Dove Hunting

It’s always impossible to know exactly how a first hunt is going to play out, but my first dove hunt experience was far from how we had anticipated things going when we started that morning.

 

My friend from work and I found ourselves deep on state game lands in a secluded field, and having one of the best wing shooting days of our lives. Neither of us had ever hunted doves before and wanted to give it a shot.

 

The day that started sunny and perfect turned when the edge of a tropical storm moved in. Flocks of doves kept coming past so we stayed despite the downpour and we ended up having the time of our lives.

 

We ended our hunt in the middle of a downpour and soaked standing just inside a tree line. It also didn’t help that I was two hours late from meeting up with my wife and I was running out of shells. Don’t worry, this isn’t usually how dove hunting goes; but it can be that fun if you’ll hunt through a rainstorm.

 

The decision to hunt mourning doves for most in our area is an easy one. If you grew up hunting them with friends and family you know how enjoyable the challenge is. An easy walk in warm weather to sit for a few hours and pass shoots at a large resource of birds that make a great meal.

 

This hunt checks a lot of boxes for hunters that haven’t had the chance to chase much game over the summer months. If you have never hunted doves before here, you can usually be easily persuaded into giving it a try for those reasons.

 

You don’t need a lot of gear to get started. More than likely, you already have everything you need to hunt doves. A shotgun with a choke tube that’s a modified or improved-cylinder, warm weather camo clothes, boots, and a bucket or small travel chair to sit on gets you in the field. A quick stop into Kinsey’s Outdoors to grab a box (or a few) of 7.5-8 shotgun shells and you’re on your way.

 

The Pennsylvania Game Commission actually creates and manages some areas specifically for doves. These areas can be found on their interactive map. In our area, almost any state game lands with some open grain fields is a great place to start.

 

By this point, these crops may have been cut which is even better as the doves can mill around the grain on the ground. If you can hunt by a body of water that helps your chances as doves usually tend to start and end their day at the water.

 

Dove hunting is one of those activities that local farmers tend to have no problem with throughout the year. If you know of such a farmer or see a field that looks like it could be good, don’t be afraid to knock on a door or two and ask to hunt one or two evenings. You have nothing to lose and only a hunting spot to gain.

 

As you find you enjoy this early season hunt, stepping up your involvement doesn’t cost a lot of time or money. When I started, I got 10 decoys for around $20 from Kinsey’s Outdoors which can always help to sell a set up to a flock passing by.

 

You’ll need a migratory game bird license ($3.90) if you don’t already have one. You can pick it up at the counter when you pay for your items.

 

Dove hunting can be one of the most enjoyable hunts of the year. Try not to get too frustrated if you end up missing shots. Try leading a little more than you may think you need to, and bring a few more shells than you may be willing to confess to.

Big Woods Whitetail — Interview with Beau Martonik

Gear Up for the Big Woods

Big woods whitetail hunting is about as challenging as it gets.  Not only do hunters have to deal with long treks across mountainous terrain, but the lack of agricultural food sources and typically lower deer densities test even the best woodsmanship.  There’s no one piece of gear available that equates to automatic success in any hunting situation, but the combination of the right mentality and quality equipment can increase success ratios by leaps and bounds.  Hunting in the big woods takes a lot of persistence, the ability to adapt, and great patience to be successful and one knows this better than Beau Martonik.

Martonik, a native of Pennsylvania’s vast Alleghany National Forest region, grew up hunting whitetails in one of the United States’ most storied big woods settings.  Beau has spent his entire life perfecting both his strategy and gear list so as to be able to locate, pursue and kill mature bucks in some of the most challenging conditions in the country.  Consistently punching tags in this terrain takes a purposeful and detailed approach and so I asked Beau to break down the process and system that leads to venison in the freezer and antlers on the wall, year after year.

Narrow The Search

Big woods bucks are crafty and unpredictable.  Being travelers of long-distance makes these bucks especially hard to pattern.  Instead of seeking out single-season patterns, Martonik stresses the value in looking for year-to-year patterns.  “Bucks tend to do the same things season after season”, Beau elaborated, “So using trail camera data from prior years is a great way to make logical assumptions about what they will do in following seasons.”  Quality trail cameras, with extended battery life, strategically placed along key terrain features, or social areas such as primary scrapes, are a great educational tool for the big woods hunter.  Even in big woods settings, Martonik is still looking for an edge.  He stresses that bucks in the big timber interact with edges much the same as they do in agricultural settings, but those edges look a bit different.  Creeks, clear cuts, thickets, and benches are all examples of the types of edge that these bucks like to use for travel.  Rut funnels such as ridge tops saddles also make for great cruising corridors in the mountains.

To locate these features, a quality mapping application is useful.  Martonik employs the use of OnX to pinpoint locations he will later check during his scouting efforts.  Remote and overlooked areas become quickly recognizable with the use of aerial and topographical maps; as do terrain funnels and vegetation changes that create the edges that big bucks love to use.

