five:

CWD Fact 5.jpg


Within Disease Management Areas, specific regulations and rules apply to reduce the risk of spreading CWD. Within DMAs it is unlawful to export high-risk parts, use or possess urine-based attractants in the field, and feed wild deer (which includes the use of mineral licks). High-risk parts include the brain, eyes, tonsils, lymph nodes, spinal cord, and spleen. Once high-risk parts are removed, the processed meat on or off the bone, capes and antlers attached to the skull plate with no visible brain matter may be transported throughout Pennsylvania.

Click here for more information about CWD.

As a reminder, if you have a specific question related to CWD email it to

Bowhunting the Rut in Pennsylvania

Mature Buck by Jacob Dingel 08595

Mature buck. Photo by Jacob Dingel.

The steady crunching of leaves signals the approach of a large animal in the woods. Your hand tightens on the bow grip and your eyes scan the colorful forest for a hint of brown antler. With the whitetail rut about to begin, anything can happen. For bowhunters across Pennsylvania and the rest of the nation, this is a magical time to be deer hunting.

The last week of October and the first two weeks of November are when the largest number of bucks are taken with archery gear in the Keystone State.  These are simply some of the best days that you can spend in a tree stand or ground blind hunting. With the mature bucks becoming more active and making their presence known during the daylight hours, this period of time is unique in the whitetail world.

In late October, when the pre-rut is starting to wrap up and the full rut is beginning to kick off is sort of a transitional period, and if you understand this transition you can certainly use it to your advantage and put a nice whitetail on the ground with your arrow.

Buck at Licking Branch by Jacob Dingel 13901

Buck at licking branch. Photo by Jacob Dingel.

Rut Basics

When it comes to whitetail hunting, most hunters understand that there are three primary phases to the rut. There are the pre-rut, the rut, and the post-rut. Many hunters will debate that there are actually additional spikes of heavy breeding activity after the rut has concluded where mature bucks will actively seek and locate the last of the in-bred does, does that were late into heat or fawns that are available to breed late in the season. As you can imagine, just like there are spikes in rut activity after the “official rut” has concluded, there are also spikes in activity as the rut is beginning to kick off.

The world of the whitetail knows no calendar. Whitetail bucks don’t wake up one day and say “Well, tomorrow the rut is going to start so I had better get a good night’s rest.”  Instead, it is the shorter days and the cooler weather that help to initiate the start of the rut, and it doesn’t just happen overnight. There is a steady buildup of rutting activity that is in the shape of a bell curve and we are currently trending upward in terms of activity.

From now until mid- to late-November, mature whitetail bucks will become more diurnal, meaning they will be out more during the daylight hours. Our first bow season segment statewide concludes on Nov. 12, so this timing allows bow hunters to experience much of the best rutting activity. Right now, mature whitetail bucks are beginning to reaffirm their territory. They are beginning to compete more with other aggressive bucks, they are beginning to freshen up scrapes and rub lines and perhaps most importantly, they are beginning to cruise in search of the first receptive doe of the season. When you add all of these factors together, there is certainly an opportunity to take advantage of a mature whitetail’s eager nature and bring him into bow range.

Does And Food

During the rut, sometimes finding the mature bucks means finding the does first. In other words, if you have the does in your hunting area then you have a good chance of seeing some bucks during the rut. Right now, as we transition from the pre-rut to the rut most of the state is experiencing its first hard frosts of the fall. As the acorn drop has begun to slow by this time, the colder temperatures can have the deer beginning the transition back from masts such as acorns to annual grain crops like corn and soybeans.

This time of year can be one of the best opportunities for a whitetail hunter to experience a surprise daylight encounter with a mature whitetail buck. As the does begin to transition back to various forages or begin to use different areas of the property, it can be very important to stick with them. Don’t be afraid to make a move and establish new stand locations based upon doe activity. Over the next week or so, mature bucks will begin to check these areas more and more in search of the first does to come into estrus, and these areas can be fantastic locations to intercept a buck. Mature bucks can be harder to hunt once they have found a doe in heat, so stacking the odds in your favor can be critical to your success during this critical period of the season. Keying in on does and food can help you accomplish this task.

