PA: Hunting opportunities boosted in state parks
Howard, Pa. – Hunters might have noticed that more state park land is open to hunting this fall than in past years. It's no accident.
According to John Norbeck, director of parks for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the increase over the past five years has been dramatic.
"In 2006, 61 percent of state park land was open to hunting. This fall, 74 percent of all state park land is open to hunting," he told attendees at the Hunting and Fishing Leadership Roundtable, which was held at Bald Eagle State Park Oct. 18.
That translates to thousands of more acres of public land available for one or more types of hunting. For example, Norbeck noted that state parks near Philadelphia have been expanding areas for archery hunting and experiencing a favorable response.
While this move to make additional park acreage open to hunters has been occurring statewide, Norbeck noted that Centre County's expansive Bald Eagle State Park is a perfect example.
Bald Eagle features excellent deer, grouse, woodcock, rabbit and waterfowl hunting. Hunters can camp at the park and then hunt bears, turkeys or deer in nearby state game lands 323 and 92, or other more-distant state forest or game lands.
During a typical fall, about 4,910 of the park's 5,900 acres are available for hunting. This includes about 83 percent of the park – all lands except for the campgrounds and portions of the day-use areas.
According to John Ferrara, Bald Eagle State Park manager, this year nearly all of the park is open for both archery hunting for antlerless deer and the early and late seasons for resident Canada geese.
"Most of the park, including much of the day-use area, is open for these two seasons," he said. "The areas that are not open are clearly marked as safety zones."
Ferrara explained that Bald Eagle State Park has opened additional land to hunting primarily as a management tool.
"Resident Canada geese have become a nuisance at the park, and opening more area is a way to help control them," he explained.
"There are differing views as to what constitutes too many deer, but when you see 75 deer in the park at one time, you know that you have a problem. We opened more areas of the park for archery hunting – antlerless deer only.
"We also sold 95 DMAP tags for use anywhere in the park, but only during archery season in the expanded areas.
"A few years ago, we opened [the day use areas] up for bucks during rifle season, but it became a circus, with so many hunters targeting the large bucks that lived in the park," Ferrara added.
"Our deer numbers are high again, so this year we decided to try archery hunting for antlerless deer only in the day-use areas. So far it has worked real well."
Antlered deer can still be hunted with either a rifle or bow in the other areas of the park.
According to Ferrara, both the archery doe hunts and early resident geese seasons have had high participation and high hunter success.
"We counted as many as 30 to 40 geese hunters in the day-use area and many, many more hunters around other areas in the lake," Ferrara said. "Our park volunteers counted at least 35 geese that were taken just in the day-use areas of the park.
"The archers have also done real well. I was really happy to see that at least six does were arrowed by youth hunters – one successful archer was a 14-year-old girl.
"We've had a few people who are unhappy with the hunting, but usually they understand when I explain that it is a management tool," Ferrara explained.
"The other day, guests at the Nature Inn saw bowhunters dressed in camouflage walk by the Inn and asked me what they were doing. It gave me the opportunity to educate them about the role of hunting."
Norbeck told Roundtable participants the major challenge is involving youth. "The biggest issue for us in this room is getting kids outside," he said.
"We've increased the number of classes that teach hunting and shooting in our state parks, and we'd like to do more. Unfortunately, there is no magic cocktail to bring kids back."