Gear Up

The challenge of hunting big woods whitetails will test your resolve, but it will also quickly show you any chinks in your gear “armor”.  In this environment, quality equipment not only makes the hunt more enjoyable, but it can, indeed, improve success ratios.  Once a hunter narrows the expanse of timber to several high percentage locations, having the right gear for the job is the next step in the process.  “When it comes to this type of hunting, a beneficial piece of gear to have is a high-quality frame pack- if you are successful it will carry your kill out,” Beau said.  “A ‘rut pack’ is also a huge benefit in the big woods; something that can integrate with a stand and sticks to get all the gear you need to the tree for an all-day sit.”

Martonik is also a huge proponent of high-level performance apparel systems.  Mountain hunters have long been pushing the envelope in the testing and development of new and better layering systems and the concept has begun to show its value in the whitetail woods as well.  He uses moisture-wicking base layers such as fast drying synthetics or natural merino wool fibers which retain their insulation capabilities even when they become damp from perspiration.  The key, though, is to reduce the amount of sweat, period.  To do this, Beau wears only a lightweight synthetic or merino layer when walking several miles to remote stand locations.  And that quality pack referenced above?  That holds the heavy outer layers that will be applied immediately after he cools down in his stand.  Going deep into the timber and pursuing big woods ghosts requires pack-ability and thermal regulation.  As such it is hard to overstate the importance of both a pack system and the apparel you choose.

Safety 

            Even with the advances in cell phone technology, if you are pushing the envelope and going where others aren’t willing to go, you will find yourself outside of cell phone service from time to time.  This is an area where Beau takes no chances.  “I am never not attached to the tree with a lineman belt or a safety line with a prusik loop attachment,” Beau said.  Staying tied off 100% of the time is imperative when doing this kind of hunting.  In fact, having two safety ropes often makes it easier to ensure you are tied in at all times, even when you are transitioning into and out of the treestand.  Hunters should be aware of suspension trauma, a very serious and potentially lethal phenomenon that occurs when hanging for an extended time from a harness.  Pooling blood in the suspended hunter’s legs can cause unconsciousness and unless rescued, eventually lead to death.  For this reason, and others, Beau has started to carry a GPS phone which allows texts to send via satellite even from the most remote locations.  Texts can include GPS coordinates for rescuers to use to find a hunter more quickly.  These devices are worthwhile investments, and hunters with western aspirations should especially consider them to be a necessary purchase.

Success 

            The hunt in the mountainous timber of the Appalachian Mountains is, in itself, a challenge.  However, having success in this environment is when the real work begins.  Dragging a deer over two miles of rugged terrain is a grueling task and quite a time commitment.  That’s why Martonik chooses to combine more western philosophy into his whitetail hunting and pack out his kills.  Using the gutless method, Beau is able to get all the venison, cape, and his gear out of the woods in two trips.  The aforementioned frame pack shines in this application.  He carries a “kill kit” consisting of the tools he needs (game bags, knife, garbage bag, flagging tape, paracord) to skin and process the deer on the ground.  With the gutless method, the abdomen of the deer is left intact and all the meat from the quarters and loin is removed and packed out with the frame.  Beau’s go-to for skinning and processing in the field is his Havalon replaceable blade knife, and with this process, he is able to make quick work of a deer after the kill and get out of the woods faster and with less physical exertion than the traditional “deer drag”.

There is always more than one way to skin the cat, as they say.  Martonik’s approach has evolved over his years in the timber through trial and error; and no doubt that kind of person who has the thirst for new adventure is the same kind of person who continually seeks new and better ways of doing things.  But, when it comes to locating and killing big woods deer, the whole Martonik family is proficient, to say the least, and Beau has a systematic approach and his gear list pretty dialed in.  So, I asked Beau what he believes is one of the biggest mistakes made by industry personnel when advising and instructing people on their gear choices for this “big woods” type of hunting. He replied, “From my experience working in retail, and now as someone who helps advise people on gear choices, I think the biggest thing people overlook is making certain that you understand the consumer’s intended use of the product.  I am going to advise someone entirely differently if they are planning to walk several miles in hill country versus walking a couple hundred yards to hunt a field edge.  It’s important to know their goals, and sometimes you have to be able to understand that maybe even better than they do themselves, so that you can make the proper recommendations for each individual hunter’s situation.”