Scraping Buck by Jacob Dingel 07362

Scraping buck. Photo by Jacob Dingel.


Right now, as the pre-rut begins to give way to the rut, using calling and vocalizations can really start to play a big role in your hunting strategy. If you have never tried grunting in a buck, you really should give it a try.

Right now, mature whitetail bucks are really just beginning to be more vocal, which tends to happen as they begin checking and chasing the first does of the fall. Even if the doe is not in estrus, bucks will often grunt, growl and snort wheeze as they check and court would-be does and bump other bucks off.

As the pre-rut ends and rut begins, it is an excellent time to begin ramping up your deer vocalization efforts. A buck can very easily have his interest perked by the sounds of grunting and rattling, just to satisfy his curiosity about what other bucks may be doing.  As the transitional period moves into the full rut phase, you can begin to become more aggressive with your calling and rattling.

Much of what we know about the whitetail rut comes from scientific studies, and Pennsylvania is blessed to have one of the best deer research teams in the world. Penn State University’s biologists have decades of in-depth studies that are of great interest and importance to deer hunters.

For a fascinating story on buck movement during the rut, visit Penn State’s Deer Forest Blog to view a feature on studies with radio-collared deer.

Stay tuned for the next blog about specific hunting tactics to use during the first week of November.

Happy hunting!

No. 3. – How Do I Get My Deer Tested?

Through the end of deer season, we will be posting a frequently asked question (FAQ) and answer related to chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Pennsylvania in an album on our Facebook page.

We know many of you – hunters, non-hunters, processors, taxidermists and more – have questions about CWD and the effects this disease can cause. We are here as a resource and want to help everyone understand the complexities and details related to CWD in our state.

If you have a specific question related to CWD, email

Here’s the question for week three:

CWD Fact 3.jpg


To increase surveillance efforts, hunters who are harvesting deer within Disease Management Areas (DMAs), can get them tested for free by depositing the head from their in a head-collection container provided by the Game Commission.

When depositing a head, be sure that the harvest tag is completed and attached to the ear. Heads should be double-bagged and closed prior to depositing. Locations of head-collection containers can be found on the interactive map located on the Pennsylvania Game Commission website.

On average, results take four to six weeks. Hunters harvesting deer outside a DMA, can get them tested for a fee at the Pennsylvania Veterinary Laboratory in Harrisburg. Please note, this test is not a food safety test.

Click here for more information about CWD.

As a reminder, if you have a specific question related to CWD email it to

Join the Fun of Pheasant Hunting


The cackling of a rooster exploding from heavy cover. The ringing of a bell as the dog runs through a grassy field. The satisfying sound of a shotgun’s action closing. The scent of fall emanating from the uplands. These sensory experiences are all part of pheasant hunting, and what so many hunters in the Keystone State look forward to each fall.

Bob Boyd, the head of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Wildlife Services Division, is the manager of the pheasant propagation and stocking program. With five decades of pheasant hunting experience, he also enjoys the challenge of pursuing these birds on the same public lands that we all hunt.

Here are four of his top tips for a productive pheasant hunting experience:

1. Hunt Heavier Cover

Although they are often associated with fields and grasslands, pheasants are adapted to seek out thicker cover in wetlands, thickets, and swamps when trying to hide from danger. Whether hiding from a hawk or a human hunter, a pheasant will try hard to tuck into the thickest cover that is available. Most hunters, and their dogs, will thoroughly comb the open fields in their search for pheasants. In order to find more birds, you should consider checking out the heavier cover near these fields to find the pheasants that have escaped the early waves of predator pressure.

