Pennsylvania’s old stone fences – the stitching that binds our hunting lands
Just the other afternoon, I was sitting in my portable treestand with the hope of having a chance for a shot with my flintlock at a passing whitetail.
The sun was heading toward the treetops that sit on an opposite hillside. Covering the ground was a good inch of frozen snow, crunchy to weighted steps. It was cold, and getting colder as another night of temperatures near single digits was forecast.
Up my tree on the upper edges of an opposite hillside from where the sun was dropping, I had an excellent view of the bottom land below me. With the whiteness of the snow, catching deer movement would be that much easier.
At one point I gazed to my right, looking at a small, open section of an old stone fence where deer often pass through, moving from one section of woods to another.
Why in the world I never considered this before in a lifetime of hunting is beyond me, but the thought that just about everywhere I’ve ever hunted in Pennsylvania has old stone fence lines.
At various times, I’ve been near to just about every corner of Pennsylvania hunting. I’ve passed through woods and fields at both its northern and southern boundaries, plus I’ve spent plenty of time in a couple counties considered to be middle portions of the state. And thinking back, just about every one of these places has old stone fences.
Of course these structures of pilled stone are the leftover monuments of hard labor completed by farmers from a long-ago time in an effort to separate fields and hold livestock.
Now, although many are a bit crumbled, they still stand with overgrown underbrush shrouding them, or thick vines crossing their tops, plus plenty of trees where a seed fell close by, and grew to great heights — umbrellas to protect a memory of what Pennsylvania’s first farmers had organized and arranged.
They have always been a huge part of my hunting life. In my youth, when wild pheasants were abundant, stone fence lines were a late-season vantage point from which to watch for roosters escaping from a hunting partner who was pushing through heavy cover, birds that were running instead of flying to stay alive.
When family beagles were circling a rabbit and there was a stone fence near the start of the chase, I was always told to “hop on the fence,” because cottontails often headed toward the safety of a space in the stones.
Now, many of my deer hunting spots are near these old stone configurations. Deer tend to move through the gaps. Deer trails run beside them, and saplings rubbed by forming antlers grow nearby. Often, they are the boundary of rutting bucks, with plenty of adjacent scrapes marking their presence.
Unconsciously, I have chosen these places where stone fence lines lie, untouched for a hundred years or more, as my favorite hunting spots. Now conscious of them and what they once meant and mean now, I hope some future hunters who trek the woods I have, understand just what those old piles of stones and rocks represent.