To find more information on Beau Martonik, follow him on Instagram at @beau.martonik . He also produces a popular podcast series called East Meets West Hunt Podcast and runs the Instagram page @EastMeetsWestHunt. His website is www.EastMeetsWestHunt.com

 

Author: Reuben Dourte

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

Deer hunting in Pennsylvania is calling on you to help save it. It’s calling on you to save it for future generations like hunters did at the turn of the 20th century when herd numbers were decimated by overhunting for sale on the open market. With the recent expansion of Chronic Wasting Disease Management Area #4 in Lancaster County, from 397 square miles to 746, many hunters are seeing an uncertain future literally at their doorstep.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a disease that has been found in the neurological systems of deer species. The species at risk in Pennsylvania are our white tail deer and elk populations. It causes deer infected with the disease to lose motor function and not eat so they literally waste away until they ultimately succumb to the disease.

This neurological disease afflicting white tail deer (the state mammal and arguably most hunted species) is always fatal to the deer. Now more than before legal, physical, and cultural demands are being placed on Pennsylvania’s hunters. It’s similar to Mad Cow disease, so the discussion seems to circle back to can humans consume these deer and become sick themselves? Currently the answer is no. There are no documented cases of animal to human transition.

Experts strongly recommend that no human consume deer that has positively identified as having CWD. This is the start, and strangely the end of the discussion, because if the disease spreads and we can’t eat CWD positive deer, why bother hunting them? That sentiment is what has generations of a strong deer hunting culture in this state up at night.

No hunter wants to endanger the lives of family and friends, and no hunter wants to lose the deer hunting way of life as well. So rather than giving up on the patient, hunters in these areas of the state are being called on to help turn back and defeat the disease.

Looking into this subject can overload almost anyone with information. The biggest thing to remember is if you kill a deer in one of the DMA zones, do not, under any circumstance remove the deer’s high-risk carcass parts from that area. This is mainly the brain, eyes, spinal column along with the spleen and lymph nodes.

Not moving these parts to areas of the state that are unaffected is one of the biggest ways to turn this around. Every DMA will have meat processors and taxidermists available to take care of your deer, and the game commission will have dumpsters located for you to leave the head for testing free of charge. This way you can be sure of whether or not your deer actually even has CWD.

You can keep your antlers, you can keep your meat, and you can keep hunting all while helping to fight to keep this tradition alive by using some tactical protocol. It’s worth taking a few minutes to prepare for this year’s upcoming deer season and find out if you hunt in one of these areas across the state. https://www.pgc.pa.gov/Wildlife/Wildlife-RelatedDiseases/Pages/ChronicWastngDisease.aspx is a great resource that answers a lot of questions most hunters have.

Thanks to the hunters who answered the call when deer herds were decimated, we’ve had over a century’s worth of opportunity for memories at camp, early mornings with friends and family to build and strengthen bonds through hunting whitetails. Hopefully as this generation of hunters answers the call to fight back CWD, we’ll have another century to enjoy.

PA Doe Tag, PGC Antlerless Deer Tag Status

How To Check The Status of Your Pennsylvania Antlerless Deer Tag Application

How To Check The Status of Your Pennsylvania Antlerless Deer Tag Application

If you’re anything like me, patience is a hard thing to come by especially when it pertains to hunting. This rings true every July after Pennsylvania hunting licenses officially go on sale and the lead up to submitting your antlerless deer tag application.

 

Every PA hunter is bound to have their own strategy in order to get that pink Pennsylvania Game Commission antlerless deer tag application envelop to their local county treasurer’s desk first thing Monday morning.

 

My rule of thumb is always trying to send out my antlerless deer application the Friday or Saturday before the Monday that the Antlerless Deer applications go on sale. Whether this level of planning and preparation is warranted or not, I still live by the adage that the early bird gets the worm. Or, in this case, their preferred WMU antlerless deer tag. It has worked for me up to this point so why fix something that isn’t broken?

 

Once I’ve submitted my antlerless deer application, the anticipation of whether or not I got my preferred WMU begins to build. Again, patience is hard to come by as I anxiously await to receive my self-addressed return envelop with my antlerless deer tag.

 

In years past, I’ve waited and watched for my check to clear only to wonder what WMU I was awarded out of the 3 WMUs I listed on my application.

 

However, in more recent years, I’ve learned how you can check the status of your Pennsylvania antlerless deer application. This works whether you’re a PA resident hunter or non-resident hunter.

 

Checking the status of your antlerless deer tag allows you to not only see if you’ve been awarded an antlerless tag, but also which WMU if you’ve been awarded a Pennsylvania antlerless deer tag.

 

In checking the status of your antlerless deer application online, you can help ease your mind in between submitting your PA Antlerless Deer Application and finally receiving your antlerless deer tag in the mail.

 

Below we’ve outlined how you can check the status of your Pennsylvania Game Commission antlerless deer application status online. We’ve also listed how to check the antlerless deer tag availability which includes total allocation, tags sold, and antlerless tags remaining by WMU.

 

 

Step 1: Go to the Pennsylvania Game Commission Website

 

Step 2: Click on Buy a License

 

Step 3: Click on Purchased Online link which will take you to The Outdoor Shop. For future reference, you can always bookmark this page and start directly from The Outdoor Shop.