2. Work the Edges

Much like hunting heavy cover, the strategy of hunting the edges is all about understanding pheasants’ tendencies to prefer traveling in habitat that affords it the best protection from predators. Hedgerows, ditches, weedy fencelines and powerline cuts all make for excellent places for pheasants to evade pressure. Seek these places out and be creative in how you work through the habitat. Posting a stander or two at the end of a line of cover is a proven tactic for getting pheasants to flush rather than continuing to run.

3. Stop and Start

Speaking of running, a pheasant prefers to run, walk, creep or hide over being forced to fly. Flying is the last resort when all other options are eliminated. Hunters that walk steadily through cover are often passing right by birds that are hunkered down and hiding. The bird hears or sees exactly where you are and relies on stealth to remain undetected— sometimes evading even the best dogs’ noses. But if you practice stopping and starting your movement through cover, the birds will often get nervous and flush because they think you have spotted them. Many hunters learn this the hard way by stopping at the end of the field. With guns on their shoulder and statement of “I guess there were no birds here,” a nervous pheasant suddenly launches from vegetation nearby and flies away unharmed.

4. Keep A Hunting Log

If you are fortunate to get out and hunt multiple days throughout the season – after all, it does run more than four months – you could benefit from keeping a record of what you observe while afield. A simple hunting log where you keep notes (of the location hunted, number of birds observed, and number of other hunters seen afield) will be a valuable resource to consult when planning future hunts. The most important insight may be discovering what days the pheasants are typically stocked, by noticing the patterns in stocking timetables year to year. If you discover that the birds are stocked on your local game lands on a Wednesday during the first full week of the season, you may want to head out mid-week during the first week during the following season. The heaviest hunting pressure comes on Saturdays, with Fridays being the second-busiest days for hunter activity on stocked game lands. If your log is able to help you pinpoint a key time to be afield on a week day, you may well be rewarded for your efforts.

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NEW Interactive 2018 Pheasant Allocation Map

To increase awareness of where and when pheasants will be stocked, the Game Commission publishes an allocations table and interactive stocking locations map for pheasant hunters to visit.

Select a region to see the number of male and female pheasants to be stocked in each county for each release, as well as the range of dates for each release, and a listing of each property to be stocked.

Click on the interactive map of pheasant stocking locations to see the more than 200 properties that are planned to be stocked. Click on a pheasant icon to see the property name, the number of releases and total birds released last year to get an idea of large versus small release areas. Users can zoom in to see pink highlighted areas representing areas of best pheasant hunting habitat where birds are most likely to be found.

Click here to watch this year’s Pheasant Permit Video on YouTube.

We wish all pheasant hunters a safe and successful season. With four-and-a-half months of hunting opportunity, more than two hundred stocking locations statewide, and nearly a quarter-million pheasants in the field, there are lots of great hunting memories waiting to be made.

Don’t forget, tag us in your pheasant hunting photos using #pheasanthuntpa!


Lessen the Odds of a Bird/Window Collision at Your Home


Photo credit: Jacob Dingel.


Your stomach sinks and heart races as you approach the window to see what beautiful bird hit it this time. It’s autumn and birds are on the move to warmer climates.

Bird/window collisions are a common occurrence this time of year. Many times the birds will appear stunned, and will fly away. Unfortunately, many of the birds that fly away from window strikes have likely sustained some sort of damage from the collision and may not survive.

If you’re hoping there’s something you can do to help lessen the odds of a bird flying into your window, good news, there is!

The American Bird Conservancy has compiled excellent information on this topic, including strategies to prevent your windows from reflecting the sky and trees. These reflections are what confuses the birds. To them, they see a nice perch in the distance, only to blindly be stopped short by a window pane. “Thud.”

As you enjoy the phenomena of bird migration this fall, check out these science-based solutions to prevent window collisions – many of which were developed by Pennsylvania ornithologists.

Millions of birds pass through Penn’s Woods in spring and fall during migration, including several Species of Greatest Conservation Need identified in Pennsylvania’s Wildlife Action Plan. These birds face many obstacles along their journey. Each of us can make a difference at our own houses to make their trip a bit easier.

-Cathy Haffner, Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Biologist