The leaves might be greener than usual for this time of year, but it’s mid-October nonetheless.
And in Pennsylvania, it’s prime time for hunting.
While hunting opportunities exist throughout the year in Pennsylvania, and some fall hunting seasons already are underway, the majority of seasons are entering their stretch runs toward opening day.
This weekend hosts five awaited openers – the first day of the regular squirrel and rabbit hunting seasons, the opening day of the one-week muzzleloader season for antlerless deer, and the first day of the seasons for ruffed grouse and woodcock. Saturday also is the first day of duck season in southern portions of Pennsylvania.
These openers lead the way for the Oct. 22 opening day of the pheasant season, as well as the opening days for foxes and other species. Several big-game seasons lie just beyond.
All of this means hunters will become a more common sight throughout the Commonwealth.
Statewide, hunters are reminded that hunting with a firearm is not permitted within 150 yards of any occupied structure, school, farm building or playground unless prior permission is obtained from the building’s occupants or property owners. This perimeter is known as a “safety zone,” and possessing a loaded firearm within a safety zone is considered hunting and a violation of the law. Trapping furbearers, and chasing or disturbing wildlife also are prohibited within a safety zone, unless permission is given.
A similar law applies to hunters using bows or crossbows, but the safety-zone perimeter is smaller in most circumstances. Archers and hunters using crossbows must remain at least 50 yards from any occupied structure or farm building unless they receive permission from the building occupants or property owners to hunt at closer distances. The safety zone around schools and playgrounds remains 150 yards for archers, however.
Hunters also are reminded that fluorescent orange requirements vary depending on the species being hunted. Illustrations depicting the requirements that apply in different seasons can be found in the 2016-17 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest issued to hunters at the time they purchase hunting licenses. The digest also is available online at the Game Commission’s website.
Each hunter taking part in the upcoming early muzzleloader season for antlerless deer needs to wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange on the head, chest and back, combined. The orange each hunter wears must be visible from all directions (360 degrees) and must be worn at all times while hunting. This requirement applies to hunters who participate simultaneously in the muzzleloader and archery deer seasons.
During the one-week early muzzleloader season, properly licensed hunters are permitted to carry both a muzzleloader and a bow or crossbow. A hunter would need both archery and muzzleloader stamps, plus a general hunting and an appropriate antlerless deer license, Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) permit or Disease Management Area 2 (DMA 2) permit.
While hunters who are taking part strictly in the archery season are required during the early muzzleloader overlap to wear 250 square inches of fluorescent orange while moving, they are permitted to remove their orange once settled into a stationary position. Archery hunters who remove orange clothing are required to post 100 square inches of orange within 15 feet of their locations, and the posted orange must be visible from all directions.
Archery hunters who are simultaneously participating in the early muzzleloader season, however, must follow the orange requirements for early muzzleloader.
To participate in the early muzzleloader season, a hunter must have a valid Pennsylvania general hunting license, a muzzleloader stamp and valid antlerless deer license, DMAP permit or DMA 2 permit.
Antlerless deer licenses in Pennsylvania are valid only within the Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) for which they are issued. Likewise, DMAP permits are issued for certain properties and are valid only on those properties. Maps showing the boundaries of WMUs are available in the Hunting & Trapping Digest.
Hunters during the early muzzleloader season may use in-line, percussion and flintlock muzzleloaders, and sporting arms may be equipped with scopes, peep-sights and other lawful sighting devices.
The one-week early muzzleloader season includes a three-day overlap with a special firearms season for antlerless deer.
During that season, which runs from Oct. 20 to Oct. 22, junior hunters (ages 12 to 16), senior hunters (ages 65 and older), mentored youth (hunters who are younger than 12, but who obtain a permit to hunt), mentored adults (hunters 18 or older who obtain a permit to hunt), hunters who are on active military duty, and certain disabled hunters are able to use a variety of sporting arms to harvest antlerless deer.
Permitted sporting arms include manually operated centerfire rifles, handguns and shotguns; .44-caliber or larger muzzleloading long guns; .50-caliber or larger muzzleloading handguns; long, recurve or compound bows; and crossbows.
To take part in the special firearms season, hunters must meet participation criteria and possess a general hunting license and valid antlerless deer license, DMAP permit or DMA 2 permit. Hunters also must wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange at all times.
Each mentored youth or mentored adult hunter taking part in the special firearms season must possess a valid permit, and the mentor who accompanies a mentored youth or mentored adult afield must possess a valid antlerless deer license, DMAP permit or DMA 2 permit. The antlerless deer license or permit can be transferred upon harvest by a mentored youth or mentored adult, and each mentored youth or mentored adult hunter may receive only one antlerless deer license and one DMAP permit by transfer during a license year.
For a more detailed look at the regulations pertaining to these and other seasons, or to view hunting season start and end dates, as well as bag limits, visit the Game Commission’s website.
There’s a lot of hunting in store.
“There’s no better time of year to get out and enjoy the Pennsylvania outdoors, and there’s no better way to spend a fall day than by going hunting,” said Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough. “In the coming weeks, seasons will continue to open and hunters will continue to share in the bounty of Pennsylvania’s wild game. But all who have the chance to spend even one gorgeous autumn day afield can consider themselves lucky,” Hough said.
While hunting in October often offers pleasant days afield, the warm weather also presents challenges for successful deer hunters in assuring harvests result in high-quality venison.
Especially in warm weather, harvested deer should be field dressed quickly, then taken from the field and cooled down as soon as possible. While hanging a deer carcass in a shady area might be fine in cooler temperatures, if the air temperature is above 50 degrees, hunters should refrigerate the carcass as soon as possible.
Information on warm-weather venison care, as well as instructions on deer processing and other tips, are available on the white-tailed deer page on the Game Commission’s website, www.pgc.pa.gov.
Hunters must report deer harvests, and they are encouraged to do so soon after their successful hunts, so they don’t forget.
There are three ways to report harvests. Harvests can be reported online at the Game Commission’s website by clicking on the “Report a Harvest” button on the homepage. Reports also can be phoned in to 1-855-PAHUNT1 (1-855-724-8681), or mailed in using the harvest report cards that are inserted in the Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest hunters receive when they purchase a license.
Hunters who call should have their hunting license numbers handy, as well as additional information that’s required to be reported.
Hunters participating in the early muzzleloader season to begin Saturday or the special firearms season to begin Oct. 20 only may harvest antlerless deer.
Any hunter in any season who, by accident or mistake, kills an illegal deer is required to deliver the carcass – entrails removed – within 24 hours to any Game Commission officer in the county where the deer was killed.
A written statement must be provided to the officer, explaining when, where and how the accident or mistake occurred. The deer must be tagged with the appropriate deer harvest tag.
Rifle deer season
As it has traditionally, the two-week firearms season for deer will open statewide on the Monday following Thanksgiving.
The statewide season this year runs from Nov. 28 to Dec. 10.
Hunters in different parts of the state are required to observe different rules regarding the number of points an antlered deer must have and when during the season hunters may harvest antlerless deer.
Information is available at the Game Commission’s website.