 

Step 4: Click the top radio button labeled Purchase Fishing and/or Hunting License Permit and or Application / Replace License and or Permit. Click OK on the pop-up screen, scroll down the page, and click the Start Here Button to continue.

 

Step 5: Choose and enter your preferred method of identification, CID # (Hunting License ID Number), Drivers License Number, Social Security Number, or Alternate ID, and click continue.

 

Step 6: Verify if you’re a bona fide resident of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or a non-resident hunter.

 

Step 7: Scroll down below your information and choose the option for Check on the status of an Antlerless Deer or Elk Application and click continue.

 

Step 8: On the Lottery Application Status Page you’ll see both your Elk Lottery Information (Preference Points and Pending Elk Lottery Information) as well as that season’s Antlerless Deer Application status.

 

Here you’ll see the status of your antlerless deer application. If you’ve been awarded an antlerless deer tag, you’ll also be able to see which WMU you’ve been awarded one.

 

BONUS: If you click return to home on the Lottery Application Status Page, or navigate back to The Outdoor Store main page – you can also check the antlerless deer license availability.

 

This is both useful if you got a late start in submitting your 1st round antlerless deer tag, or if you’re curious how many antlerless deer tags remain for a particular WMU for the 2nd round of resident and non-resident antlerless deer tag applications.

 

For more information on antlerless deer licenses and applications – visit the Pennsylvania Game Commissions website here.

 

To shop our full line of hunting, archery, and outdoor gear and accessories – visit us online at shop.kinseysoutdoors.com/, or in person at 1658 Steel Way Drive, Mount Joy, PA 17552.

Forester Lumbar 650 Pack

Professionals know when to use the right tool for the job at the right time. No one walks onto a job site with just a hammer. No mechanic opens the hood with just one size wrench. They know that every situation is different. Those situations can also change 10 times before lunch, and that’s why they go to work armed with a variety of tools so they can succeed in every situation.

The same thing is true for those who live a life outdoors. As outdoorsmen and women, we spend the vast majority of our time either hunting, fishing, or scouting.  Seasons and species that you’re chasing change and you need your equipment to change and adapt accordingly.

That’s why now, during the warmer months of the year, one of your go-to tools should be the Forester Lumbar 650 Pack from Elevation.

If you’ve ever found yourself hanging trail cams, chasing a gobbling tom, or getting to the deer stand in the early season wishing for a lightweight mobile pack – this pack is it. It allows for easy packing of your essentials along with a variety of extras that you’ll need in the field or on the go. The pack is also perfect for those warmer weather pursuits without weighing you down so you can go farther, and more comfortably into the woods.

The pack features heavy-duty and highly adjustable shoulder straps that sit comfortably on your shoulders while a waist belt with breathable foam insulation sits comfortably on your hips. The open back area allows for more airflow and breathability than your traditional pack would. This is a huge benefit while you’re on your hike or while you’re scouting and checking trail cams in the warm offseason.

The pack is armed with an astounding 650 cubic inches of storage with three main pockets on the back. Each pocket contains separate netting inside affording extra organization and storage options. There are three extra pockets on the back for quick stashing items like a water bottle, game calls, or batteries.

Two clinchable straps are also strategically placed on the bottom of the pack for storage of a jacket, decoys, bedroll, or a hunting stool. This all seasons pack is perfect for dove season right into early archery.

There are an additional six extra storage pockets on the waist belt, as well. These storage pockets are smaller and perfect for an extra can of bug spray, snacks, wallet, keys, or game calls. All of the pack’s zippers can be easily opened with their rugged and extra-wide openings so you won’t have to fumble in the dark or if you’re in a hurry.

The straps are adjustable and easily maneuvered either stationary or on the go. This makes it perfect for getting to where you need to go after just hearing that gobbler, checking your trail cameras, or if you need to adjust after putting on a jacket.

This pack is not only durable but it’s also quiet. It also stores easily and is worth way more than what you’d pay for similar products on the market. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if it becomes your go-to pack whether you’re enjoying the outdoors, getting ready for hunting season, or taking a hike with your friends and family.

You can get more information on this and other great archery packs and products by visiting the Elevation website here.

Quarantine Activities for the Outdoorsman

Are you bored yet? If you’re anything like us – you may be going a bit stir crazy at this point. Usually after finishing our fall hunting season, staying inside to catch up on a few books or movies as we head into spring trout season and spring turkey season was no problem. Unfortunately that wasn’t quite the case for us this year.

 

Fortunately for us, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission allowed the spring trout and turkey season to continue with proper social distancing protocol.

 

However, with the coronavirus quarantine seemingly on its way out and restrictions soon being lifted, you may be running out of things to do inside.

