‘Tis the season: Game Commission touts holiday hunting

(Photo by Bill Diers)

As families come together in holiday celebration over the coming days and weeks, there will be plenty of chances to spend time with loved ones afield.

Opportunities to hunt small game, deer, waterfowl and furbearers either are available now, or will be soon, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Of the seasons open now, ruffed grouse runs to Dec. 23. The rabbit, squirrel and pheasant seasons also are open. While hunting isn’t allowed on Sundays or on Christmas, those seasons are open until Feb. 28, 2018.

Deer hunting will make its return statewide Dec. 26, when the flintlock muzzleloader and late archery seasons kick off. Those seasons run until Jan. 13 in most of the state, and until Jan. 27 in Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) 2B, 5C and 5D.

Additionally, hunters within Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery counties may use shotguns and inline muzzleloaders to harvest antlerless deer from Dec. 26 through Jan. 27.

Final pheasant stocking

In those WMUs where hens may be hunted, 8,640 hen pheasants will be released on state game lands and other properties open to public hunting.

Stockings will come just in time for added pheasant hunting opportunities before Christmas, with plenty of birds remaining after the holiday, the Game Commission said.

“Hen pheasants will be stocked on Dec. 22, which is the only time we release the actual date when birds will be stocked,” said Game Commission Acting Wildlife Management Director Bob Boyd.

“We’ve received good reports from hunters about the new blue-back strain pheasants stocked this year,” Boyd added. “The birds sneak, run and flush when cornered, providing a challenging experience for hunters and their dogs.”

Hunters on public properties also are likely to find holdover pheasant roosters from releases earlier in the season.

During the late pheasant seasons, rooster and hens may be hunted in WMUs 1A, 1B, 2B, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4B, 4D, 5C and 5D. Only cock pheasants may be hunted in WMUs 2A, 2C, 4C, 4E, 5A and 5B.

Pheasants may not be hunted or taken on any Wild Pheasant Recovery Area.

And all adult and senior hunters, including senior lifetime license holders, who pursue pheasants in Pennsylvania are required to purchase a pheasant permit in addition to a general hunting license. Junior hunters do not need a permit to hunt pheasants. The permit costs $26.90 and must be signed and carried while hunting for pheasants.

Other hunting opportunities

The snowshoe hare season runs statewide from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1.

Other small game and migratory bird seasons include bobwhite quail, which is open until Feb. 28, and mourning doves which is open from Dec. 23-Jan. 1.

Waterfowl hunters also have plenty of opportunities during the winter months. Check the Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, or visit the Game Commission’s website at www.pgc.pa.gov for season details.

Dove hunters need a migratory game bird license in addition to their general hunting license, and waterfowl hunters need a general license, migratory game bird license, and federal duck stamp.

Participants in the flintlock deer season participants may harvest an antlerless deer with either a WMU-specific antlerless license, a Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) permit, or an unused antlered deer harvest tag from a general hunting license. This is the only season in which the antlered tag can be used for antlerless deer, and each participant in the flintlock muzzleloader season must have a muzzleloader license in addition to a general license.

Antlered deer may be taken in the late season only by bowhunters and flintlock hunters who possess an unused antlered deer harvest tag.

Furbearer hunting seasons continuing through the winter months include: foxes and raccoons until Feb. 17; porcupines until March 31; and bobcats in WMUs 2A, 2C, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4C, 4D, and 4E from Jan. 13 through Feb. 7.

Trapping seasons include: beavers, from Dec. 26 through March 31; minks and muskrats, until Jan. 7; raccoons, opossums, striped skunks, foxes, coyotes and weasels, until Feb. 18, bobcats in designated WMUs until Jan. 7; fishers in WMUs 1B, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4D and 4E from Dec. 16 through 27; and river otters in WMUs 3C and 3D from Feb. 17 through 24.

Trappers also may use cable restraints for foxes and coyotes from Dec. 26 through Feb. 18, provided they have passed a mandatory cable restraint certification course.

All hunters and trappers of furbearers must possess a valid furtaker license, and additional permits are required to hunt or trap bobcats, or trap fishers or river otters.

Licensing requirements

All first-time hunting or furtaker license buyers are required first to become certified through completion of an accredited hunter-trapper education program.

The Game Commission offers an online course that can be completed at home by persons ages 16 or older. There’s a $19.50 fee to complete the course online. There is no fee to complete the course in person during any scheduled class, but most of the classes that were scheduled for this year already have been held.

Adults and youth who are without hunting licenses still have an opportunity to participate in hunting through the Mentored Youth or Mentored Adult hunting programs.

There are special requirements to ensure these programs remain safe. And only certain hunting seasons are open to mentored hunters.

Mentored Youth may hunt only squirrels, rabbits, doves, woodchucks, coyotes, deer and turkeys during established seasons.

Mentored Adults may hunt only squirrels, ruffed grouse, rabbits, pheasants (pheasant permit required), bobwhite quail, hares, porcupines, woodchucks, crows, coyotes, antlerless deer and turkeys during established seasons.

Mentored Youth who are 7 years old or older are issued tags for the harvest of antlered deer and spring turkeys. Those younger than 7 who harvest antlered deer or spring turkeys must receive by transfer a valid harvest tag from their adult mentor.

Mentored Youth and Mentored Adult hunters taking antlerless deer also must be transferred a valid harvest tag from their mentors.

Mentored Youth permits are $2.90 and Mentored Adult permits are $20.90 for residents and $101.90 for nonresidents.

Hunting licenses and permits can be purchased online at www.pgc.pa.gov or at any license issuing agents.

Those planning to take part in late-season deer-hunting opportunities are better off to purchase their licenses at issuing agents so they immediately receive their harvest tags, which they must possess while hunting.

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