 

Here are some ideas of how you can weather the last days and weeks of the mandated stay at home order.

 

Welcome to the ultimate spring cleaning season! You may have set aside some time these past couple weeks to clean out and organize your closets, gun cabinets, and tackle boxes. If you feel like you’ve reorganized those gear boxes one too many times, it may be time to look at what you don’t need.

 

Donating old hunting clothes can be a great way to create space all while helping a very good cause. Most people don’t know that the PA Game Commission actually welcomes donations of usable hunting and outdoor clothing as a part of helping the national R3 initiative (Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation of hunters).

 

Most individuals who go to the PAGC looking to get into hunting and take the hunter safety course have little to no equipment. If there is equipment or clothing to borrow, most of it must be returned at the end of the day.

 

A good number of us could probably find something we don’t use anymore and can get in contact with the PAGC office to donate it. Plus, it gives you a chance to justify getting some new camo you’ve been looking at for a while now.

 

You now also have the chance to teach kids outdoor lessons after the virtual learning is done for the day. Remember when you said “if I only had the time?” Well, now you do! Outdoor activities,  like archery and fishing, are perfect for kids to occupy their time instead of playing video games for 10+ hours a day.

 

Even though Kinsey’s Outdoors is not currently letting customers inside our retail store, you can still order archery or fishing gear on the Kinsey’s Outdoors website. You can either have the items shipped to your house, or you can pick it up curbside.

 

Now that you’ve got all the gear you need, you can hit the great outdoors to get some much needed fresh air and hunting and fishing action. Even if you have kids who may be too young to hunt or fish – it’s never too soon to teach them the wonderful benefits of spending time in the woods, or on the water.

 

Have you always wanted to learn how to trap? Get better at turkey calling? Learn to read a map? Tie Flies? Skills like these can now be learned from almost anywhere with access to information thanks to the advent of Google and YouTube. Online video tutorials can provide great opportunities to learn those outdoor activities and skills you’ve always wanted to learn.

 

Now’s also a great time to clean out trail camera cards or get new ones. Are you tired of the thousands of pictures you have of squirrels taking up memory on your trail cam memory cards? Now’s a great time to delete the abundance of trail cam photos and make sure your cameras are working properly. If they aren’t, now’s a great time to look at upgrading your trail camera for this upcoming scouting and hunting season.

 

Once all that is done, you could begin to watch outdoor-themed movies. When the day is winding down and dinner is done, you and your family can enjoy a movie night. This is a great way for everyone to spend time together while also providing a much-needed distraction from the constant news headlines.

 

As a lover of the outdoors, look at watching a few titles that can get the next generation excited about a life outside. Movies like White Fang or maybe some of your favorite hunting DVD’s you have laying around.

 

You could also grab your camping equipment and gear and do a backyard staycation and camp with your family at home. It’s also a great time to get a new cooler and test it out at home before you hit the water or the woods this year.

 

Another great activity is to learn to make a new recipe with wild game, or a side dish for your favorite wild game dinners. Almost every internet search will lead you to a variety of ‘wild game recipes’ and techniques that will teach you to be a better cook. Cooking with the family is a great way to spend time together while also teaching a lifelong skill.

 

After you’ve played all the board games in your house, you’ve played referee to yet another fight over whose turn it is with the video game, or you need a break from that puzzle that feels more like a prison sentence than a distraction – we hope this list helps. Although we don’t know how long this “new normal” will last, we hope this article provided you with some ideas to keep you and your family spending quality time together while also keeping your sanity.  Did we forget anything fun and exciting that you’ve been doing lately? Let us know what you and your family have been doing to help pass the time during quarantine.

PA Shed Hunting

Traditionally for hunters in Pennsylvania, the beginning of a new year on the calendar signals an end to the hunting season. Time to pack all of the gear away, enjoy your success filling a tag or make peace with one that you didn’t, and settle in for winter.

It’s easy to not enjoy this time of year. Some don’t care for being stuck in-between the cold and warmer weather months. Most are counting down the days until spring gobbler and trout season opens. There are those though who don’t fall prey to the curse of cabin fever. A good number of hunters will continue to hit their favorite hunting spots and come to look forward to this time as almost as equally enjoyable. The window is now opening for the fun challenge of hunting for white tail buck sheds.

Most white tail hunters know, and there’s no shame if you don’t, that in January bucks can start shedding their antlers from the previous year. They then start growing a new, and hopefully larger set. From spikes to booners, if they’ve survived the hunting season, their antlers will drop somewhere in the woods and field of their home range for any man or beast to collect.

So, where do you start? Start by hunting where you hunt. Wherever deer live is usually where they’ll stay and where the bucks will shed their antlers. Check along deer trails, near feeding areas and water. Deer also tend to bed down on south facing hill sides during the day so if you know of one of those, take a stroll through there.

Every hunter wants to be successful, and consistently successful hunters crave information about deer activity. Shed hunting is the perfect way to start scouting for the following fall. The vegetation is void of leaves letting you see more of the landscape and inform you as to where deer are and what they’re doing. An added bonus is you get to keep hunting the deer after the season has closed. Shed antlers make a great addition to decorate your space and can start a conversation with almost anyone.

Competition for the coveted souvenir has increased over the past few years but the barrier to entry is still low with plenty of local opportunity.  The only gear you need is what you would wear for any walk in the woods on a colder day and most of it you probably already have. A good pair of boots is the best place to start. You’ll want something that laces up instead of a rubber style boot to avoid getting blisters or injuring an ankle. Insulation is up to you whether the boot is built with insulation or you decide how much you want with a warmer pair of socks or two. The Kenetrek Mountain Extreme 400 boot is a good option as it has warmth built in but breathes with increased activity.

Base layers and tough outerwear are the next items you want to have. Some of these antlers can fall in thick nasty brush so be sure you’re in a good pair of brush pants and tough jacket or at least wear clothes you don’t mind getting ripped up. The Browning Pheasants Forever pants and jacket are a great place to start.

As you start to get a pile of these trophies on your hike be sure to bring your favorite hunting pack to hold them until you’re ready to head home. The Canopy Tri-Zip 1200 pack from Elevation is a perfect option for holding your sheds and everything else you need when the next season rolls around from turkey to trout and ducks to deer.

Steelhead fishing in Erie, Pennsylvania

Steelhead Fishing Tips, Tricks, Gear, and Locations in Pennsylvania

Steelhead fishing in Erie, Pennsylvania is a destination for many avid anglers from across the state. With many miles of Lake Erie tributaries to fish it is not uncommon to run into other fisherman chasing the “chrome”—a popular name for the freshly spawning steelhead.

Each year, spring and fall, the steelhead begin their spawning journey. These fish remember the exact tributary that they were stocked in as smolt. They swim to the mouth of the tributary and when the conditions are just right they begin swimming upstream. Most of the fish only travel under the cover of darkness. If a fisherman fished until last light, or a little past, they can often observe fish fighting their way up the current as they continue their journey. 

Steelhead Fishing Gear

When targeting steelhead it is important to have the right gear as these fish are very power and can cover water rather quickly. We will start from the bottom up. It is imperative to have a good set of wading boots and waders. Wading boots with metal studs work well on the shale bottom creeks that make up most of the fishable water.   

Weather can change in a heartbeat with lake effect precipitation as the biggest culprit. A wading stick can come in very handy when crossing swift current or rising water. People often use either a fold-up wading stick or one that they have a tethered to their wading belt. The wading stick then rests in the water but is always attached to the fisherman for easy access. 

Warm clothes are a life saver. Many mornings, especially in late fall and early winter are bitterly cold. The proper cold weather gear will greatly increase the fisherman’s ability to endure the possible cold, wind, rain, snow, ice, etc. Fingerless fleece gloves make tying knots, feeling the fly line or fishing line easier. The finger tips will get cold, especially after handling a fish. Having a set of hand warmers in each pocket will warm them right up. 

A set of polarized glasses can make a huge difference especially when sight fishing. Which most of the time, sight fishing is an effective way to locate a group of fish, hungry fish or both. 

As for the rod and reel, there are a few ways to fish for these steelhead. The good majority of anglers use a fly rod. While a decent amount also use a spinning rod with either egg sacks, spinners or minnows as bait, fly fisherman use beefier rods to effectively fight these large fish. A solid starting point for fly fishing is to use a 10 foot 7 weight rod with a 7/8 reel. Obviously, these specs may vary depending on each angler’s desires.  

Choosing a fly that will trigger a reaction can sometimes be difficult. Egg patterns are a great place to start. Since these fish are spawning there are eggs in the water and a large majority of the fish’s diet are eggs. Sometimes the fish do not like the egg patterns due to being educated by other fisherman. In which case, small nymphs are a great go to. Size 14-16 dark colored nymphs can do the trick.  

Low, clear water can make fishing difficult. The fish become skittish and tough to hook. Using a small size tippet like 5x or 6x can help reduce the likelihood of fish seeing the line. Using lighter tippet also results in having to really play the fish when hooked.  

Strike indicators, like Thingamabobber’s, help lift the anglers fly to the depth of suspended fish. When the water is clear, steelhead may get spooked by the strike indicator. A stimulator patter can be tied on above the lower flies to act as an indicator. This can greatly reduce the risk of spooking a fish. 

Steelhead can be stubborn. Do not get discouraged if the fish does not take the fly right away. It may take quite a while to get a strike. If the fish is not interested, tie on a different pattern and try again. Continue to do so until the fish eats it or spooks.

Locations To Fish Fall Steelhead

There are many great tributaries to fish in Erie. Elk Creek, Crooked Creek, Walnut Creek, 16 and 20 Mile Creek are great streams. Use these tips, get yourself some gear, and get out there and chase some chrome! 

Pennsylvania’s Opening Day of Rifle Season!

Pennsylvania’s Opening Day of Rifle Season 2019!

The holidays are here and for Pennsylvania hunters, but not all holidays mean gathering around a large table for a feast with family. Hunter’s holidays are spent gathering around small camp kitchens and bonfires. They find presents and treasures from high up in trees early in the morning, instead of looking under them. They have different days circled on the calendar. Counting down the days until they can trade in the cozy couch for a frosty tree stand builds exciting anticipation only few of us understand. It’s equally a rite of passage and return to the familiar. Just like the holidays, it only comes once a year. One day to reference for generations when you got your first one there, and grandpa got that one there. There’s nothing like celebrating our whitetail rifle season’s opening day.

Arguably the same, if not more than other holidays, preparation goes into getting ready for that first dawn. This year you got new boots or a new coat, so you don’t freeze like you did last year. You put a new scope onto your old reliable rifle. The trail camera you’ve been checking all summer is paying for itself over and again with the secrets it’s telling you about where that buck lives. It’s all part of continuing the tradition of the chase.

Whether you’re hunting by yourself or with friends or family, the excitement of the experience is the same. The community of taking to our woods searching for an elusive game animal has been handed down to us from the stories and experiences of the generations before. That’s why it’s so valuable to us and why we put such time and effort into it. It’s why we get the best gear we can. No one jumps at the chance to tell the story every year about the one we missed, or about leaving the stand early because they got too cold. No, Pennsylvania hunters aren’t only tough, they’re smart. They know how to dress and how to hunt the weather in our home state. There’s no half-hearted effort on opening day.

Respect for the animal also is the highest. You can see that by all the cars and trucks at the range the weeks prior to opening day. Sighting in rifles, tuning new scopes, trying new ammunition for a single clean shot and kill. When the deer is down, they go to work with the sharpest knives and knowhow. Maybe you use your grandfather’s old knife, or maybe you’ve got a new one for yourself this year. Eating the venison that comes from the whole deer has been the tradition as long as hunting has in Pennsylvania. Little to nothing is wasted. With recipes new and old, no crockpot, grill grate, or oven doesn’t see its share of work over the winter months with the treasured animal protein.

There are those who argue it’s a barbaric pastime where something has to die for an individual’s enjoyment. Glorifying the kill in a time and place where food scarcity hardly exists. That argument has no value, and hunters know it. The experience teaches a respect for the animal, for the land, for the benefit of hard work. You’ll appreciate that deer every time you share the story, long after the meat in the freezer is gone.

Ruffed Grouse Decline and Their Future in the Keystone State

Unraveling Pennsylvania’s Ruffed Grouse Decline

Photo by Susan Drury 

Grouse hunting in Pennsylvania is a tradition for many. The northern tier of the state particularly housed robust but variable populations of ruffed grouse. The thrill has always been getting to hear the characteristic thump, thump, thump of a drumming bird. Pennsylvania grouse hunting is a completely different thrill. Harvesting one means pulling up on a flushed bird in dense cover and making a difficult shot. These situations, however, are becoming much rarer in the state.

The ruffed grouse decline the Keystone state has been experiencing for decades is coming to ahead. Hunters are noticing it more and so are land managers. Regardless of if you hunt grouse, hunted them years ago, or are simply an interested outdoors person, the current state and future for this bird is concerning.

“Decline” and “trouble” are serious words but are being used more and more to describe ruffed grouse populations in Pennsylvania. It is not just Pennsylvania either. Most Northeast and Midwest states like Maryland, Minnesota, and West Virginia are all showing seriously declining grouse populations. Pennsylvania is coming up on the last year of a 10-year grouse management plan aimed at addressing the issue. Although, the situation looks much different than it did back in 2011.

Grouse Numbers and Our Current State

Grouse hunting in Pennsylvania was traditionally split into two seasons. Grouse would open in the fall alongside squirrel hunting and other small games species. Even though there were several weeks available in the fall Pennsylvania grouse season, hunters relished the late-season opportunity. These weeks after Christmas were ideal to sneak through dense thickets in the big woods or for running dogs to flush birds. But based on the increasing decline in grouse numbers, the late-season opportunity has been closed since 2017.

Grouse populations are always in flux. Across their entire North American range, their numbers tend to rise and fall in 5- to 10-year cycles. Biologists to a lesser extent understand why the 5- to 10-year cycles occur compared to more short-term swings in numbers.

Many factors affect population numbers. Generally, a cold, damp spring combined with a prolonged cold winter lowers grouse populations in the state. These conditions influence adult female survival and decrease the chances a young grouse will make it through to next spring. Like other animals, causes of mortality also include predation, disease, accidents and environmental factors such as floods and habitat loss.

Exact grouse numbers are difficult to estimate. Instead, the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) uses sightings, harvests, and hunter survey data to assess grouse populations year-over-year and compile long-term trends. In the most recent data from 2018 (available from the PGC), a flush rate of 0.88 flushes per hour (f/hr) was overserved. This was a 6% decrease from the previous year and the lowest since 1965. For comparison, the long-term average is 1.37 f/hr. In addition, sight surveys are down 33% from the previous year and down 49% from the short-term average. These figures are based on surveys from grouse hunters (or cooperators) inside and outside of Pennsylvania grouse seasons. Clearly, the ruffed grouse decline that first was observed in the early 1980s is continuing to propagate itself.

 

Video: Award-winning and comprehensive look at Pennsylvania grouse from the PGC.

Two Factors Affecting the Ruffed Grouse Decline

The ruffed grouse decline can be attributed to two factors. The first, habitat loss, has always played a role in grouse numbers across their entire range. Aging forests are increasing and thus young forests, which grouse thrive in, are harder to find. It was not until 1999 when the second factor appeared. The impacts to grouse from the West Nile virus (West Nile) are only exemplified with habitat loss.

Habitat Needs of Grouse and Implications of Losing It

The primary habitat requirement of grouse is cover. Grouse use dense cover for all aspects of their life cycle including feeding, breeding, and shelter. Young forests provide these ideal conditions, however, aging Pennsylvania forests offer less suitable habitat. Also, population growth has fragmented what once were large contiguous tracts of forests. Grouse do not adapt well to changing habitat conditions and increased interaction with people.

Vegetation like mountain laurel, young pines and hemlocks, and new growth of hardwoods such as aspen are key elements to productive grouse habitat. Birds will eat buds of young growth during winter and feed on greenbriers, witch-hazel, and grapes during warmer months. All of which grow infrequently in older timber stands.

Multi-age forests have been dwindling through natural attrition over time since the large-scale logging that took place at the beginning of the 20th century. This continued loss reduces the habitat needed particularly for breeding and rearing young. The ruffed grouse decline is a direct result of decreased young forests in the state.

West Nile’s Threat

West Nile virus began running its course in Pennsylvania between 2001 and 2003. Mosquitoes can transmit the virus to humans, animals, and birds. The health impacts have been known as it relates to humans, but less is understood when it comes to birds. Birds have shown symptoms and even mortality, especially in crows and jays. Recently, grouse have been studied and observed to have effects related to West Nile.

Research has begun to show just how much of a threat West Nile is to grouse populations in Pennsylvania. More robust population segments, which occur in high-quality habitats, have a greater chance of surviving West Nile. These segments are able to rebound faster after years where West Nile is more prevalent. When small populations in poor habitats experience widespread West Nile prevalence, it is more likely they will experience higher than average mortality and further decline.

In summary, the ruffed grouse decline is not an either-or but rather a combination of less than optimal habitat in conjunction with higher incidents of West Nile.

Planning to Save the Ruffed Grouse’s Legacy in Pennsylvania

The state has proactively been addressing the ruffed grouse decline for decades but more rapidly since the development of the statewide ruffed grouse management plan in 2001.

One-step undertaken has been the use of a framework for Pennsylvania grouse season recommendationsGrouse hunting in Pennsylvania was reduced beginning in 2017 to close the late-season. Even though hunting is a minor factor in grouse survival, closing the after Christmas season ensures that even more birds made it to the next breeding season.

Similar to other wildlife species, habitat is key. Creating and maintaining high-quality grouse habitat supports existing populations and helps them be more resilient against outbreaks from West Nile. Grouse management is being incorporated in the strategic planning for forest harvesting on state lands. Programs are also being implemented to support private forest landowners in an effort to expand acreage and connectivity of a good habitat.

Finally, additional research is being conducted to assess the impacts of West Nile. The focus is on looking at factors that can limit the transmission of the virus and at what thresholds of infection grouse are most vulnerable. Information like this would be used to prioritize habitat work that will have the most benefit on existing and future grouse populations in Pennsylvania.

The good news is we have an example where this is possible. The state of elk in Pennsylvania is thriving due to accomplishments in creating habitat and intensive management. Grouse can be the next success story with a lot of focused effort.

Hunting grouse in Pennsylvania is in many ways a dying tradition. The changing hunter demographic but more so the ruffed grouse decline has been a major contributing factor. However, hunters will need to play a major role in the path ahead to solving this issue. They are key in assessing populations and helping to manage large tracts of public and private land for which Pennsylvania is known for. The future of the state bird and beloved game species is most certainly a concern. Yet optimistically, much has been and more is being done to change the declining path grouse have been on.